Who hasn’t heard the stories of people changing their names to be able to get a job? Nothing else changes. It’s the same person with the same experiences, qualifications and education, but with a new – not foreign – name. And sadly, it works. Suddenly, they receive answers and are called in to interviews.  

I am a foreigner myself. In 2015 I moved from Germany to Norway and due to my Somalian mother I also have a Somalian first name. I still have the same name and, nevertheless, I still got jobs. At Karriereuke I had the opportunity of sharing my experience.  

I wish there was an easy answer, like do these three things and you’ll get a job easily. But if there is one thing my master’s degree in counselling science has taught me, it’s that there are no easy answers to complex and interconnected problems. So, we have to start at the beginning.  

As I’ve already written, I am a foreigner myself and this helps me to understand the troubles and experiences my audience has. I have also worked as a recruiter for Academic Work while I was taking my master’s degree in Trondheim. In this position I had many recruitment processes with foreigners, who wanted to enter the Norwegian labour marked. Now I work as a career counsellor for Agder municipality where we offer free career counselling for all inhabitants (19 years and older) of Agder. In this job I often meet foreigners, and often they are low-spirited with a brittle confidence.  

But there is more. There are not just the foreigners with foreign experience, foreign education background, a foreign culture, and so on. There are also the Norwegians, who are born here, have grown up here, and do not know anything but this country, but who have inherited a foreign name from their parents. The cynical truth is that even those people are not spared the discriminatory experiences. But, why?  

What is the situation that foreigners are currently facing? 

The labour marked is currently affected by different conflicting factors. There is quite a low unemployment rate which should be beneficial for people who are looking for a job. We often talk about that this is the “employee’s market” where the potential employees can choose whom they want to work for. But there is also a high degree of uncertainty sparked by high energy prices, a war in Europe, many inner-European refugees – who shall enter the labour marked as quickly as possible – and the post-Covid problems.  

There are also some structural factors which could be observed in the Norwegian labour marked over the last decades. These factors were not widely influenced by the current factors above. And it is these factors which make it more difficult for foreigners to enter the Norwegian labour market than necessary. Because we know that the Norwegian economy is (and will increasingly be) dependent on foreign workforce. Those factors are mainly: 

  • Still highly affected by network structures. 
  • There are strong protectional laws for employees, which leads to employers being careful when hiring. 
  • High degree of standardisation of education and high degree of academisation, which makes it harder to enter the Norwegian labour marked with a foreign education. 
  • Two of the biggest sectors – health and education – are highly regulated regarding qualifications.  
  • Norwegian employers tend to be conservative regarding education background, which benefits Norwegian education since it is more known to these employers.  

What can I do? 

As I said before, I wish there would be the one thing to do. However, the problem is individual to each and everyone. Still, there are some things that tend to help entering the Norwegian labour market. One basic rule is as easy as it is complicated, as logical as it is contradictory: The best way of getting a job in Norway is by having (or have had) a job in Norway. It seems like many Norwegian employers do not necessarily have a problem to hire a person with a foreign background or name, but they do not want to be the first one to give them a chance. An “easy” way of avoiding this problem, is to get a job at a work place owned by a foreigner. My first permanent job was at a Japanese restaurant owned by a Japanese who thought that a German might be more persistent than a Norwegian.  

Another problem that many foreigners meet is the disregard for foreign education or experience. Many foreigners who come to career counselling are depressed – and also often mad – because they feel that their foreign education or experience is not worth anything in Norway. The truth is often that foreign experience is quite valuable as soon as it is combined with Norwegian education. As soon as there is a Norwegian education – which is trusted by Norwegian employers – added to all that foreign experience, all this experience and “extra” education is seen as an big advantage.  

If you want to make it easier for Norwegian employers to understand your education, and you do not have the time or possibility to “add” a Norwegian education, you can send your documents to NOKUT. They are the ones to assess foreign education and will provide you with a written feedback about which Norwegian education your foreign education resembles. While I worked as a recruiter I had some NOKUT assessment letters that were added to the application documents and it seemed as if it was really depended on the employer how “valuable” this document was.  

There are also some general tips which may work for the most people who are looking for a job in Norway: 

  • If you cannot yet speak Norwegian, you should learn it! 
  • Be proactive – call the contact person in advance and ask relevant questions about the position or the company. That also will give them the possibility to hear that you speak Norwegian.  
  • Be creative – do not sell your ideas for free, but if you already have some good ideas about how to solve a certain task/problem, you might add a short draft of your ideas.  
  • Follow up if you do not get feedback or get a rejection. That might be a possibility to learn about something that you can do differently next time.  
  • Get the help you need. UiA Karriere or the career counselling service of Agder municipality are places you can go to and ask for feedback on your CV or motivation letter.  
  • Make yourself “findable”. Register and maintain your CV at finn.no and at the websites of different staffing- and recruitment agencies.  
  • Look for jobs at social media. LinkedIn is a nice possibility if you use it actively. And even if it sounds like a boomer advice – there are some Facebook groups where you might be able to get a part time job if you post a short (and nice) presentation about yourself. It worked for me.  

So, is my foreign background just a bad thing? 

I really hope that you do not think about your background that way. Even if it sounds lame, you should be proud of who you are and the background you have. There is a change also in the Norwegian labour marked and diversity is more and more seen as a big advantage. Also you have another view on things, which might make it more difficult to enter the labour marked, but who also gives you an unique selling point. You have to see your own background as a strong suit and make the best out of it. There will be a lot of people who will walk all over you, but you should not be that person yourself!  


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