Chapter One: Introduction
Thank you for joining us for our inaugural season of Hiring Rituals, a new long-form informational podcast about hiring in Anthropology. In it, we offer an ethnographic lens on how anthropologists with higher degrees get hired internationally or in other units beyond traditional disciplinary departments.
We want to illuminate what goes on behind the scenes when institutions and departments are making hiring decisions. Every country and institution has different hiring rituals. As an example: in some countries, committees are composed entirely of external reviewers from other institutions; in other countries, department members decide job seekers’ fate. One goal of this podcast is to discuss such mechanisms, as well as the historical and structural conditions that shape Hiring Committees’ work.
Another goal of the Hiring Rituals mini-series is to help applicants as they navigate a most challenging job market. Currently, basic information on how hiring at particular institutions functions is circulated informally, disadvantaging applicants who aren’t in the appropriate networks. Moreover, wealthier, private institutions in the US are increasingly providing extensive academic job market information sessions that institutions with fewer resources have trouble replicating to the same extent. We hope to make information about hiring more widely accessible for recent PhDs and even for people looking to change jobs a bit later in their career.
Hiring Rituals is supported by the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) at the American Anthropological Association.
This third episode of Hiring Rituals focuses on hiring practices in Norway. We turned to colleagues who elucidate the composition of committees, the social processes, and the values that bring academic hiring to life in this Scandinavian country.
Chapter Two: The Job Ad
Anna: We asked our contributors how their departments get approved to do a job search, and what goes into writing the job advertisement.
Keir: How it normally works is that the Head of Department will go to the Head of Faculty and the finance people and say, “Look, do we have the kind of budget for this?” Then, probably more importantly, it has to be sold to the departmental membership. And the way that things work in departments here is quite unusual from a non-Scandinavian perspective. So, the ultimate decision-making body at each department level is the department board. And the department board is made up of nine people, the Head of Department and Deputy, both of whom are elected every four years by any member of staff on a full-time contract of more than 50%, which includes administrative staff. And so, in our department, that means nearly a third of the votes come from admin workers. Then there’s three elected members of permanent Scientific Staff, as we call them here. Scientific Staff is just the word that’s used. One elected member from the Temporary Staff, which includes PhD candidates who are included as members of staff in the Norwegian system; one member of admin; one representative from the MA students; and one representative from the undergraduate students, all of whom were elected. And then it’s that departmental board that decides upon whether or not we are going to go ahead with making a hire, do we think we need a hire? Do we think we have the finances to support it?
And it’s the departmental board that ultimately vets the wording of job adverts, so the Head of Department will probably come in and say, “Here’s the wording we used last time, we might want to push this up as a priority, we might want to alter that.” There’ll be some horse training and back and forth and amongst the members of the board, who will have different interests, you know, in terms of perhaps the admin, for example, thinking there’s a particular teaching problem. That means that the language requirement for a Norwegian speaker needs to be pressed up the list of priorities—hypothetically, for example, yeah? Then that goes to the faculty, the faculty approve it, if I remember correctly, the faculty then send it to the Trade Unions who have two weeks to look over it and make sure that they’re happy with the wording and it doesn’t breach any potential labor laws and it gets sent back. And then finally, it’s approved by a body of three or four people at Faculty level, they will check the wording if there’s something they don’t like, they’ll send it back to the Department Board, who will then have to take their alterations into account and then finally the wording is complete.
Theo: So, the job ad is out. It’s out—always by law, I believe—at a site called Jobbnorge.no, which it’s like the jobs.ac.uk equivalent for the UK, right? And then it’s out in other kinds of whatever outlets and that’s for at least two months, maybe more. I have not seen a job ad that really specifies either regional Interest or thematic interest. That’s something I like about Norway actually, the idea of the social anthropologist as someone who is—ok, clearly has an expertise, but also someone who has a broad understanding of the discipline—is something that’s reflected in the job ads. So, you wouldn’t really see like an anthropologist of China or whatever. However, I should stress that discussions within departments often lead to that once applications are on the table. So, I mean, if there’s an understood need to somehow involve China, to stick with this example, then an anthropologist who’s worked in, whatever, Inner Mongolia, this might work to their benefit rather than if they compete at the last level with someone who’s working in whatever.
Kerry: So, at my university, at University of Bergen, the department gets a position in two primary ways. The first, through a line allocated to the department, by the university, or secondly, when a major grant is awarded, such as the European Research Council or Research Council of Norway grant, which earmarks funds for Postdoctoral or PhD positions. The job ads get written, depending on those two tracks, primarily. Job ads, for instance, for Associate Professors are generally standardized and have an open call. However, typically, you’re required to have a PhD in Social Anthropology or the discipline of the department that you’re applying for. So, there can be other kinds of HR requirements that you have to meet the bar for that, you know, is not necessarily interrogated as much in a US context, because there’s standardization across different degree granting institutions and an openness towards kind of interdisciplinary degrees. And job ads for projects, on the other hand, align with the project descriptions. So, they typically take on some kind of role in the larger research project, for instance, fieldwork.
Anna: Who evaluates applications for a position that will be part of working on a grant?
Kerry: Typically, there’s one faculty member who serves as a Chair and two other faculty members who participate in the interview process. Along with HR representatives, there’s also external committee members appointed, at least one or two. So, for the projects, that Chair—this is in the case of these larger research projects—the Chair also must approve the committee and in practice with these larger research projects, the PI—Principal Investigator, the lead of the project—typically acts as the Chair of a Hiring Committee and appoints at least one internal departmental faculty member, at least one external departmental faculty member from another university.
Anna: And what about for a position that is not grant based? Who evaluates the application?
Kerry: There’ll be one faculty member in the department who acts as a kind of administrative liaison and it points these external committee members. So, the external committee members serve just as they would they were internal, right? They do the same process of looking through the applications, commenting on them, sending notes having meetings about the candidates, shortlisting candidates, so the external committee members do the same tasks that they would if they were a member of the department, but there’s certain principles, I think, of hiring in Norway that I could just touch upon that might illuminate this.
So as anthropologists, you know, we’re honed to kind of think about what is familiar and unfamiliar, it’s kind of heimlich/unheimlich, in any given situation. And I think that what struck me is especially unfamiliar in job interviews in Norway was three things that also reflect on these broader principles and values in Norwegian society that might be seen as less valued in US job market context.
First is the principle of transparency. You know, transparency is really emphasized in Norway: in government, in law, in many different facets of life. It’s a small country, you know, there’s a lot of debates about nepotism, but also about fair governance, and so transparency is a principle that’s very important in the job process as well. So, to give an example, the final result of the search process, you’re actually given a report. Everyone who applied is given a report that explains why you did qualify or didn’t qualify for the job, why you were chosen or not chosen, why you’re a good fit, why you’re not a good fit. There are drawbacks of course, as to the kind of transparency and efforts made there, but I found it helpful and constructive to have this kind of feedback, you know, in the US searches are so secretive and they’re behind closed doors. And it’s inevitably rather undemocratic, in my view, at that level. Of course, there’s no kind of perfection and transparency. But I think it’s a principle that’s kind of striven for. And I think, you know, having external members who are not involved in the day-to-day grind of the department, politics is part of this effort to make sure the processes are as transparent as possible. And this relates to the interview as well.
