At the beginning of the year I did a reader survey where I opened the floor for you all to send me any questions you wanted to see answered on the blog. Aside from questions about the Viking and I (we all really are suckers for a love story aren’t we:) the most asked question was about my job in Iceland.
How did you find a job in Iceland? And what is your job?
Let’s rewind to two years ago when I was a stressed out job searching foreigner in Iceland.
While I was waiting to get my visa approved I started asking around to other foreigners for tips on where to look for work. The amount of negative feedback I got was unreal! I was constantly told that if I am not fluent in Icelandic I won’t find work. I would spend my days getting sucked into the negative threads on the foreigners living in Iceland FB groups that had me convinced I would never find a job in Iceland. It was really discouraging.
When I did get my job H told me I should post my story on one of those FB groups, I mean clearly they could use some positive vibes. I knew if I posted something it would only be met with negative feedback, but whenever I met new people they always seem to have the same discouraged feeling about finding work that I did. So instead I want to share my story here to encourage anyone out there looking for work abroad that it is possible. Warning this is a long one.
Back to my story.
Even though those FB groups were not encouraging at the time they were the main resource I had for stories from other foreigners living in Iceland who were lacking in the language skill department and looking for work. According to those in the “we hate Iceland and everyone else” FB group it sounded like my best chance to get a job was to look at a cafe or cleaning at a hotel. Not exactly my dream jobs, but I would take anything to start working again.
A lunchtime walk around the park next to my work
After three months of being in Iceland, getting more discouraged by the day from the negative talk around me, my visa was finally approved, and within the first few days of my visa being approved I landed myself a job at a cafe downtown. Let’s just say I worked one four hour shift never to return, it just wasn’t for me.
After this experience and a long conversation with my parents and the Viking I made a plan and decided to give myself three months of looking for job that would fulfill me. I didn’t move to Iceland just for a boy I needed to have my own life as well! And as I was moving to Iceland for the unforeseeable future it was really important to me that I was in a job that would help me grow in my professional career, and while there is nothing wrong with working at a cafe it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. At the end of the three months (the amount of time I would be able to continue living off my savings) if I had not found a job I would take whatever position I could get.
Step one in my plan to find a job: make a list of all the companies in the Reykjavik area that I knew had English speaking staff or an international faculty with English being one of the main languages.
As I was doing my research on this I was happily surprised to find that there are quite a few companies in Reykjavik with English as a main language of the office! From there I began contacting these companies to see if they had any position openings or internship opportunities. I contacted companies that had job positions listed, and others that didn’t have any job openings posted but I still wanted to check. And even if I saw a position listed only in Icelandic I still reached out to the company, fully disclosing my language skills, and half the time my lack of Icelandic was not a problem to be able to do the job.
In addition to reaching out to companies I began contacting anyone I knew in Iceland to send any job opening information my way. Networking really is key anywhere, but especially in a small community like Iceland it is all about who you know.
One of the places on my list happened to be the university, and I happened to know someone who worked at the university. I reached out to my friend and lucky for me she happened to know about a month long project at the university working in social media, a perfect fit for me. I applied and thankfully got the position creating social media accounts and starting up online marketing for a new program at the university.
This position, it was not paid much at all, and there was no guaranteed job at the end. But I knew that I just had to get my foot in the door so I took the chance. I know not everyone is able to take unpaid work so I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity. While it was a risk putting my job search on hold for a month (I was still looking I just didn’t have as much free time) I figured having work experience in an Icelandic company, even if it wasn’t paid, would benefit me in the long run.
And, lucky for me, just as I was in my last week of the project a full time position opened up in another department at the university. The position was only advertised in Icelandic but I went and talked to the supervisor asking if English was a problem, I figured why not? And you know what, the job actually needed a native English speaker if possible as the main language of the department was English. You really never know unless you ask!
After a stressful interview process (that lasted over two weeks with three different interviews!) and both the Viking and I crossing our fingers and toes I heard back from the university.
I had gotten the job!
Celebrating right after I found out I got the job.
I currently work at the university in Reykjavik handling the graduate programs in Computer Science (sidenote: I know very little about computer science so this is a bit comical) as well as handling marketing for the department and all international relations. This job has been so amazing for me and my co-workers are the best, they have quickly become my Icelandic family and have been there to support me no matter what.
I know my story is one of the lucky ones, not everyone moves abroad and is able to find work. But one thing I do believe is that if you want to find a good job while living abroad it is possible. I dealt with a lot of negative talk from other foreigners saying it isn’t possible to get a job in Iceland, one girl even said to me I only got my job because I look Icelandic. I fully disagree with this and believe we all have something special to add, so if you dream of working abroad I say go for it, keep reaching out and trying for that dream job of yours!
This beach is right behind my work!
If you are living abroad and looking for work, or planing a move abroad and unsure of how to go about the job search here are some tips that worked for me:
Reach out to companies
Don’t let your lack of language skills hold you back. I called several different companies to inquire about their job listings that had only been in Icelandic. When I asked if it was an issue that I was not fluent in Icelandic many of them said no, it was just something they had not about before.
Note: Many positions will require that you speak the native language. I recommend making a list of companies that you know have an international faculty with English being a main language used in the workplace and start with reaching out to them.
If possible do an internship
Still struggling to find work? Try contacting companies that you would be interested in working for and see if they have any internships available. Even if it is just for a short term project getting your foot in the door is what this is all about. Once the faculty has gotten to know you and seen your work skills it will make it much easier to have them look past the fact that you are not fluent in their native language and to see the benefits of hiring international staff.
Again, something that may not be possible if you are not able to work without making money, but getting your name into the community can be a great benefit in your future job search. I did a volunteer/internship for three months when I lived in Iceland a year before I officially moved here, just having that experience on my resume really helped me.
No matter where you are in the world, it really is all about who you know. Look up events in your city that you think people in your field may be interested in (public talks, events at companies etc) and go to them. You never know who you will meet and where these connections can lead to. One time I went to a English pub quiz and got put on a team where I didn’t know anyone. By the end of the evening I had three new contacts who knew of possible job opportunities for English speakers in Iceland. You just never know who you will meet!
Build Your Skills
While you are in that transition phase of looking for work use this time to your advantage. Take that free online photography course you have been eyeing, sign up for a local course in your area, or you know start a blog:) Any extra skills will help you. I had only been blogging a few months when I got job and my skillset from blogging really helped put me above the other candidates for this position.
Icelandic horses working on their networking skills
These tips are from my own personal experience and coming from someone who was already in the country trying to find work. Obtaining a work visa to enter a country is an entire different game, one that I know is possible but can be difficult. But I think if you really want something, it is possible to find a way! Just look at my friend Jeannie, she dreamed of moving to Iceland and she found a way to make it happen by reaching out to companies here!
And there is my long-winded answer to how I found a job in Iceland :)
Question of the Day?
Would you like to work abroad? Any tips you would add?