Topolovsky is a management consultant at Stinson Partners, which specializes in corporate renewals. As an American living in Sweden, she gave us her view on the differences in networking between the two countries.
Do Swedes have a solid culture of networking?
I get the sense that networking is somewhat new in Sweden. Possibly, people used to rely on being introduced by a mutual friend or colleague, instead of extending a hand at an event to meet someone.
In my experience, however, once you’re talking, Swedes can easily chat about their work, and they do it in a very neutral and forthcoming way.
Americans, meanwhile, tend to tell you everything they’ve ever accomplished at their job – in the first five sentences – which is a bit embarrassing to us Americans who’ve lived abroad for a while.
So if you’re fresh off the plane, what do you have to keep in mind?
My recommendations for an American who’s just moved to Sweden are to keep it a bit low key compared to the US. Swedes need a bit more time to get to know you before opening up, whereas Americans tend to be very friendly in the first meeting. This puts Swedes off just a bit, so take it a bit slower.
Also, be mindful of talking about money or status jobs when meeting someone here. It’s not politically correct to ask questions that might lead you to learn a person’s earnings or how high up in an organization they are. Those types of inquiries are very rude.
You are supposed to view people as equals and find everyone as valuable to speak with, not just the top bosses.
Most importantly for Americans to remember is to not oversell yourself. Just have a normal conversation without finding openings to showcase all your achievements. Swedes will automatically think you have low self-esteem if you carry on like that, as if you have something to hide, so you need to boast about something.
In the US, we’re raised to sell ourselves, to define who we are by our accomplishments. It’s just the opposite here. Be cool, and remember, humility is highly admired in Sweden.
A side tip for women: Don’t overdress, especially with the bling jewellery. That’s tacky here and again, actually sends the opposite message that you don’t have a lot of self confidence.
What are things to keep in mind? Are there any absolute no-nos?
It is most important to understand your company’s policies on proprietary information, and you must respect them above all. If in doubt when a potentially sensitive topic comes up, be vague or don’t say anything at all.
Secondly, I think it’s important not to speak negatively about anyone. It’s not good practice in general and only leaves a negative charge in the air.
What you must do? Exchange cards. Always, always, always have your cards with you, in your wallet, in your computer bag… everywhere.
And once you’ve met and exchanged business cards (visitkort)?
Only send emails afterwards if you’ve really made a connection and you see there might be some future business. Otherwise, those emails become insignificant and just become administrative work for both parties.
Any final, general tips you’d like to share with us?
Network as much as you feel comfortable with, but push yourself a bit beyond your comfort zone. Ninety percent of jobs come from people you know or whom you’ve met, not from sitting in front of your computer.
Practice. Practice walking up to someone and extending your hand for a handshake. Practice a good introduction line – without being corny like “Do you come here often?”.
Learn how to cut off conversations in a graceful way. It’s so much nicer to pardon yourself to make a scheduled call, rather than be clumsy and just walk off.
Practice. Practice. Practice.