I think it connects to the second principle that I’d highlight about Norwegian hiring, which is a principle of egalitarianism, again, something that is maybe not always achieved, but striven for at least, you know. During the interview, candidates are asked more or less exactly the same questions. And they all have the members of the committee present, along with HR representatives that monitor the fairness, the transparency, and egalitarianism in the process, right? So again, in US searches, much of the campus visits are these one-on-ones, and behind closed doors in intimate spaces, like offices or cars. And at the AAA interviews, or even in hotel rooms, you know, these are places of extreme power imbalance. And, you know, to give a couple of examples, in a US context, I was once taken to a faculty members mother’s elder care home on a campus visit, I was once asked to watch a faculty members dog on a campus visit, how does one object in these situations, and how does one object while staring down no health insurance or salary the next year, and this is not even close to the worst of it? You know, and these kinds of inappropriate circumstances don’t really have as much of an opportunity to crop up, in my knowledge and experience of interviews in Norway, because they do have this kind of emphasis on treating each candidate in the same way, again, as a strived-for principle, not as something that ideally works out all the time.
So, I think thirdly, the principle I highlight is, you know, work/life balance. This is something that’s talked about a lot in Scandinavian contexts, and, you know, these notorious lists that are made about how happy everyone is in Scandinavia, and you know, work/life balance being something that’s really emphasized. I mean, I would say that it doesn’t mean that people work less, but people will work in a more manageable way. And there might be less of what David Graeber has called, you know, bullshit jobs or bullshit work. So, I wouldn’t say that people are working less, they’re just working in a different kind of structure. And I’d say this is a principle that you find throughout Europe. You know, at my orientation, when I arrived at Bergen, I was shocked, you know, to see all of the other new hires, mostly European, spending a lot of time discussing the finer points of vacation, and the several weeks you get in the summer of paid vacation. I mean, coming from the US system, I was like, what’s vacation? No idea what anyone is talking about.
But you know, we see it with COVID, the burnout and the negative health effects of overwork. It’s, you know, gender-, race-based, class-based inequalities that are embedded in that, you know, I think that this during the campus visit, I was really struck by the humane nature of the schedule for candidates. You’re expected to run a gauntlet in the US job market, campus visits, you know, it’s almost an elaborate hazing ritual that is justified somehow in saying that this is reflective of the pressures of day-to-day campus life, when it’s really not. You’re not being interviewed on a, you know, minute by minute basis without any kind of moments break. So, I think that that’s something that is also very evident in the job interviews, I was just shocked that I had a 20-minute break that actually wasn’t populated by people saying, “Well, I know it’s your break, but can I just ask you…? Can I just pull you aside from it?” You know? So, I think it was really pleasantly surprising to me to conduct these interviews, and also to experience them myself, where you could get as much information about a candidate as you needed to get without sort of, you know, having them run ragged through several days of these intimate closed-door meetings with various members of the faculty. So yeah, I think that sort of gives some of the principles I think, you know, transparency, egalitarianism, work/life balance, something that’s prioritized in Norwegian job searches and in Norwegian jobs. So, I think it’s reflected in that process.
Chapter Three: The Application
Anna: Once you find a job you want to apply for, what is actually involved in the application? And what makes the candidate’s initial application sink or swim?
Kerry: For an Associate Professor position, which is not attached to a project—and is not attached in general, at all, or ever to a project—you need a cover letter, CV. Typically, five publications or so are asked for, and a complete list of publications, declarations of co-authorship where necessary. This is also part of the transparency aspect, who are you connected to is revealed in these coauthor declarations. Teaching portfolio, which would include syllabi and teaching statement. You do need copies of your diplomas and certificates and references. And I would emphasize that if one does apply to a job in Norway, just to give yourself time to fill out the application forms because they’re quite extensive. So, you need to spend quite a bit of time repeating a lot of what’s already on your CV in a standardized format again, so everyone has exactly the same forms comparing exactly the same materials. So those are the application materials generally.
Keir: It will be cover letter, CV, you might give them names of your referees, but the referees won’t be contacted until after the beaver an interview. But nonetheless, you’re expected to give the names of the referees at the opening stage. It would be cover letter and CV at the first stage, but there’s certain things that you expect to put in the cover letter, like what your research interests are, how you think you will contribute to this particular department. So, trying to do a little bit of research about what the department’s like, bluff something about how you’re so much looking forward to working with Professor so-and-so and their exciting work on this. And yes, you will be expected to say something about teaching in that cover letter. Or at the very least, if I see a cover letter—and I think this is quite a common mistake, where someone doesn’t mention teaching, or they just have a perfunctory mention of “Oh, I love engaging with students, I love teaching,” for one or two sentences—it’s one of those things, it just flags out, I think, to some people that, okay, so you don’t really want to be engaged in this, and other things that people will flag up, other colleagues will look for, these will be signs or evidence that you at least want to show a desire to be a kind of constantly present kind of good colleague. Particularly in Norway, I think there’s a very strong sense amongst an older generation of Norwegians that, you know, the workplace is somewhere you come and congregate, and you are a group of a certain kind.
Theo: In the letter of support, they would also specify how they click with the department, how they contribute to the intellectual life of the department, what they could teach, how they’re going to interact, how they anticipate—or envision, or hope that they can precisely contribute—that matters a lot. I mean, that’s from my experience. I mean, we do take that seriously. If a blind application… I mean, if someone who’s super qualified comes across the sorting level, or the interview level, as someone who has not really visited our webpage, or is not really knowledgeable what’s going on in this department, then I don’t think they’re going to be recruited. We value teaching. We have BA, Masters, that is going very well. And a PhD program, obviously. So, experience in teaching and in supervision would be very important to be specified and analyzed in the letter of support.
Chapter Four: Determining the Long List
Anna: We also asked what the process of assessing these applications looks like from the inside…
Keir: Normally, the first committee is what I think, in English, we probably call a Sorting Committee, and that Sorting Committee will be purely internal. And it will be normally three members of permanent Academic Staff in the department. And let’s say you’ve got 100 candidates, their job is to whittle it down to around 15 to 20 candidates, and this is normally done on a fairly technical basis. So as far as possible, so you know, this person doesn’t have a PhD in a related discipline to Anthropology yet, or this person doesn’t have a particular set of teaching competencies that we want.
And then once you’ve removed those from the list—which is often a higher number than you might imagine—or people who forget to attach a CV or something like that, it’s okay fine, phew! That’s probably the best candidate ever, but that enables us to narrow the list down. And then the Sorting Committee might look at things like well, this person’s you know, five years out of their PhD, and they’ve only published two book reviews or something. Yeah. So, I mean that they will begin that work of saying, look, this person’s publication output record is not that strong relative to date-of-PhD or whatever it might be. So, they will start to look for… Ideally speaking, they should be looking for fairly consistently applied criteria by which they are saying, this case, although perhaps technically qualified for the job, I don’t think they look like a particularly strong candidate.
