How to Find (and Survive) Part-Time Work in Norway
An International student’s guide to being successful on the Norwegian job market.
Identifying the underlying theory behind a scholarly text gets a lot more challenging when you’re wondering if you’ll be able to cover rent. Let’s see what we can do to help each other out when it comes to finding work as an international student; we all benefit, in the long run.
Not everyone is guaranteed a part-time job — unfortunately
“I’m leaving next week,” a friend tells me. “I didn’t think it would be this difficult to find work here. I can’t afford to be here anymore.” My friend, who prefers to remain anonymous, is an international student from the Global South, someone who challenged me with fresh perspectives and observations, listened patiently, and shared his language skills with us at UiO’s Hum-Sum Language Cafe. His departure is a loss — not just for him — but for all of us in this academic venture.
Finding part-time work as an international student can be hard. With massive amounts of reading a week and lectures and seminars to attend, the idea of one more weekend spent inside tailoring one’s CV and writing yet another dozen cover letters detailing one’s passion for [insert product/service here] can seem discouraging. Cheerful rejection letters report that hundreds have applied for the same position, others mention that they’re only calling the best candidates in — “Sorry, not you this time!”
Mostly, though, as my friend discovered, there’s no feedback at all. Despite sending out a ton of applications, and even broadening his criteria to include jobs he hadn’t considered earlier, he’s still not sure what, if anything, he was doing wrong. If this sounds familiar to you, keep reading, as the rest of this piece is about trying to “crack the code” to successful part-time employment here in Norway. Though every case is unique when it comes to finding a decent work situation, now is as good a time as any to pool some of our experiences together and put these hard-earned lessons to use.
But we can try learn from those international students who have found work
Understand your schedule and be strategic
Finding work takes a lot of hustle and the hours can be unpredictable. "Adrian", who preferred not to use his real name, is an EU citizen who works somewhere between five hours and thirty hours a week. He is employed as a waiter and barback in a medium-sized steakhouse, but also works on-call as an extra in several different places. He found most of his jobs through a Facebook group and got an additional job by referral. During his interview, he underlined his adaptability as an employee and started right away with a trial shift.
Showing that you can meet an employer’s needs through flexibility can be key. This means being willing to put in extra hours during periods of heavy demand, or being available to train early on in the job. Eva Jensine (an EU citizen) found her job at a souvenir shop on Finn.no and says, “it was just for a summer job originally, but they wanted people to start quite early so I started in the spring and after the summer season they offered to keep me on part-time.” She works about 13-18 hours a week, and full time on the holidays if she’s around.
It also pays to think about whether a specific position will be sustainable in the long-term. “Focus on getting more hours at one job instead of balancing multiple jobs — it’s tiring to keep track of the difference,” says "Maria", a non-EU citizen who also asked to use a pseudonym. She works about five fixed hours a week in customer service; the rest of her hours are on-call. Emily, a non-EU citizen who spends 10-16 hours a week as a bakery cashier, adds that: “Choosing a part time job can be very challenging. You need to weigh all the options in depth before making a decision. By the time you try to change jobs, you may find yourself with nothing at all.”
Show off your skill-set
Tailoring your CV and cover letter to the job you are applying for is an absolute must. Don’t assume that Norwegian employers are familiar with organizations in your home country, and do demonstrate that you can be successful in a Norwegian workplace. Says Maria:
I emphasized my Norwegian work experience — even if it was one month experience, I include it… If I have an experience from my home country, I try to find the same organization or a similar one just to have the description — and refer to the organization as ‘just like this Norwegian one, but in my country’ — to make the Norwegian connection. I tried to volunteer in student organizations as well.
In addition to showing that you’re a good match for a Norwegian workplace, it’s also important to emphasize experiences that fit the job itself. Belle (not her real name), a non-EU citizen, is a children's swim instructor about four hours a week, with additional hours possible on-call. “I was like, I work with kids, I teach kids. I have two kids. So I really emphasized my child work skills on my CV.” She turned to a Norwegian mentor for interview practice and together they went through typical interview questions that her prospective employer might ask, emphasizing areas where her experience met the demands of the job.
First impressions are important. If you’re applying for a position where you’ll be working with customers, let your prospective employer see what you can bring to the table by modeling those skills right off the bat during your interview. “Going the extra mile to be friendly is quite useful, especially in the service industry,” says Atakan, a non-EU citizen, who works 18-20 hours a week as a waiter at a small café/restaurant.
