Government officials often brag about Norway’s low unemployment rate, but job prospects for immigrants remain dim. While the overall unemployment rate is now around 3.5 percent, it’s risen to 7.1 percent among immigrants who, meanwhile, recently were advised to undersell themselves in Norwegian job interviews.
New figures revealed this month by state statistics bureau SSB show that the unemployment rate among immigrants from Africa was fully 13.4 percent in Norway during November 2010, the most recent reporting period. That’s up 1.1 percentage points from November 2009.
For immigrants from Asian countries, unemployment was as high as 8.3 percent, up from 7.7 percent. The overall unemployment rate of 7.1 percent was up from 6.6 percent.
Tough market for non-Norwegians
The job market for foreigners in Norway has always been tough, even among those who are highly educated, and immigrants often are underemployed given their skills and degrees. It’s not unusual to hear about engineers and managers from overseas who end up working as cleaning personnel in Norway, and some immigrants change their names to those sounding “more Norwegian,” in hopes of having a better chance at being called in for interviews.
Once at an interview, immigrants are being advised not to boast too highly of their skills or sell themselves too enthusiastically. Their chances will be better, according to one employment researcher, if they undersell themselves and appear humble.
“Highly educated people who haven’t been in Norway very long can quickly present themselves in the wrong way, in relation to Norwegian norms,” Hege Høivik Bye, a researcher at the University of Bergen, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “That can mean they won’t get the job, even though they’re well-qualified.”
Bye has recently concluded a study of how cultural collisions in job interviews can influence the employment process. “We knew from before that presentation is important,” Bye told Dagsavisen. “But some of our results indicate that the interview itself can be more important than education or the job candidate’s CV.”
She thinks many Norwegian employers fail to hire the best people because of cultural conflicts during the job interview. “We have a very egalitarian society and janteloven (the unwritten law that no one is supposed to be better than anyone else, which also reflects the ills of envy among Norwegians) has its grip.
“If you sell yourself too strongly, it can be unfortunate.”
The importance of being humble
Bye believes that selling oneself too highly is viewed negatively in Norway. “You can say that you think you’re clever, but you must display humility as well,” she told Dagsavisen.
This can be especially difficult for immigrants from countries like the US or India to grasp, since they come from cultures where it’s expected that people market themselves vigorously. Humility doesn’t tend to get people very far in New York, for example.
Bye advised that immigrants who fail to mention their weak sides can fall into a trap during a job interview. In Norway, she said, it’s more important to sell your ability to cooperate with others than your own individual strengths.