And so, then they will whittle it down, let’s say hypothetically, there’s 100 candidates, they’ll whittle it down to 15, 20, 25. And then it gets passed on to the second committee, which is in many regards the real meat and drink of the operation. This, in my opinion, is probably where the most decisive work gets done. And they will take that list of 15, 20, or 25, as their guide, they do have the right to go back and actually go over the ones that were discarded by the previous committee and put some back in, if they feel actually, they should be included. And different committees will do that to different extents. But I think my experience is most people are just grateful that someone else has done the job of the sorting for them and don’t give it more than a cursory glance. Other people are very thorough and going “Actually, I want that candidate back on the list.”
So, if there is that committee will then take the list of say 20 or 25, and narrow it down. So that’s a long list if you like, and that long list, they will normally write to the long list of candidates, say 20 of them, and ask them for samples of their academic writing. And they will read—well, they’re supposed to read that as part of their evaluation—and then they draw up a shortlist. And normally that shortlist is around five or six people, you know we’re in the middle of a hiring process right now. And I think the shortlist now—we made a decision to make the shortlist a lot longer this time, because actually, we shortlisted six people last time, and we were only able to appoint one person because two people the department decided they didn’t want in the end, three other people dropped out. So, there was a sense in which we actually wanted to hire up three people. So, we’re doing a longer shortlist system, and that shortlist will be ranked, there’s numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. And if you’re ranked number one, it’s essentially—in many regards, it’s your job to lose, often.
And then it goes to the interview stage. And at the interview stage, another committee will be appointed. I should also point out that the second committee is normally made up of one internal member of permanent academic staff and two people from other universities who are anthropologists. Most commonly it will be from another Norwegian or Scandinavian university, in my experience, and then maybe someone from Britain or the Netherlands or somewhere else in Europe has a strong Anthropology tradition, they do the ranking, and then it comes to the Interview Committee. Then, what happens then is that candidates are invited, they give a job talk, which is normally about 30 minutes. And then there’s Q&A very briefly afterwards, but the whole department can show up and often does.
And then there’ll be an interview. And that Interview Committee normally, in my memory, consists of either the Head of Department or Deputy, to members of permanent Academic Staff who have been appointed by the Head of Department. If that whole committee is more, the Head of Department—again, normally a member of admin staff is there as a note taker and a record keeper, but they’re also part of the committee and might ask questions—and we’ll have a say on who gets hired. And normally a student representative as well, that will also have a say in the hiring process.
And then there’s different schools of thoughts about what the Interview Committee does. Traditionally, in our department, the Interview Committee doesn’t often change the rankings around that much. But there’s different opinions on that. So, in other departments like Psychology, for example, in our faculty, there’s much more of a tradition of then changing the rankings around depending on the interview. And it does happen here, but not as much as say, in Psychology, where they’re much happier to move someone from fifth to first, for example, on the basis of interview, and different colleagues have different opinions about whether or not that’s appropriate. And some colleagues think it’s highly inappropriate to re-rank people too much, because they view it as a form of disrespect to the work done by the previous committee. Other colleagues think, no, we really need to take into account how they perform in the interview and how they performed the job tour, what’s the point bringing them to interview, if it doesn’t make a difference? So, there’s different opinions on that.
And then that committee will then rank the candidates largely based normally upon the previous ranking, maybe some small changes, and that is normally who gets offered the job—but not necessarily, because it then goes to the Departmental Board, again, who approved the report of the final committee, and the Departmental Board can choose to re-rank, and that very rarely happens. But it’s happened once, in my experience, where we swapped candidates two and three around. And that’s a… that’s a controversial move. It can be done, but it’s not… Again, it’s something that some, perhaps more traditional colleagues view as being a little bit improper, even if it’s within the rules.
And then after that, it then goes to the Faculty Committee I mentioned earlier, who finally approve it. And that’s normally a rubber-stamping unless there is clear evidence of complete malpractice. And even then, I think often they will turn a blind eye because it’s just too much hassle to reopen the prop. I mean, anyone who’s dealt with universities know that there’s often a tendency to brush bad news under the carpet, whether it’s, you know, malpractice amongst academic staff towards junior colleagues, or whatever it might be, there’s a strong tendency for the institution to protect itself. But technically speaking, they can overturn all those previous decisions. I’ve never heard of them doing it, I mean, essentially, once it’s been passed by the board, it’s pretty much in the bag, and then that person will be made a job offer, all those people will be made job offers and contracts will be drawn out. And normally the people involved who are going to be made job offers, they will be told pretty much by the Interview Committee, look, this is 99% certain it’s going to happen, we’ll tell you, but we have to go through these other bureaucratic stages first, before we can give you a contract. So that’s how it works.
Don: You know, this is Scandinavia. So, these are very transparent and honest committees, you know, in other words, they have asked you to submit five publications, and there are 60 applicants right now, that committee is going to read all those publications, you’re not going to rank without having read all that. And in fact, the committee, it’s not just reading: the committee must summarize the qualities of the candidate and its judgment of those qualities and why this candidate is number 21, on the ranking list, rather than 11. So that in itself is… I mean, I was the Chair of committee, there was a lot of work, you have no idea if you want to do them. Okay, you know, perhaps you can be a little bit corrupt. But no, if you actually take that mission seriously, yeah, so that takes half a year, right? So, for a committee, it easily takes half a year, or at least three months, or four months, depending how many people have applied. And if you have a situation where you have more than 100 applicants, it is a terrible job, ever more difficult to differentiate the number 21 and 22. Of course, right? So yeah, it is a very heavy job. So that is why it takes much longer than in the US. And in all that time, you don’t hear anything from the institution where you have applied, except that in Scandinavia they are quite decent. So, they still send letters of recognition of receipt. In the USA and UK, they don’t even do that anymore. So, you apply to a Norwegian university. And you get a very nice letter saying thank you for applying and so on. But then for half a year, you may not hear anything.
Keir: So, the committee will be looking for certain things, I think across the board, one of them will be I think, a publication record relative to date-of-PhD that looks at least acceptable. So you know, someone… And particularly over the last five years, if, for example, you’re 10 years out of the PhD, and you published fantastically in the first five years, but you’ve published nothing in the last five years, they will look at that and go, you know, this suggests somebody who is not currently researching and writing actively, there are other things that are taken into account to varying degrees, depending upon the mood music, and depending upon the members of the committee. One will be teaching, to what extent they have a proven good teaching track record, or even to what extent—if they are so junior they can’t demonstrate a big teaching portfolio—to what extent they take it seriously on the application, talk about their teaching philosophy, rather than simply just saying, “Look at my American Ethnologist article,” yeah. Other things that I think we increasingly look at would be—at the moment, at least—will be gender and making sure—at the moment because, I mean, when I arrived, this is a small department, when I arrived at that apartment, we had a 50/50 gender balance. But we’ve had a number of retirements over the past few years, who nearly all have been women, and although we have offered probably more jobs to women than men over the past five or six years, the majority of women have not taken the jobs and majority and all the men have taken the job.
