In The Local's series profiling careers of foreigners who have moved to Sweden, The Local catches up with Mexican Paola Pancardo to hear how she ended up working at the Tanzanian embassy in Stockholm.
How did you end up in Sweden?
I initially came here as a love refugee seven years ago when I was 20. At first my parents were worried about me moving so far away from home, but after my Swedish boyfriend passed muster with my father, a member of the Mexican military, he gave me his full support.
What did you do to get started on your Swedish career?
I enrolled at Stockholm University where I studied political science. Overall it was a positive and very rewarding experience.
I also really liked the university's diversity as well. It is completely normal for a person of any age to be enrolled, whereas in Mexico and the US you mostly see people who are in their early 20s.
Have you kept in touch with people from university? Have they also helped you with advice in Swedish society, finding jobs?
Many went on to study abroad, and sometimes the classes run for such a short period you don’t always have time to make friends. However the few that I’m still in contact with have become really good friends. I wouldn't say they helped me get jobs, but they have been kind of the family that I don’t have here.
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I guess my best advice is to really go hang out after classes, that’s when friends are made.
And get involved in stuff on the side. I was always interested in development issues so took part in activities organized by the Swedish development forum, the Stockholm Association of International Affairs and other similar organizations.
So how did a young woman from Mexico end up working at the embassy of Tanzania in Stockholm?
I just applied for the job. I had always wanted to work in an embassy after I graduated, so I had my eyes open for those types of openings. Knowing what you really want makes it easier to put all your energy into making it happen.
Sweden and Tanzania has a decade-long developmental aid relationship. How does your political science degree help you in your current job?
My university studies gave me the analytic and theoretical skills necessary to better understand foreign relations and diplomacy. It has been really interesting to witness the economic and social shifts in Tanzania at it transitions from having foreign aid as its main source of economic support to relying more on trade and investment.
What does a typical workday look like?
I am the personal assistant to the ambassador, which makes my job pretty diverse. I take care of his schedule and assist him in anything he may need, from organizing logistics to serving as a gatekeeper for external contacts.
I also take care of the drafting diplomatic correspondence and reports on Swedish politics and how the local media covers Tanzania.
What are some key differences between Sweden and your home country when it comes to finding a job?
It’s been said many times about Sweden, and I completely agree, that you find jobs through your contacts. But it is the same in Mexico. It’s all about who you know.
However, one difference might be that in Mexico, if you speak English, it's a bit easier to get a job at a big, international company even if you don't speak Spanish, whereas in Sweden, you really need Swedish to improve your chances of getting a job.
Apart from "never give up", do you have any other tips for people looking for work in Sweden?
I’d like to emphasize the importance of a good CV. Before I got this job, I dedicated a lot of time really looking at Swedish websites giving tips on how to write a winning CV and examining different templates. I think it's important to keep your CV up to date and make a whole new one that follows a Swedish standard.
I may sound too philosophical but the whole "God can dream a bigger dream for you than you could ever dream for yourself" or for the more rationally-minded: "Good things come to those who wait" applies to me in this case.
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What other advice might help foreigners make themselves more attractive to Swedish employers?
It's also a good idea to do something while looking for a job, whether it’s volunteer work or an internship, preferably related to your area of expertise.
Swedes value experience a lot, so it's not only is good to acquire as much as you can, but it looks much better to have an activity during the time that you were unemployed than to have a "gap" in your CV.
I even worked as a volunteer at the Swedish Open tennis tournament. I’ve always had the conviction that you never know where one thing may lead, and in this instance, a fellow volunteer became one of my best friends.
Plus, you may never know if that "temporary" activity can lead to a job or if you might meet someone that could have something for you.
You need to explore it all.
Interested in sharing the story of your Swedish career with The Local?
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To read more interviews from our My Swedish Career series, please visit our archive.