mandag 30. september 2013

Getting Into the Larger Companies in Norway as an Immigrant

I am just ending a contact at a medium sized company and am in the process of interviews and so on to get into hopefull a larger company.

As a foreigner the large employers usually offer most international opportunities where your native language could be of use, especially English,  or if you are otherwise very proficient in English this is a large plus point. However these large employers seem to present barriers by their size and beaurocratic registration and application processes.

Norway is quite peculiar in the EU for having a few huge employers and then having many small companies- a kind of biploar national spread of companies. On the one hand you have of course then Statoil (including Hyrdo's oil production), Aker, El Chem and of course the NHS and otherwise the state here. Under this is a layer of fast growing companies, like National Oil Well-Varco (NOV), who established in Norway to supply these large drilling and production firms with equipment and services and have been able to grow internationally as Norwegian entities, based on advanced engineering that by in large, the Texans couldn't be bothered investing in before.

On the otherside of the coin are a myriad of small companies, biased by one-man-bands who often take early pension and then hire themselves into the self same very large employers at a high hourly rate. Outside retail there are very few medium sized businesses, but they are there to be found and the best source is the Gazelle listings for your local area. ( gaseller as norsk key word).

SME's Versus Larger Employees

Working for sub 20 employee companies has its' charms in terms of team and family feel, or the reverse in being established and possibly sceptical on average to immigration. You are most of all though at the mercy of the owner-director and often foriegners are seen as a resource to be exploited in terms of overtime, holiday allocation, scope of tasks and most of all, economic expendability. I have worked in small companies below 20-30 employees and I do not personally recommend planning your career around them, unless you see a very good fit where your skills are worth more to them than their company are to you.

 Large employers on the other hand, offer larger opportunities to you as a foreigner, in terms of getting a foot in the door for other jobs, promotion, training and financial or project responsibility. Norwegians know this only too well, and many graduates will only apply to the top handful of  companies in their skill area.

Applying to the Mega Companies In Norway

How do you then apply to these megalyths ? They seem to be very impersonal. They often advertise in English, but then at some point the communication goes over to Norwegian- have you made a mistake?

Firstly there is a very big difference between being an experienced international project manager, a qualified engineer, a global sales person,  or a hot IT worker and being a general administration worker or at first job trainee level.  In the latter, the daily language will have to be Norwegian and that means written and oral.

For non technical jobs, my advice is to always apply in Norwegian unless it states expressly that you should apply in English. Further to this get your CV and letter checked by a native speaker, and also get some practice in interview conversation and follow up communications.

Getting in the door though even with good Norwegian seems an issue, a great big brick wall infront of you: My advice is to not think of these companies as huge megalyths, but see the people: you are being recruited most often to a specific team which works pretty much like an SME. As a foreigner it always makes the difference if you contact the person named in the advert. If they are personnel it is best to be positive and speak generally about your intereset, breifly about your suitability and then ask if it is possible to speak to the manager for the position. This shows positivity and it is the way Norwegians often make open applications or network their way to jobs. You have to practice at this or be very comfortable with your language.

I would say that in general e-mail communications outside the actual application are interpreted negatively: that is just my opinion based on my experiences. It can though be worth using e-mail to request a telephone conversation.

This approach, using the phone,  has secured me nearly all my jobs here and was completely necessary.Why? Because they want to work with people who can speak Norwegian in those positions! Also it shows interest and motivation, and actually very few people bother to phone up at all. I have also been down to the last few at 2nd interview level,  at both Statoil and Aker for positions with more than 60 applicants.

Another thing is to keep on applying and apply for related positions in these larger employers. As long as you are qualified a and /or experienced for the positions, apply and keep on applying. My application for three or four positions at one company actually lead to me getting the best possible one!

Open applications are worth while but only in the right context: you need to use networking to establish who may be a manager to talk to. "On File" as an immigrant outside engineering and IT, means in the bin in my opinion. You need to make a targetted approach, kind of a courting and sniffing out if they are recruiting in your area. The key here is to define need, and strike before they contact the recruitment companies or advertise the job.

Bemanning and Rectuitment Companies as A Route In

One way into large companies is through rectuiters and bemanners. Beware though, because large companies often want to have a percentage of temp staff who can be cut back given a bad quarterly result. Companies I have worked in recently had a policy of having 10-20% of their pay roll hired in. The new laws make it harder to avoid permanency, but they dont care especially with immigrants. You can like a freind of mine who was very competent in document control, be locked in actually to being a temp, by the mutual interest of personnel dept and bemanner with monthly fee,  and held out from the permanent position whereas they actually recruit a poorer candidate!  Here she was in a position of stregnth and should have moved to direct, but actually she sought a new education which she got a place in suddenly in the summer.

How do you address the bemanning situation? Well it is a win-win if you get training and experience which makes you more attractive in the job market or internally a valuable resource. You may be a temp for someone with quite a lot of responsibility or be able to develope the role and get recognised in the company and therefore rectuited. There are positive here if you also are still learning the language and need to use it daily in the workplace, or are just trying to get a first foothold into semi skilled work.

However to continue at your own level or go down, I would try and turn a bemmaning opportunity into a direct hire with a recruitment consultancy fee. Another way is to avoid  the middle man altogether, identifying the employer from a short conversation with the recruiter,  and contacting them directly with an "open" application as a pure coincidence.

Your Local Job Market

I still haven't been able to crack my local job market, large or small. I even did a work-fair / work-experience for 9 months to get in to the right type of job in a local company, which did me a world of good, but in fact this is a typical issue for government funding - it should have been a temporary position! If I had not come with a state cheque book they would have hired me. I then am faced with a nasty winter commute of often over an hour when it is snowing on twisty roads, in fact the worst section of the trunk road in this region!
What i do hear works with SMEs in your local market is shoe leather: turning up at the door with your CV is seen as a very positive thing and quite often you will be in a conversation with the manager in a position to employ you.

Be Dynamic? Speaking to your Hosts....

These type of dynamic go getter job skills are necessary to get employed, this may seem a bit unfortunate for the shy type. On the other hand, the shy type may get a kinder reception at a company and be right for the position in the long term, you never know!

I see what ever that language skills are often a must, yet you should resort to English if you are strong in that when you are out of your water, always. One issue I have is that I have polished my CV and application letters and take the application process with a lot of fore thought and concentration, and in fact my Norsk language on a day to day basis is not as good as it is under the recruitment phase.

Modesty in norway is a good thing an part of the culture, to a frustrating extent, but know that you will quite likely never be even 90% as comprehendable as a norwegian and also that some are a little strange and "fall off" in conversations when the grammar wains. You have to be aware of this, This is a bad habit I find here anyway between norwegians- in presentations and talks I think I often have a bigger take out that the average norwegian because I am so focused on understanding!

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