So, we’ve suddenly gone from a—it’s quite a small department—we’ve gone from a 50/50 gender balance to an incredibly strong gender imbalance. So that is something that there is a kind of general, if not quite universal, sense amongst colleagues that we do need to look carefully to make sure that we have a large number of strong female candidates going through the stages to improve our chances of addressing that imbalance. That wouldn’t have been so strongly emphasized, I think, a few years ago, because we weren’t facing that kind of problem in the same way as we clearly are now. So, it does vary a bit depending upon the time, some people are more concerned with publication record than others. But I do think that probably at that first stage, that’s I think, probably the one key thing that I could say would be the most likely thing to kill a potential application would be this person just doesn’t publish.
Theo: What really matters is the promise or the potential for meaningful contribution to the intellectual life of the department, including teaching and seminars. And collegiality is something that matters a lot and has to be demonstrated in the application. But also clearly, research output is very important. I mean, there’s a component of this in this process that has to do with the… it’s ad hoc, right? So, to an extent it has to do with the distance from the PhD, right? So, research output is measured with that in mind.
So, if you have someone who got their PhD in 2015 and in seven years, as we are in 2022, has published, you know, in whatever kind of Anthropology and has a book and you know, a couple of other great articles, whatever that person is probably as promising as someone who got a PhD 25 years ago and have, you know, double that amount. I mentioned the list published by the Norwegian Institute of Sciences, there was a number attached each name. So, when I saw my name, there was a number. I didn’t understand what the number was, it is computed on the basis of not only how many publications you have, but also citations, influence, and all that, in the case of equipment within the department. One way to measure this is to check how many level-two publications one has, the level-two publications in the static list of journals, but generally, there’s about I think, 11, within the discipline of Anthropology, or 12, that are considered level-two. And again, this the same with publishing houses and whatnot. So that plays a role. And then it would be factored in explicitly. There’s a list that the NSA has of the journals that are able to so in Anthropology. There’s only a bunch, but clearly, if you’ve published outside the discipline, but in adjacent disciplines, that also counts.
So, for example, issues published in the Journal of Sociology, I think that’s a level-two journal and that would count towards that will be to your benefit. If you’ve only published in Sociological journals, that would not be ideal. If you have 15 publications, but no level-two, you might be less eligible or higher than someone who only has five publications, but has published at the JRAI, American Anthropologist, and Social Anthropology.
Kerry: In terms of what people are paying attention to, funding structures will have an influence as well, there has to be a kind of relevance and fit for a project. Associate Professor positions in my department tend to be open calls. But with a project-based Postdoc, you might be expected to work on something that is your current project, or is kind of outside of your current project, right? So, in the case of my project, we would expect the Postdoc to do research in Louisiana or in South Africa for some period of time, whether or not they work in those areas could be up to question, but that’s part of the job is to contribute to the larger project. So, what people pay attention to is going to be, you know, research experience in those areas, or very serious reason why you’d want to do research, either building on what you’ve already done or expanding to new areas. So, in that case, you know, you could have all different scholars applying, but there might be a fit for that project, right. And that’s quite different from the Associate Professors. It’s kind of open. But the review process is very similar to a US review process. You get the applications, you read through all the applications, you take notes, you comment on them, share the comments, you have meetings about it, discussions, you know, it’s very similar to us in that sense.
Chapter Five: Determining the Short List
Anna: So then, how do you actually decide who gets on the shortlist?
Keir: In my experience, I think it very much depends upon the member of the department who is on that committee, because there’s three committee members and very much two of them are external. Yeah? But the two externals, in my experience, often are people who, although they are external, have a previous history of relationships with the department, who might know the internal member of the committee reasonably well, might know them for quite a while. So, I mean, that’s not always the case. But it often can be, and they will probably defer to the internal committee member because it’s their department. And they’re the ones who know what their department needs.
So, their work, I mean, technically speaking, you are looking for excellence, innovation, the kind of person who’s likely to be able to push the new boundaries of Anthropology in new directions. But again, that’s hardly—I don’t think I’m letting anybody here into a great secret when I say that’s hardly an entirely objective scientific thing to measure yet. Some people might think that, you know, interviewing a mushroom is like, going to be pushing the boundaries of you know, what it means to be human and non-human in the post-Anthropocene. Other people will look at that and go, “Oh, my gosh, somebody else is interviewing mushrooms.” So, you see the point. This is not an entirely objective process, of course. So, I think a lot… If I’m honest, I think a lot of it depends upon who happens to be on the committee and what they think good Anthropology looks like and what they think the department needs.
Theo: Yes, they’re meant to read a number of articles set depending on the case. They’re meant to read, I think, five selected publications right. So they contact those shortlisted and—you must forgive me, I don’t remember whether that is already a suggestion that people put in their original application or whether there is a suggestion put forward by the selected people for the interview, be that five, seven, or 10. But they do share five select publications with the committee, and committee members are meant to read those to have an understanding of the quality of work, and not only the quality but also to how this work speaks to the interests of the department to contribute to its intellectual life.
Keir: That is a requirement in Norwegian universities most in pretty much most cases for most programs to have some Norwegian teaching. And most administration happens in at least a faculty level and higher happens in Norwegian. So, there is a need, or a perceived need, to have a chunk of the academic staff who are competent in Norwegian as a language. And in recent years, there has been, I think, the move towards emphasizing academic international excellence as a more important criterion than one’s knowledge of Norwegian language and culture. There has been a discussion in the department over the past year that that pendulum has swung too far. And we are now having trouble fulfilling our teaching and administration responsibilities. Because too many people like me, although I’ve learned some Norwegian, you know, I could teach in Norwegian, but my teaching would be bloody awful. If I did, it would not be good. Whereas I’m actually a reasonably good Lecturer in my native tongue. So there has been a move towards strengthening the language requirement as far as it can be strengthened within legal frameworks.
So there would I mean, so for example, that might mean that if we had a hiring process now, my guess would be that there would be from some quarters, at least a strong rhetoric to say, look, we need to really prioritize somebody who either already has Scandinavian language competences or shows the capacity to learn them quickly over other things that we might have valued more highly in the past. And that’s a fractious debate. I mean, it’s a fractious debate inside the department sometimes about to what extent we should prioritize those things. It’s a fractious debate inside Norwegian politics. And a lot of space is taken up in Norwegian national newspapers and the issue of language politics in Norwegian universities is a highly, highly controversial debate. And it does impact upon job hiring processes, depending upon what the departmental policy is.
So, for example, at the department board, back in the autumn, one of the department board meetings, a decision was made to strengthen the language requirement for the current job course we have going through a decision that I and other colleagues were not entirely supportive of it, let me say, but nonetheless, that was a decision made. And I think that will probably impact upon this hiring process, because that will be now something in that middle stage, they are looking at more closely than they would have done in the past.
Chapter Six: Job Talk and Interview
Anna: Let’s say you’re selected for an interview…What does that entail, exactly?