Don’t lose hope! Focus on empowerment.
Despite having successfully found employment, many of the international students I spoke with mentioned painful challenges they’ve encountered along the way. I stopped in at UiO’s Career Services, where CV checks, interview practice and career counseling are offered, to glean some additional insights.
Career Advisor Sturle Strauss Lisæth was empathetic, stressing the importance of empowerment and staying positive:
International students are highly educated, motivated, and skilled. They tend to be very strict with themselves, but the ability to come into a new culture, a new way of functioning — it’s very brave, and this is an advantage.
According to Sturle, the top three skills employers find attractive are:
- capacity to acquire new knowledge and apply that knowledge in the workplace;
- the ability to cooperate and function as a bigger unit of team, and;
- to be able to work independently and brink a task to completion.
“These skills are so embedded in what international students are already doing that sometimes they forget to mention these. Norwegian employers want to explicitly hear about this — the more you can relate your experience to their context, the easier it is for them to see the relevance and value of what you bring.”
Top-4 questions about part-time employment in Norway
What kind of language skills are employers looking for?
Proficiency in Norwegian is a skill many employers value. Even if you’re not completely fluent in the language, it’s important to let prospective employers know if you’ve taken classes or otherwise worked to get your language skills up and running. “I’m sure that if I didn’t know Norwegian, I wouldn’t have been considered for this customer service job. My proof of completing Trinn 3 (Level 3, a free Norwegian course for international students at UiO) was something that really helped me get called into the interview,” says Maria.
Language expectations may be more flexible than you think! Belle says, “I needed to have a B2 speaking level of Norwegian as a swim teacher and I have previous experience working with kids and teaching. They called me to an interview, and I think that was basically the test. The people I work with are very flexible, so if I don’t quite understand what’s going on, they’re more than happy to switch to English and clarify things for me.”
Even if you don’t speak very much Norwegian yet, Sturle recommends telling employers what you can do in the language as a way to help them determine how you might fit in:
If you’ve taken A1 or B2, take control of the definition and describe your skills. Write down what that means in terms of real-life context – can you have a conversation with a colleague, can you understand Norwegian but maybe just reply in English?”
He adds that it’s important to mention if you plan to study Norwegian in a structured way in the future, “As an employer, I want to know that you have intention, because it means longevity, predictability, and a safer investment.“
Not all jobs require proficiency in Norwegian. Sturle says, ”A lot of service industry jobs aren’t focused on your proficiency in the language: bartending, or being a waiter will not necessarily have the same requirements – a lot of staff speak English more than Norwegian and that's fine.”
“Learn very basic stuff and get your CV written in Norwegian,” says Maria. “And check out barnehage (kindergarten) jobs! Even if you’re not a 100% Norwegian speaker, they always need people. Look at personal assistant jobs. Delivery jobs are also always happy to accept new workers.” She adds emphatically, “Go to bars and other places and ask to talk to the manager. Say you’re a big fan and ask them to let you know if they have any open positions. I know people who have gotten jobs like that, even if they couldn’t speak Norwegian.”
If you speak languages other than English, make sure to call these out, as Oslo is a super diverse linguistic community. For Eva Jensine, “[Since working at a souvenir shop] requires good language skills, I probably emphasized that the most. I speak five languages, so I really used that to my advantage.“
How important is it to have a network?
Having an informal network of advisors here can help you navigate through some of the unknowns, especially if you’re not certain about cultural norms, or if you’re not sure you’re being treated fairly. Adrian says:
If possible, try to find a Norwegian friend/colleague to teach you how things work in Norway. Most of the essential information is hard to find in English, and you shouldn’t put a hundred percent trust in your employers anywhere in the world. Know your rights, and what you are entitled to.
Having a network is also important when it comes to finding potential jobs in the first place, so make sure not to isolate yourself. Start with friends around you and build natural connections as you go. “Connect with your own country’s community, with those who have lived here in Norway for longer and ask these people if they know someone that might have a job — get the contact info and reach out,” says Maria. “I spoke to my boyfriend’s aunt, who gave me the contact information for her manager, and that was really helpful. I mentioned [the aunt’s name] when I got in touch. Referrals are really important here, unless you find a place that’s all about diversity and mixing it up.“
Even if you don’t know a lot of people in Norway yet, there are other ways to cultivate professional leads. “International students tend to be ahead of the curve in terms of having a LinkedIn profile,” remarks Sturle. “Following companies, liking their posts, sharing their posts on your own LinkedIn page won’t hurt. It will start to get you showing up on the company radar. Once you have followed a company for a while, and commented on and shared some of their posts, it’s quite natural to get in touch with HR and say, ‘I find what you do very interesting. Is it possible for me to connect with you to talk about opportunities based on my background and profile?’ They’re much more likely to connect with you if you send a message as well.“
What is Norwegian work culture like?
