Regionally anchored in Southern Norway, which is famous for its astonishing natural surroundings, the University of Agder (UiA) offers a wide range of studies across six faculties. We spoke to Richard Lislevand, Recruitment Team Manager, and Malin Hauge, senior HR advisor, of UiA to learn more about how they’ve partnered with their municipality to help relocate and onboard international staff.

How do you help international staff relocate to Norway?

MH: For almost two years now, we have actually had a relocation service helping us with hiring international candidates, from the start of the recruiting process until they are here in Norway. They help with all the practical matters, like visas, bank accounts, tax cards, housing, drivers licences, and even applying for kindergartens and finding a job for your partner. They’re really, really good. It’s a service from the municipality’s business department, called Relocation Region Kristiansand. We approached the municipality with the idea in 2018 and now we are one of 10 partners, both private and public, helping strengthen international recruitment in the region. 

Richard Lislevand, Recruitment Team Manager, and Malin Hauge, senior HR advisor, of the University of Agder

How has your international academic recruitment changed during the pandemic? 

RL: Recruitment itself has not been the main challenge. When it comes to conducting interviews, doing the reference checks and these things, we have managed in a good way. The volume of video interviews increased certainly. The main challenge has been to get foreigners into Norway to start their employment and set a starting date. All the restrictions regarding travel have been challenging for us. Over the last 12 to 15 months, there’s been variation when it comes to closed borders or open borders. Because it’s unpredictable, it’s been very hard to plan. You just have to react to the situation. But we have been able to bring people into Norway in some small, narrow windows. 

Can you tell us a little bit about digital onboarding and what that’s been like?

RL: We have been working over a year or so to digitalize the onboarding process. We are soon launching a digital checklist which is generated automatically for managers of new employees, the new employee, and their HR advisor. Using the checklist, everyone can see what has to be done and at what time in the process. The checklist covers the pre boarding before you start until roughly about 12 months after your starting date. So we have built a system where employees automatically get reminders about the steps to follow up on with the new employed person. 

It wasn’t the pandemic that made us think to do this. It has been a subject that we have been thinking a lot over a long time. It’s important to do a good onboarding process and we take it quite seriously, because it creates loyalty to your new working place. If you do it badly, the new employee could be gone in one to three years. So it’s vital, if we want to keep the person we are hiring for a longer period, to have a welcome process that gives the new employees the information they need to do the job. And also do the things that our relocation partner is helping us with, to help the whole family settle into Kristiansand and Norway. It goes extra for foreigners, but good onboarding is also vital for Norwegians.

Do you do any kind of social onboarding?

MH: Absolutely. So there are the very practical onboarding things to fix at and then there’s the social part of the onboarding, which I’m responsible for. This includes events, cultural courses, and networking meetings, which we used to have a few times a semester. We have a monthly international networking event called Secrets of Kristiansand. It’s a collaboration between the university, local chamber of commerce, and Business Region Kristiansand that gives international newcomers a chance to establish connections in their new city. 

While there have been no physical events this last year, we have organized many digital events to provide social meeting points. Additionally we have also organized colleague nature walks for Norwegian and internationals. They’re popular! It’s mostly international staff who’ve signed up for them but there have been Norwegians too. We try to match people up so that those with families can meet other families. Or PhD students can meet postdocs. Everyone has enjoyed getting to meet their colleagues and see more of the area.

Academic recruitment seems like a relatively straightforward process. You post a job, find a pool of qualified applicants, and choose the one best suited for the job. Unfortunately, we know it’s not that easy. Even with a stellar job posting and description, there are so many other factors at play that make academic recruitment particularly challenging. 

Most HR staffs and search committees would love to have a robust pool of qualified candidates from which to choose. But finding someone with the right competencies, who is available for your start date, in your location (or willing to move), speaks the right language, and sees your advert then applies…can feel like finding the needle in the haystack. 