Theo: The Interview Committee, their job begins with the Sorting Committee’s job. And I mean, obviously, there’s overlaps that could be overlaps between the two committees of at least one person, or not. But the Head of Department has to be heading, as it were, the Interview Committee, and two other members of staff from this department should be in the Interview Committee. And what the Interview Committee does is, the clues in the name: it interviews the candidates. In our example, seven of them—I mean, that’s the last time around with seven, I think that was the case a few years back because seven were called for an interview, but it’s just a random number. It could have been nine or six. Okay.
So, during the interview process, there’s a lot of flexibility. You don’t get an email, as you do with other departments that, you know, on a Wednesday at nine in the morning, you have to be here, whatever, Wednesday the 23rd of March or whatever other either some, you know, some leeway to talk about when some suggested dates and whatnot. Last time around, we had interviews through Zoom, but usually it’s in an amphitheater here where we bring people over, and it’s a two-stage interview process. I’m not sure if it begins with the… Yes, I think it begins with the Trial Lecture, which is an hour lecture. That’s open to all, and so department members follow that. And then, in more close quarters, so to speak, you have the committee that’s interviewing the candidate post-Trial Lecture, I should mention that the committee also has, apart from the three members of staff, I believe, one person representing the admin who is the Head of Administration and one student representative who’s voted from the student communities, Masters student or PhD student or either.
Keir: Now, I think that there is, compared to eight years ago if I’m right, I think the interview process is a little bit more influential in the process. But it still is the case that if you go in in first place, you’ve got a really good chance, and you really do want to just play it safe, you’re probably the odds are with you. So really, all that happens is the candidate will come, the candidate will do a 20-minute job. And it’s normally a 20-minute job talk with in front of the whole department with like, literally just 10 minutes for Q&A at the end. And anyone can come to that I mean, members of permanent academic staff, members of temporary academic staff, admin staff can come, and admin staff frequently do come to these things. I mean, I think there’s one thing that’s very different from my experience in Britain, where I think I mean, admin staff very much viewed themselves as part of the department. And there’s a sense in… Whereas in Britain, permanent academic staff are the department and the admin’s job is to do admin. And so, there’s a very different kind of culture around that stuff here.
Theo: The Trial Lecture, there’s not much information as to how the lectures should go about. So, there’s a lot of leeway. There’s a lot of freedom to the applicant to do what they want with it. But there is some I mean, if they contact the department, they might get some extra information as to whether it’s better for them to talk in the lecture about what they’ve done so far, or what they plan to do, or how they envision their collaboration with the department to be or whether they want to focus on one issue and present precisely a case through which the department would have a sense of how the teaching and indeed, research capabilities laid out. It takes place in an amphitheater, and it’s not really widely advertised. I mean, it’s not advertised across the university. But if you just happen to come by that amphitheater, you can see it and follow it. I think that reflects the nature of Norwegian society, Norwegian academia in general, which is the backbone of this country, this social-democratic contract, where academia is open and public and free. And academics are meant to serve the public interest. And so academic events—including, to some extent, recruitment—has to have a transparent, open, and public component.
Don: There’s always a bit of a tension between a lecture and a class. So sometimes you don’t get a separation, mostly just a lecture. But people might also ask for a class to students. But the lecture is, of course, for the whole department, including for the faculty, whereas the class is for students. And so sometimes it gets sort of colluded. And if it’s not very explicitly stated, whether this is a class or a lecture, that is a tricky issue. In that case, then applicants should really ask, “Look, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to show that I can teach an undergrad class? Or do you want me to show that I can give an interesting lecture for my colleagues?” Right? That is a very different sort of thing. And I’ve seen people fail by making the wrong choice. And so, if you actually give a class, an undergraduate class, but it is supposed to be a lecture for your colleagues, everybody falls asleep, right?
Theo: You can improvise and that creativity is usually rewarded. So, you could choose to present to do a Trial Lecture on, say, your, your interest is in gender and the transformations of gender. So, you do a thorough lecture that show the department that you know, what’s out there in the field, and that you’ve contributed to that field, and then lock this to the interests of the department and say, you know, this would speak to the ongoing research in the department, as you know, developed by so and so within the University of Oslo. And indeed, it could contribute to me teaching creatively, the course on gender, or indeed, a new elective course that I propose, which would be on sexuality, or new transformations of gender, whatever.
Keir: Essentially, you’ve got 20 minutes, and the wording might change, but you got 20 minutes to show and demonstrate what you can bring to the department. And part of that is there’s often expectation that you should be presenting it in a manner that, you know, if an undergraduate student or an MBA student were in the room, they wouldn’t have trouble following you. It’s also a chance for you to demonstrate that you do have pedagogic skills of the kind of getting a complex message across in clear language in a short space of time.
So, you are supposed to talk about what your research is about, you are supposed to sell your achievements, you are supposed to show, you know, it’s always a good hint to talk about your teaching philosophy. I’m gonna come back to that, since so many people forget to do that. But there’s a strong count here, and it’s getting stronger, I think, at the moment, to say, “Look, we don’t necessarily want just these great publication machines who actually can’t go to a student properly.” So, it’s a chance for you to talk about that and demonstrate that you can do it.
And it’s always good to talk for a few minutes about what you think you can bring to this particular department. Why you want to be here, specifically, beyond just, “Well, I want the paycheck, and I’m applying for every job out there.” And that’s fine. I think we all know that that’s kind of part of the current job market, but part of job interviews is, they’re rich, they’re a dance and, you know, everyone’s expected to dance their bit, and part of your bit is to do the bit where you show us that you’re willing to play the game of telling us why I really want to be in Oslo, you know? I mean, Oslo is just, you know, when I look at this department, this is the department that matches my particular ambitions, and this is what I can bring to what you already have, and how I can enhance it. That’s very important.
It’s important to talk about collegiality and to talk a little bit about, I mean, you know, we have one candidate, who is now working with us, who was initially ranked, you know, in the shortlist they weren’t in the top few positions. And he made a very, very good impression on some colleagues at the job talk by stressing that, you know, I am in the office most days, this is how I work, I have an open-door policy, I really enjoy the vibe of being in the corridor and talking ideas over coffee with colleagues and the rest of it. And in many regards, you’re just telling people what they want to hear. But the very fact that you are willing to tell people what they want to hear, tells them that you might be willing to do things that the department needs when you’re asked to. So, there’s a sort of, you know, it’s a particular kind of speech act—isn’t it?—giving a job talk, and part of what makes the speech at work is not just necessarily as we know the referential meaning of your words, but the fact you’re willing to talk in a particular manner in a particular context. It demonstrates something about your willingness to perform other things as well. I think that’s just a general advice, for interviews or for life.
Theo: A member of staff might ask something about—but again, it’s not predetermined, it’s on the spot—something that was mentioned in the lecture, how that could be linked to addressing an ongoing concern in our teaching. For example, say the interviewee is a so-called Africanist who works in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a lot of the literature is on wealthy people and cattle and whatnot, we have had questions from our first-years in the BA as to, quote-unquote, “There’s too much cows in Anthropology, too many cows,” and so how do we address this teaching concern about cows, right? And their usage, you know, we have to demonstrate to our students that cows are not just cute animals that provide us with milk, but also, you know, a staple in the cosmology of several peoples around the world, and indeed, a staple in Africanist Anthropology and Economic Anthropology. So, whether you could be quick on your feet to respond to the question, “How would you address the cows?” You will be rewarded if you do. Right?
