Iceland - why work abroad?

Country: Iceland
Official languages: Icelandic
Government: Parliamentary republic
Population: 320 000
Capital: Reykjavik
Currency: Icelandic krona (ISK)
Member EU or EEA: EEA
Phone code: +354
Internet code: .is

Why this country?

Iceland is an island of natural wonders with volcanoes, glaciers, geysers and mud pots. Fear not the Vikings; Icelanders are friendly, stoical and humorous, and their capital Reykjavik has the safety and charm of a village.

Unemployment in Iceland has historically been very low, around 1 %. This changed with the financial crisis and the collapse of the banks in 2008, increasing to over 8 %, although it has fallen since. The economic crisis also led to an upturn in tourism, due to the devaluation of the currency. A growth in the software development sector has translated into a need for skilled IT workers, and there is a shortage of skilled workers in the metal industry, including welders and ironworkers. The country is also in need of doctors, as many Icelandic doctors have moved to work abroad.

Looking for work?

If you don't speak Icelandic, the best way to look for work is via EURES. For some vacan­cies, you are requested to fill in an online appli­cation form at For others, you can send your appli­cation directly to the employer. Make sure that you complete the form giving as much detail as possible.

You may also, free of charge, register with one or more private employment agencies (radnin - garfydnustur),check job advertisements in local newspapers or place your own advert.

You can contact the local branch of your trade union (stettarfelag): they have information on the current employment trends in your profes­sion and can advise on where to start looking.

Be aware, too, that word of mouth is very pow­erful in a small community like Iceland, and many jobseekers find work through family con­tacts or other personal networks.

Tips for job applications?

Sending a CV and a covering letter is the most common procedure when applying for a job. A CV should never exceed two pages and should be to the point and recently updated. The let­ter should state why you are interested in the vacancy and why you are the right person for the position.

If you apply spontaneously, try to hand your application directly to the person who will be in charge of the selection procedure. This will make a better impression.

Is it standard to include a photo on the CV?

Yes, photos in CVs are very common. Choose the photo well: it should be of you alone and with nothing in the background. Photos from the beach or last weekend’s party are not a good idea.

Is there a preference for handwritten applications?

Not at all: handwritten covering letters are generally considered unprofessional.

Is the Europass format CV widely used and accepted?

Europass-type formats tend to be long and very detailed. It is more important that the CV is short and clear, no more than two pages.

Making contact by phone

If applying by phone, remember that Icelandic people are not very formal. Even so, it is usual to state your name and the reason for your call at the start of the conversation. Take care not to speak for too long and never interrupt the person you are talking to.

Do I need to send diplomas with my application?

You should have your diploma assessed for equivalence and recognition in Iceland. This will make it easier for employers to evaluate your knowledge and skills. It may also help you to get a better job with higher pay.

The basic principle is that valid qualifications for practising a profession in your homeland are also valid in other EEA countries. Higher degrees, 3 years of academic studies (BA, BSc, BS) and vocational studies with a secondary-school education should be recognised throughout the EEA.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Cul­ture is responsible for coordinating recognition procedures. However, other ministries han­dle recognition for their respective spheres, for instance the Ministry of Health for the recog­nition of medical and health professions. The best place to begin collecting the information you will need is, the national reference point for the assessment and recognition of qualifications.

Should I supply references, letters of recommendation or proof of good conduct?

Give details in your CV of at least two people, such as a former employer or teacher, who will give you a good reference. Get their approval in advance. They should know how you work and be able to attest that you have the skills and attitude to work that you claim to have.

Letters of recommendation can help, but most employers prefer to get the references them­selves. Mention the letters in your CV neverthe­less and be ready to present them at your job interview.

Some employers want verification from your local authorities that you do not have a crim­inal record. This is particularly common in care and cleaning jobs, where you are left on your own, often in private homes or offices.

