Persistence pays: getting a job in Sweden

So you have arrived in Sweden with the Swedish Love of Your Life (or your hopes of finding a blonde bombshell), you have managed to find an apartment and now all you need to successfully start your new life here is a job. But how do you go about finding one in a country where the unemployment rate is officially 6.3% (compared to 5.4% in the UK and 4.6% in the USA), with unofficial estimates even higher?

The Basics

To work in Sweden, you will first need residency – if you are lucky enough to have a written offer of employment before arriving, you can get a work permit. You can get a residence permit without a job offer providing you fulfill certain requirements. For citizens of other EU countries, this process is made much easier, but even then you need to jump through some bureaucratic hoops. The Swedish Board of Migration (Migrationsverket) has more information about this.

Securing your residence permit isn’t the end of the bureaucracy, though – once you’ve got the stamp in your passport, you’ll need to head off to the Swedish tax authority (Skatteverket).

Apart from enabling you to experience the joys of paying the world’s highest taxes, Skatteverket also handles Sweden’s population register, so this is where to apply for your personal number (personnummer). You need this in order for your employer to be able to pay you – not to mention to be able to open a bank account, use your credit card, or do practically anything else in Sweden.

Still, all this can take time, and some people need a bank account before all the paperwork is ready. One of the few banks to offer accounts to people without personal numbers is SEB.

The CV

Depending on the job you’re applying for, it could well be worth getting your CV (or resume, if you prefer) translated into Swedish. But even if it is in English, tailoring it to Swedish employers’ expectations is vital.

Eva Engelbertson of Gothenburg agency Temp Team advises that in Sweden CVs typically begin with a list of experience first (from most recent job backwards) followed by educational achievements. “Write what you can do, not what you are interested in – not that you like to walk in the woods with your family or whatever,” she says. “Employers want to see what you can offer them, what specialist skills you have.”

The Interview

On the subject of interview attire, Sweden generally takes a more relaxed approach than most English-speaking nations.

Magnus Hahn, Senior Vice President Human Resources Support for Scania, one of Sweden’s largest employers, points out that suits are not usually necessary:

“It’s more important to be clean and presentable – casual is ok as long as the clothing isn’t extreme.”

Arriving clad in a suit will normally only be required in companies or departments staffed by professionals such as lawyers or accountants, though if in doubt it is probably better to dress up rather than down.

Marie Österberg of international recruitment firm Manpower recommends doing some research into the company before you attend the interview, and if you have been referred through a recruitment agency check with your consultant as to whether formal office clothes are likely to be expected.

If the role requires you to speak Swedish, bear in mind that the interview is likely to be conducted in Swedish. Once you’ve said your goodbyes, a follow-up call to see when you’re likely to hear back will usually indicate enthusiasm, although it’s worth asking at the interview about timescales for feedback.

Speaking Swedish

The single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of finding a job in Sweden is to learn to speak Swedish fluently. Although Swedes are famous for their English language abilities, other Nordic countries make up Sweden’s largest trading block, so at least one Scandinavian language is all but essential for any office-based job.

Free Swedish lessons are available for residents via Svenska För Invandrare (SFI) course (contact your local municipality for details of your nearest course). Courses at Folkuniversitet cost money, but have a generally good reputation.

The search for work without Swedish skills can be dispiriting. Ben came to Sweden from New Zealand in October last year and immediately began job-hunting.

“At first I applied to companies where my experience would be relevant – I sent somewhere between 35 and 50 applications,” he says.

“They all said that because their business is Scandinavian-focussed, I would need at least one Scandinavian language to get a job.”

Magnus Hahn recommends a taking a different approach depending on the strength of your Swedish language skills.

“For those who don’t speak Swedish, it’s better to start with a recruitment agency as they have a better contact network. The majority of non-Swedish speakers we hire have been sent by agencies as they have a particular competency in their field,” he says.

“You can send open applications to HR departments, but few companies will have the time to go through these. But for Swedish speakers, you are more likely to make an impact by applying direct.”

The Alternatives

If you don’t speak Swedish, there are still options available to you. Marie Österberg recommends starting out with an Internet job board:

“Most recruiters want you to register via the website, although it’s never wrong to call.” typically has round 8,000 jobs advertised each month.

One of the largest Internet job sites in Sweden is Stepstone. Starting this month, Stepstone’s English-language jobs in Sweden are appearing in The Local’s new job section.

People with good skills in particular fields such as accountancy are likely to have better luck applying for office jobs.

Eva Engelbertson admits that the majority of companies do look for Swedish “unless you have very specialised skills such as IT”.

Then again, she adds “We do also have some jobs in for example catering or conference work where you would be serving food and would need only very basic Swedish.”

Many non-Swedish speaking immigrants do find work in catering, with pub jobs a perennial favourite. Daniel, a Londoner who studied catering in Britain, came to Stockholm with his Swedish girlfriend in November 2005 and spent two days walking around the city with his CV.

“I guess I handed out about 35 CVs, and I got 15 calls from it. I had 10 interviews with 5 or 6 trial starts before I got offered a job in a pub kitchen. But I arrived on the 12th and was working by the 15th.”

English, Irish and Aussie theme pubs abound in Sweden and are probably the best starting point for those looking for bar or kitchen work.

Wilhelm Vintilescu, Managing Director of Swedish pub chain O’Leary’s, recommends the “knocking on doors” approach:

“Bring a CV with you and some good words from your previous employers, people like to see paperwork and some evidence that you are trustworthy.” Some previous experience in the industry is preferable, but not essential.

“If you don’t have any experience you will probably start working in the kitchen in some form,” he says. “Increasingly we are looking for people with education, who take the job seriously.” He also adds, “There is always a shortage of qualified chefs.”

Persistence Pays

Even when it may seem hopeless, it’s important to remember that unemployment among Swedes, particularly young Swedes, is high, and as an immigrant you’re likely to be at a disadvantage to start with.

You are likely to need realistic expectations of what is available to you, and to keep looking. Ben finally found work after 8 weeks of searching:

“Eventually I just spent a week mass emailing bars, restaurants and cafés basically saying ‘Look, I will take anything’. About 5% of them replied with a negative, but one came back positive saying they could definitely find me something – and that was that!”

Sometimes you just end up in the right place at the right time. John, a construction worker, came to Gothenburg from Bristol five years ago.

“I had been here for a couple of months and I had enough money for one week left where I was staying and my journey home, so I was about ready to give up. And then one day some bloke just said ‘I’ve got a job for you’ and I started the next day – I haven’t been out of work since.”

Janelle Larsson

Jobs in Sweden

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