What I would respond, for example, I mean, my ongoing research is on the selling of citizenship, which in Latin in legal terms is called ius pecuniae, pecuniae being money, right? But pecuniae originally, etymologically actually means cow. So that’s what I would say, I’d say I would solve your cow problem in teaching by explaining to 19-year-old, first-year BAs that the symbol of the cow is very much with us in a current sense in contemporary capitalism.
Kerry: The interview questions are about teaching research and service, in the Postdoc positions, you might be asked interesting HR-type questions like, “What are three words to describe yourself?” So that’s something that is worth mentioning, because I’ve noticed that it does sometimes throw off candidates from not from Norway who are not used to those kinds of questions. Yeah, so I mean, on the campus visit, where, you know, you would meet the Chair of the committee, the Search Committee, HR, you’ll meet students and colleagues, you’ll have a talk and then a reception and a dinner, but with a great deal of, you know, time and space in between these.
You don’t do a lot of one-on-one, you don’t do any one-on-one, you know, back-and-forth with faculty individually. It’s all out in the open. Everyone has asked the same questions and those questions are about research, teaching, and service, right? You’re not going to be asked, “Are you married? Do you have kids?” You might be asked this in you know, in passing it dinner or something, but it’s not going to be you know, a question that you get asked all day long.
Don: I think it is, it is just everywhere, simply very important that you’ve come up with a good story. Write a story that is not overly polished and overly prepared, and that speech really tells me that, if you do a good job in explaining what you’re doing, and you are able to make it clear to others why that is important, and what your extended field in terms of your research agenda is, they also get an idea of how you would be as a teacher. You quite often see people who are a bit nervous, that’s understandable, of course, and then they write everything out and they’ve read the text. I don’t think it’s a good idea in an application situation to actually read a paper, for example, that almost everywhere, well, people will say, “Well, it’s a nice paper, but we haven’t seen anything about the person.” Right? So yeah, that must be really a personal click.
And so those junior Anthropologists who have been teaching before, dealing with students, publishing, you know, the sort of all-around professional training, and they feel they’re okay in their skin, that is, I think, always essential to have a chance of success in these applications. I think the applicant should first of all… Well, substantial questions, right? So essential questions about research and teaching how the teaching situation looks like, give me an idea about your students in this department, because that can differ enormously. Talk about what the department might expect from you in terms of your future research, development, if they want you to move in this or that direction, show yourself open and flexible in this, but not giving everything away. Don’t be opportunistic, because people also see that if you know, if you’re too willing to go along with everything, then you have nothing to offer, right?
So, you should also be in all these cases, you should be self-conscious about what you can do, what you want to do those ideas, show teaching and research. Those are really important. So, the questions, it’s really good if people prepare themselves, so do your internet search about the sort of department, any sort of questions that you have about that person. You know, how does this work? Where’s that going? You make a really good impression if you have that sort of preparation and you have those questions. So, the questions are important, actually.
Never asked questions about salary at that point, right, or about secondary conditions, you don’t do that. You’re not bargaining or negotiating. So, all about, you know, the material side of things, that is for when they have finally offered or are offering you the job. And then you can talk about conditions, but not before that.
Kerry: With a professor position, I think, you know, asking what the students are like is always a safe question. So many questions can be hot button issues without a candidate realizing. I mean, I remember a job interview, I very naively said, “What is the approach to teaching intro?” And it started a huge fight between the faculty about how intro should be taught. And it shouldn’t be taught this way, it should actually be taught this way. You know, any number of things can be controversial issues, even saying, “Well, I want to be part of a center.” Well, there’s a whole debate around to what extent faculty should be associated with centers. And so, I would just in that case always advise asking relatively neutral questions.
And it’s helpful to know what the students are like, for instance, but I do think it’s fair to ask in a project, you know, “How do you see that Postdoc fitting into the larger project?” That’s fair, I don’t think it’s terribly controversial either. In Norwegian universities, you have quite a lot of these projects. So even if you’re not running your own project, there are a lot of projects—research projects—going on. So perhaps you would contribute to one of the projects that are going on in the department as an affiliate or participating in events, maybe you would want to propose applying to, you know, launch your own research cluster focused on a particular topic. I think if there’s a kind of seminar series going on in the department, how you might contribute to that.
So, I mean, service is also kind of indicating your collegiality and willingness to work in a team, and that’s really emphasized in a Norwegian academy, that you’re part of a team and you’re working in relation to others. Often that’s the case in research, but also in terms of, you know, office life, people tend to be at the office, interact at the office, not just sort of empty buildings where no one is there. So it’s, I think, what they’re trying to get at with services, how, you know, how you’re going to contribute to other tasks that need to get done at both a research level and a departmental administrative level.
Keir: I think it’s very, very important in Norway to understand that there’s a strong aversion to expressing disagreement, even in terms, you know, that don’t in Britain or America come across as particularly aggressive. So, I mean, I’m used to staff meetings—and staff meetings back in Manchester could get very raised voices, and people would shout, the language would become quite industrial or Anglo Saxon on occasion—and that is not something that older Norwegians, like I think there’s the younger generation are more tolerant of it, but older Norwegians still hold a lot of power in departments like this. They do not like even just saying that I think something’s a bad idea is something I’ve, you know, you’re better off in Norwegian phrasing is I think that, you know, I see where you’re coming from, but some of the outcomes from that might be slightly unfortunate. If we think about it a bit more. You know, it’s like, even expressing disagreement.
Now, I think it can be difficult, you know, and I think coming across as somebody who is always looking for consensus is something that goes down very well with older Norwegians. So, if you give the impression that you’re a strident young person who knows what’s what and what needs to be fixed, that’s not going to sell you to most old conservative, middle class Norwegians.
Chapter Seven: The Decision
Anna: After you’ve had candidates give their job talk and interview with you, tell us about the deliberations.
Kerry: The number of applicants that we get for these positions is unbelievable. And the candidates are incredibly qualified, incredibly accomplished, you know, it’s so difficult to make any kind of decision about distinguishing one candidate from another, but it’s the same dynamics that play out in the US. I don’t think—in my experience in Hiring Committees in the US and Norway, it’s not really any different. Did you give a good job talk? What are the departmental politics behind the search? Did you give a good interview? Do you seem motivated to be in this position?
And I think in Norway, another two qualifications might be important to emphasize. One is that you are going to learn Norwegian within two years, and that you will live in the city that you are going to be working. And that goes to motivation. So maybe that’s something that is emphasized in Norwegian interviewing contexts that might be different than in the US, because it’s taken for granted that you would live in the place that you would work and it’s taken for granted that you would you know, be able to participate in the full activities of department.
