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Tips for TechComm Job Seekers in the Nordics Region

Guest blogger CJ Walker, Director of Firehead Ltd., a recruitment firm specialising in Web Content, Digital Strategy and Technical Communication across Europe, contributes this posting which provides tips for those seeking TechComm jobs in the Nordics regions.

Twitter: @FireheadLtd

The Nordics: Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland (I’m leaving out Iceland in this post) is a big and varied market for TechComm professionals. As a specialist recruiter in this area, Firehead sees a large demand for experienced English-speaking contractors in technical communications.

What are the Companies’ Profiles Like?

Firehead sees the highest demand for contractors from larger companies and international corporations. They usually bring them in for very specific domain knowledge and experience, in addition to their native language skills.

Which industries tend to use native-English speaking contractors?

  • Sweden – Software and Telecoms
  • Denmark – High-Tech with some Manufacturing
  • Norway – Oil
  • Finland – Telecoms

Sweden, for example, exports a fair amount of its products to the United States. As one English contractor put it: “Americans won’t get Swenglish – our emphasis is on documentation in clear American English.” However, many companies reported they don’t care if it’s UK or American English if they are not client-dependent; it just has to be consistent.

For this post, I got numbers from six employers that ranged from 15% to 70% native-English speaking requirements. It depends on a few general factors such as the size of the company. International corporations usually have English as the company language (for better or worse) for communication.

How do they break down by size?

  • Mid-sized companies, just past the start-up phase, often bring in contractors to set up doc systems once they reach the level of needing more sophisticated systems to track their doc cycles. These contracts tend to run just the length of the original brief and no more.
  • Smaller companies like someone who can speak with the SMES in their native language. Being bilingual is an obvious advantage.
  • Smaller companies will also try to use someone within the company (engineer, marketing, etc…) to do the job if they can. Then, when they get stuck…

Many UK contractors have expressed surprise by the very focused and specific nature of the role specifications in the Nordics. They do their homework about the information on a CV before they bring someone into their team; they want to know the experience and skills are a match before they begin. And they do check references.

What are the Profiles of the TechComm Contractors?

  • High technical knowledge, including industry-standard tools such as Adobe FrameMaker, Illustrator, and strong knowledge of doc systems and processes.
  • While you might not have to learn to speak the local language fluently, it really does help to be willing to try. The appreciation will pay for your efforts.
    A veteran Danish Technical Communicator told me: “I have worked with so many foreigners over the years and one trend is clear: All the lonesome wolves who come here and go to the pub once a week with their buddies, who don’t like to learn the language or commit in one way or the other, they keep cursing about the country and everything that’s Danish.  Some people move, others don’t.”

What Can You Expect from Working in the Nordics as an English TechComm Contractor?

  • You can count on a high level of professionalism and quality of infrastructure in the Nordics. They also offer a high level of autonomy compared to many other countries – there’s an expectation that you will get on with your work. In turn, they have demanding expectations of the contractor’s level of skill, knowledge and professionalism.
  • The cultures in these countries tend to emphasise “fairness” and have a consensus in their approach to hiring and moving ahead with project decisions. They tend to have a flat hierarchy compared to other European cultures.
  •  An experienced English Technical Communicator in Sweden told me: “Senior non-native English speaking technical communicators who work in English in the Nordics know what they don’t know regarding the language issues this brings up.”
  • The pay rates are roughly the same as the UK, but remember to take into account the costs of living abroad and Nordic taxes. You must register in your working country’s tax system after a grace period.  Pay rates are obviously higher in Norway, but as they are not part of the EU; you will need a visa to work there.

What Should you Have on Your CV to Create Interest from Nordic Companies?

While there is no Technical Author qualification as such in the Nordics, a contractor needs to have enough experience to fill the role expectations.  Some common experience and skills Nordic employers seek:

  • A science or engineering degree
  • Good writing samples (essential)
  • Domain knowledge in the client’s area
  • Industry-standard tools such as FrameMaker, Illustrator, Acrobat are baseline expectations. Hiring discussions are about what you can deliver, not what tools you know.
  • Many contractors said that a demonstrated ability to “reason” your case well and work well in committees are important skills to demonstrate on your CV.

You will usually be expected to meet with the technical team during the interview process to determine if you can communicate with them.

Ulrike Forsberg, a seasoned Danish Technical Communicator summed it up: “An engineering degree and my combination of languages, a track record with known corporations and nice work samples,” got her the job.

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