For many universities, the reality is often a limited applicant pool with irrelevant, unqualified, or simply mediocre applicants. Whatever the reason, not getting enough applicants and having to repost a vacancy is not only frustrating, but also time consuming and costly. 

Although there is no magic formula or remedy, there are several steps you can take to put your university in the best position to reach more and better applicants. 

Step 1: Improve the text of your job advert 

Because the job advert is the primary way candidates will learn about your job, it’s best to start with an honest look at the job description. If you are receiving candidates with irrelevant work experience or skills, you might not have explained the details of the job accurately. If you simply did not receive many applications, your job description might be too brief. You need to include enough information about the job to convince people to apply. You may also consider adjusting the formatting of your ad and adding bullet points to improve the readability. 

However, you also want to be careful not to include so many requirements that only a few people apply. People only apply to jobs they think they actually have a chance of getting. Be both descriptive and realistic in your job posting. Consider what the job entails and the kind of candidates you hope to attract and write the job advert with those considerations in mind.

Step 2: Carefully choose the job title 

The job title is like a big, flashing light. It is the first thing job seekers see and can mean the difference between the perfect candidate clicking on the advert or simply scrolling by. First, the title should be specific. “PhD student in organic chemistry” is better than the more general “PhD student.” Because there is some nuance between countries about academic titles, avoid internal or country specific titles. For example, in Austria “university assistant” can mean “PhD student” but applicants outside of Austria or Europe might be unfamiliar with this distinction. 

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Step 3: Promote your employer brand

While there are certain characteristics that all universities share, no two universities are the same. Your institution has unique qualities that make it special. Be sure to highlight those features and promote all the ways in which your university is the best place to work. Think about how the university supports employees and the community as a whole, as well as location of the university and the available facilities. Research centers, libraries, labs, and sports facilities are all excellent distinguishers. 

You want any potential applicants to clearly understand why your university is a better place to work than your competitors. Your university’s social media channels are a great place to help communicate your brand and create brand awareness. The more you can promote your institution, the more potential applicants will continue to seek out opportunities at your university.  

Step 4: Increase your visibility

This may seem obvious, but in order to attract the most candidates, job seekers must know you have job openings. Because of the increased competition for university employees, it is no longer adequate to simply post your job on your university career page and hope the best candidates find it. Your vacancy must also be available online on relevant academic job boards. You can also advertise with professional associations in your field of study.

Consider not just advertising in the traditional sense, but also using social media to increase your university’s visibility. Working with academic recruitment marketing partners is another way to boost your visibility and build your brand. These companies are experts at increasing interest in your organization and attracting  candidates. 

Step 5: Review your application process

Of course you want to ensure you have well qualified candidates by asking for relevant details in the application, but are you asking too much in this phase of the hiring process? According to a study done by CareerBuilder, “60 percent of job seekers quit in the middle of filling out online job applications because of their length or complexity.” There is an enduring fallacy in academia that these 60 percent are candidates who don’t really want the job, but this isn’t the case. Highly qualified candidates are also discouraged by lengthy applications and academic applications in particular are notoriously long. 

There may be parts of your application process that can be shortened or moved to a later stage in the process. Many candidates are reluctant to spend the time and energy on your application when they aren’t even sure they’ll hear from you. Both you and the applicants are more likely to give more time when you both feel you’ve got a real, vested interest. 

Step 6: Beware of personal and unconscious biases

Like it or not, we all carry personal and unconscious biases. These are often certain ideas or stereotypes about gender, race, or nationality that may influence decision-making. Try not to overlook a candidate on the basis of anything other than the qualifications and work history they have shared. It can sometimes be helpful to ignore information like names or nationalities while you evaluate the rest of the application. 

While examining your biases can be uncomfortable, it is essential if you want to attract and retain the best candidates available. 

To learn more about how to improve your chances of a successful recruitment, download our job advertising checklist. This comprehensive checklist will ensure you don’t miss any vital steps before, during, or after the application period.

Download your free academic job advertising checklist