Don: Scandinavian jobs are seen as good jobs, they’re quite well-paid. And, of course, very secure teaching loads, not too high, certainly not Norway, these are preferable jobs in your international job market. But it is not true that they always want an international person in this position. So, most of the Scandinavian jobs will be advertised internationally. That means that there’s potentially a very big pool of very good candidates, but they might in the end, actually really need a person who speaks the local language and whom they trust to do what has to be done by those things work like that. And so even when you come out fairly high and on the ranking list, it is not certain that you will get a job because there will be sort of politics around, “Do we actually want an international person or a local person?”
Theo: At that stage, we’ve guaranteed that all the interviewees or the applicants that have reached that level are really top-notch, this has been the experience with all recent hires. So, there’s not much concern as to the research output or whatnot. The main concern there is: what kind of candidate—now that we know we have these five people—what kind of candidate do we really need? So, it would be issues like gender and issues like the gender of the candidate, and issues like their regional expertise or thematic interest and how that speaks to the ongoing interests of the rest, in issues like whether they have pending or successful application to a great sort of funding body, which in Europe is the ERC, mainly the European Research Council, all these issues will be factored in. So again, rather than deliberating about this or that article, at that stage, it’s mostly about this extra stuff.
Keir: In our department, we have a kind of informal ritual in which, after the job talks, normally the Head of Department will call together all the academic staff and they can share their impressions on job talks and the candidates. That is actually not part of the formal process. But essentially, the Interview Committee then goes by and decides if they’re going to, essentially, they’re going they decide if they’re going to re-rank the candidates on the basis of the interviews, but I can think of one example where we had two interviews that I wasn’t on these with committee but two job talks that weren’t the best job talks that were then followed by going back a little while, by two interviews that apparently were not great interviews, and we just decided at the board that we weren’t actually going to offer those two people jobs. So, I think the interview, to my mind is often it’s more just like, it’s more a chance for you to mess up than it is a chance to impress.
I think, particularly for some older, more traditional colleagues, it’s viewed as bad form to re-rank, unless something exceptional happens, like, you know, they show up drunk or they say in the interview, “I intend to never learn Norwegian ever, not single word of it,” unless they do something completely bizarre that is clearly designed to lose them a job, some older colleagues don’t want to be ranked. The odd colleagues do, so I think it depends on the balance in the room.
And I think… I mean, my feeling is that normally, we don’t tend to do much ranking after the interviews, but the ranking that is done can be significant. So often, for example, if we’re offering two jobs, it’s possible that number two and number three get swapped. And then a lot of times that will be around, did they do well at interview? And there is always a suspicion, if you’re not inside those committees, of going, “Well, the interview means the candidate we prefer.” So, I mean, because it’s such an opaque process, no one’s sat in those interviews.
Anna: How long after the interview, should candidates expect to hear something?
Theo: The response after the interview is relatively quick. So, you would have information in a reasonable amount of time, like a week, it varies, it could be a week, but it could be more than that. Sometimes… I won’t, I don’t want to say considerably more, but quite a bit more. The offer has to go to the school, to the faculty and be okayed by that. And the faculty would almost never overturn the desires of the department, not least because of the two-tier committee process, which guarantees professionalism and transparency and whatnot, and also knowledge of the field. But if there would be a technical gray area, they might raise a concern and overturn so for example, if it’s like—this is a completely hypothetical case—but if we have 13 interviewees and the person ranked 13th is the one offered the job, then the faculty might scrutinize it.
Don: In Norway, in Scandinavia, if you are, let’s say, among the top three on the expert list, then it might take another three months before you get invited, and then might take another two months before a decision is made. So, you can take half a year altogether even when the outcome of the merit list is already publicized, and so on. That is can also be true in places like Germany or France or Austria. But let us say in the more, you know, sort of liberal cases—Netherlands, UK, US—decisions can be made fairly quickly. Quickly means within a week or earlier. In other words, if you have not heard within a week, they might keep you as a reserve, but you’re probably not going to be offered as number one for the job.
Keir: I’ve known cases where it’s taken nearly two years from start to finish. I had a colleague… I moved from Manchester to here in 2014, I had another colleague of Manchester who moved from Manchester to here—it’s a very popular location to travel, clearly—a few years earlier. And back then, they didn’t even have interviews, it was just that the second committee ranked people, and that’s who got the job. She had applied for a job. And 15 months later, she hadn’t heard anything. So, she’s presumed she hadn’t been shortlisted. And then she got a letter in the post saying, “We’re delighted to offer you the position of Associate Professor.” And she was like what? I’ve almost forgotten, I applied for that. So, it can be a very slow process, because it just takes one person to sit on those reports. And that committee doesn’t report and then suddenly you’ve got a six-month delay or something. So, it’s… Yeah, it can be a slow process.
Anna: What kind of feedback will candidates receive?
Theo: There would be feedback, I believe, if you request for it, I don’t think it’s a given that everyone gets feedback. But everyone does get written feedback on the sorting stage. So, everyone receives a letter, an integrated PDF that’s actually several dozens of pages long. So if 50 people had applied and were eligible to apply and whatnot, you’d have access to all that feedback, and you’d read the document of 150 pages, where you can see why you and not somebody else, and this and that, so there’s feedback for all, available to all, and it’s feedback that’s not stretching way more than three or four lines, but indeed sometimes a page. It’s a lot of work from the department and it’s very transparent work. And yeah, I mean, it’s something that absolutely stupefied me positively when I applied and again when I was a member of Hiring Committees.
Kerry: It’s worth sending at least a note to the Chair and the Chair of the search committee. I did send notes to everyone when I was hired, but it’s not necessarily expected in Norwegian contexts. The decision being made, I mean, it’s usually a few weeks, they’ll tell you, it’s part of the HR process to tell you what the process is, at the end of the interview, how long it’s going to take, you’re informed if it’s going to take longer. You don’t expect feedback at that stage. You will, eventually, if you’re selected for the position, either they’ll call or notify you by email.
Keir: Normally, everybody receives a full report when the final decision is made. So, the 160 candidates, all 160 will receive the full report. And here’s where we have a problem, I do think, in the sense that they’re public documents, there’s a huge emphasis on transparency in Norwegian public life. So, what that means is 160, candidates might get this list sent to them electronically, that has their name and the name of all the other people apply for that job on it. Yeah?
Now you can request to not have your name released. But more often than not, they don’t respect that request. And they will publish your name anyway. So you have to be aware, if you already have a job, you have to be aware that if you apply for a job here, but there is a chance that your colleagues and employers will find out that you’re applying for this other job. So you know, this is something to bear in mind, is something that I have continuously kind of made a point saying, look, we need to make sure they actually do respect the requests for anonymity, but they’re not bound to respect that request. It’s not that you have the right to demand it, and they often just say, “No, no, but we’ve got our way of doing things here. And these are public things.” And you know, it’s normal that someone has another job. I mean, I don’t think they understand, I don’t think some Norwegian bureaucrats quite understand the impact that might have back home if you were found to be applying for other jobs without having told your current employers. So I mean, that’s just something to bear in mind.
You know, if you’re a grad student or a Postdoc on a fixed term contract, no one’s going to hold it against you that you’re applying for a permanent job since they expect you to. But if you’re looking to make a sideways move, like I did, from a permanent job in Manchester to a permanent job here, I was very well aware that if I didn’t get the job, my colleagues will find out.