Depending on where you’re from, it may take some time to get used to the culture of the Norwegian workplace. You may find yourself looking for more guidance at the outset, for example, or wondering who to ask for more information. You may also not be sure if it’s ok to ask a question in the first place — will it be interpreted as a sign that you lack competence? Will it seem like you are challenging your manager’s authority?
Belle reflects that, for her job as a swimming instructor, “There hasn't been much training. I didn't get any training in terms of how to teach. They provided a book after I nagged them and I watched other staff, and they gave me a list of words that were helpful. And that was pretty much it. So… it's been really stressful.”
“Flat structure can be challenging for international students used to more hierarchy,” says Sturle. “There can be frustration about not having clear instructions, etc. Employers want you to be curious and ask questions, and to feel comfortable doing so. Responsibility might feel like it’s in your own court more than in your manager’s — they want you to express yourself. This will obviously change from company to company, sector to sector, etc., but on average it will be more of a flat structure, less rigidly defined. If it feels challenging, book an interview with Career Services to discuss.”
If you bring specific examples, Career Services can also help you to navigate the confusion of job titles and categories you encounter on the market, which may not be equivalent to the ones you’re familiar with in your home country. Maria says, “I didn’t know how jobs worked here. I couldn’t tell the difference between an on-call position and a permanent one. Most people will probably want a permanent job if they want to secure themselves.”
Speaking of security, make sure to practice self-care by reflecting on your own needs and making sure to stand up for yourself. If possible, says Atakan, “sign up for the union! It will come in really handy if you encounter an issue at the workplace. There are several places that can take advantage of your inexperience even in Norway, so it’s better to take cautious steps.”
Is it possible to find a work-school balance?
What does it mean to juggle a full-time study schedule with part-time work? It depends. Some students, like Eva Jensine, find working life a reprieve from the demands of school: “I get very stressed with my schoolwork and because my job isn't too intense, it actually helps me to remember that school isn't everything.”
“If there's a work-life balance, I have not had it, unfortunately, even working so few hours,” says Belle as she wipes away a few tears and smiles apologetically. “I feel like I wasn't given the tools to succeed and mentally, I am so tired because I, like, basically end up spending my whole week dreading this and not being able to do any of the other work that I should be doing.”
Maria shrugs, approaching the question pragmatically:
It’s either a job or the school, in my opinion. If you want to do well in school, get good grades, you’ll need to work less or not at all. You have to devote your time. For me it’s been 50% work, 100% school, but I still get average grades. Not good ones. Having two jobs and full-time study is too much. I had a burnout.
Belle urges, “Make sure you say this: The most important thing is to focus on yourself and your own mental health. Do extracurricular stuff to have something fun in your life. I'm a musician, so I play in a music group, which is really fun because, you know, you’re being creative and you're doing stuff.”
Belle continues, “Like, I feel like there's this argument that — I don't know where it comes from — that international students don't want to stay when they're done, but that's not true. Almost all of the ones that I've spoken to want to make a life here and want to do well here.”
Other Useful Tips
Great sites to look for work: Finn.no, Arbeidsplassen.no, Servitør, Kokk, Bartender / Waiter, Chef, Bartender jobs in Norway
Read the job descriptions carefully and show that you’ve done your research.
Still wondering about something? Pick up the phone and call the listed contact to see if they can answer your question. Few people actually call and, so long as you show that you’ve been thoughtful and done your research, this can make a good first impression.
Use NOKUT to provide recognition of foreign education credentials if need be. Even if these are not recognized by NOKUT, however, still list your credentials and allow your prospective employer to decide how they might value these.
Book a session at Career Services to check your CV or practice for an upcoming interview.
Avoid “talking yourself down” in your cover letter and interview; focus on your strengths.
Employers respond to human stories and examples of results achieved or challenges met.
Avoid oversharing during interviews and stay away from being too critical of previous employers.
Prepare questions to ask during the interview. Again, show that you’ve done your research.
Check out the company website, or observe current employees walking into work, to get a sense for the dress code.
Plan ahead and attend the Career Fair on campus next September.