Usual length of time between publication of the vacancy and start of the job

In low-skilled jobs, applicants are usually expected to start within days or a month at the latest. For highly skilled specialist positions there is more room for negotiation. One to three months is common.

Preparing for the interview

Before you go to an interview, do your home¬work. Read up about the company on its webpage, and be prepared to answer any questions they might bring up. These could include: what are your strengths and weaknesses? How would you describe yourself as a worker? Why did you leave your last job? Show that you are interested in knowing as much as possible about the company and the vacancy.

Dress-code tips

Dress casually and smartly or conventionally. Avoid wearing too much jewellery. Jewellery on men, except for an engagement or a wedding ring, is frowned upon in Icelandic society.

Who will be there?

There may be one to four people from the employer’s side. In general, the more spe­cialised the job, the more people conduct the interview.

Do we shake hands?

People always shake hands at formal occasions such as job interviews. Shake hands firmly and make eye contact. A weak handshake is not a good start.

Is there a typical interview structure?

Interviews usually take 30 minutes to an hour. There is no specific structure. The best thing to do is to present yourself as honestly as possi­ble and not to 'oversell' or 'undersell' your skills. Be polite and try to be calm.

Employers want to discover who you are during the interview. Do not be surprised if they ask questions about your personal life. Non-pro­fessional items usually take up a small part of the interview and are used simply to make the atmosphere more relaxed. The employer should already know basic things about your experience from your CV. Use this opportunity to speak in greater depth about your skills and why you are the best candidate. Also, try to convince them that you will contribute some­thing that will enhance the quality of their com­pany and that you are willing to work hard to do this.

Any questions from you regarding the nature of the job are appreciated, but it is better to wait until you know for sure that you have got the job before asking about the salary, unless the employer brings it up first.

At the end of an interview, the employer usu­ally tells you when you can expect to hear from them again. If they do not, the odds are that they are not interested. If the employer has not contacted you within the period you were told, the best thing is to simply contact them and ask for feedback.

While you will always present yourself better in person, if you cannot attend the interview, check if the employer can conduct the interview as a conference call. Video-conferencing is also growing in popularity in Iceland.

When is a question out of bounds?

Anti-discrimination laws in Iceland are quite clear. Employers can ask if you are married or if you have children. They cannot ask about your sexual orientation, your political views or if you intend to have children. The best thing to do if these questions come up is to point out politely that these questions make you uncomfortable and that you question whether they are legal.

Negotiating your pay and benefits

Salaries and contract length may be negotiated in the interview or after a job offer is made. Ice­landic labour law states that you should have a job contract not later than 2 months after the job starts. The contract should state your sal­ary. There is always room to negotiate your pay. You are entitled to one interview with your employer every year to discuss pay.

The most common point of negotiation is over the monthly salary. If you have a job where you often work overtime, negotiating an hourly rate would be a good idea. Holiday pay and bonuses are fixed, so they do not have to be negotiated.

Is a trial period likely?

There is usually no need for a trial period as it is very easy to hire and fire people in Iceland and at the beginning of a job the notice period is very short. You should be paid for every day that you work.

How long is the standard probationary period?

If you have one, it is usually between 1 and 3 months long. If the employer does not intend to pay you for this period, you should refuse and inform the Directorate of Labour or a trade union.

Will the employer cover my costs for attending an interview?

Very rarely, except in the case of a highly skilled specialist job. This is up to the employer.

When will I hear the result?

Employers do not like to contact people to tell them that they have not been hired. Therefore it is a good idea to contact the employer 1 week after the application deadline to find out the status of the vacancy. A good rule of thumb is that if you have not been hired 1 month after the deadline, they do not want to employ you.

Getting feedback and further follow-up

It is a good idea to take the initiative and contact the employer for feedback. It shows that you are interested and take matters into your own hands when needed.

How early should I arrive for the interview?

Icelanders are very punctual when it comes to work. It is therefore imperative that you show up on time for your interview.

last modification: 2014-09-03
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