Chapter Eight: Negotiating the Job Offer
Anna: If you receive an offer, what is possible to negotiate?
Kerry: They’ll send a letter that indicates what you would be paid. But this is already advertised in the advertisement, the job advertisement. They will say this is the category of state employee code that you are, this is how much the range of salary is going to be. So, they’ll essentially just put all of that in a letter and you can respond, there’s not as much negotiation back-and-forth in Norway, as there is in the US. But it’s worth asking, you know, for what it is that, you know, if you’re moving from a position where you get paid more, or you’re moving from a position where, you know, you had certain access to research funds, it really doesn’t hurt to ask, but it depends on all sorts of factors as to whether or not a university will negotiate. And that goes for anywhere. It’s not just Norway, but I think there’s a lot less negotiating going on in a Norwegian context, because the way that the rankings map onto government hiring codes, okay? I mean, within egalitarianism in principle, right? I’m sure that there’s some offense around negotiating too aggressively. But I think still, you should ask for what it is you want to negotiate for. And a department can always say no.
Keir: You can negotiate overpay. I actually didn’t. I think it’s good to do a bit of research. I came in at a far lower paygrade than I should have been, and I didn’t realize it for years afterwards, and it still impacts my finances, and even now I didn’t know who to talk to, to ask about it. So I mean, things like that… Do some research, and you can negotiate on things like pay.
Theo: This is a very family friendly, social-democratic country, right? So, these issues are important. We want our people to be happy, and in that, we might be different than the Anglosphere. To an extent the work/life balance is tremendously important to Norwegians and to their allies like me. So yes, you could negotiate on the basis of that. So partner, or my kids, or both, and all that this is always part of the negotiation.
There’s no spousal hire, like the US which—across Europe, unfortunately, I think there’s not spousal hires—but there is a lot of concern to accommodate family and other needs. You can negotiate salary, to an extent. There’s several tiers that come with numbers, so it’s qualified tiers. So, am I starting at 72, am I starting at 75? Or whatever, that’s not an amount as in 1000s of dollars, right? It’s just a tier. No, it’s not $75,000. Say, “Look, I mean, I’m willing to come to Norway. And I’m going to apply or keep applying for the Norwegian Research Council, which is very generous funding body for research. But I want you to guarantee to me that if I do, if I do spend all this time flying, I would be off for 30% or 40%, rather than 20% or 25%.”
Kerry: You ask for everything that you want to ask for: salary, research funds, research funds for different purposes. You know, maybe you want research funds for a book workshop, and you also want research funds for fieldwork. And you know, you can break down some of those requests, and concretely say exactly what it is you’re going to be using the funds for, certainly. If you have a Postdoc and you want to delay, or you should negotiate that, if you have multiple offers, you should bring that to the table, I think all of the negotiating approaches that one would use in the US can be used in Norway. Whether or not they will be responded to the same as in the US, you have some institutions that are willing to negotiate and some institutions who are definitely not, and it depends on the Chair, and the department budget and university budget and all sorts of dynamics.
Don: There are other things that you can negotiate about in Scandinavian universities, which is, for example, starting with a sabbatical that is in a place like the Netherlands or Germany. That is completely unthinkable, you know, if you even ask it, you have already a bad reputation.
Keir: Don’t try and negotiate over things like office space, and things like that, that will be seen as being very, very vulgar.
Don: Unless, of course, you come with a big grant, right? You can come within your ERC grant, as you know, Americans are very well eligible for that. You can come with a grant from the ERC. And you can negotiate your way into a department on often much more favorable terms than when you don’t come with a lot of money, right. And so then the space of negotiation is magnified, but, for example, in a country like Norway, not to the extent that you can simply say, look, I can make 2 million euros, and so I will be a full Professor. Now, it doesn’t work like that. There is no full Professor, you need to wait, and it’s because, in this country, you only become full Professional by you know, when you’re 50 or 45. If you are 38, you know, why that big mouth? We don’t accept. Again, in Scandinavia or in or Norway, it would be slightly different, you can make a lot of money, they can probably accommodate you. But again, not just because of the money, but because they find interesting what you do, right?
There’s a lot of things to be talked about what cannot happen, not easily, and much less easily in Europe is a second job for your partner. Right? That’s an enormous difference with us. European institutions are not organized to do that. And, you know, it explains itself, of course, easily because these are relatively small countries. So, you know, there has always been national mobility. But if you want to employ somebody in Berlin, and the person comes from Stuttgart, you don’t need to offer the partner of that person also, they can organize themselves. Yeah, so that’s basically it goes everywhere, right? So, second job for a partner, even when they want you, really they cannot do that. There’s no way they can organize that. What they can do is say, we’re sympathetic to your plight. And we understand it’s important for you that you can come as a couple, we cannot immediately help you with that. But if you have time, if you give us one or two years, I can talk to this Dean, I can talk to that Head of Department, that might be an opening there. But we cannot guarantee anything, but we can guarantee that we do our best for you. Right, which is always fate.
It’s a risky condition for moving, right. And I’ve seen a couple of couples who came to Europe actually retreat back to the US because, number two, in the end—well we even had problems with identity papers and with local registration and anything can happen, right? And so this is stuff where you need to really prepare yourself really well in terms of citizenship regimes and immigration regimes. But also assume that even when people are willing to help you out, there is no guarantee whatsoever that there will be a job at your level.
Anna: Do you have any final tips for job seekers interested in positions in Norway?
Kerry: I think time is different in Norway. You want to show up a bit early, okay, for everything maybe 10 minutes early. And you know, this is the same in the US, right? Different regions have different temporal existences, and, in a way, showing up early is important. So, early by most American standards, it’s a little earlier. I think that I mentioned giving yourself time to fill the application. Just being aware, in the case of the Postdocs, of these HR-type of job questions, that might be like, “Three words that describe you.” Or, “What would you say your approaches to handling a conflict with a coworker?” Or, “How would your colleagues see that you are stressed out and may be overwhelmed with your work? How do you respond to stress and deadlines?” These are questions that you would never get in a formal setting in an American context, but it’s worth just noting that you could be asked these kinds of questions, which I think, my sense is that it might strike Americans, as people trained in an American setting, as kind of embarrassing or overly personal. But it reflects on a kind of sensibility about collegiality and teamwork, right? It’s not just about the individual.
Theo: I would say learn about Scandinavia and learn to love it. Because I would say if you don’t appreciate the Scandinavian values, then it might work to your disadvantage in applying or in being interviewed. And indeed—and way more importantly—if you are recruited and given a job, you might not be that tremendously happy. And I’m thinking particularly with the idea of being fair and humble, which are, you know, main Scandinavian values, that you’re not supposed to be super bragging, for example, right? So, in that respect, this is not a Norwegian particularity. It’s across the countries of the north here, and being somehow humble about your achievements, and being collegial, and solidary values are very much appreciated, both in the recruiting process and in the work life after and in broader society. I mean, you’re not supposed to really stand out, blowing your own horn and stuff.
Anna: Thanks for listening to this episode of Hiring Rituals. Till next time…