How to shine at your Swedish job interview

Even getting a job interview can be an achievement, particularly if you're a foreigner in Sweden. So when you get that interview, what do you do to really stand out?

How to shine at your Swedish job interview

In a job market as tough as Sweden even getting an interview can be an achievement in itself – particularly for those of us with non-Swedish backgrounds.

This means that job interviews need to be taken seriously – no matter what the job.

Read also: Ten tips for landing an internship in Sweden

Naturally, as in any country, job interviews are about selling yourself but you should also know your limitations. While in some countries bending the truth and embellishing your skills or experience is expected, in Sweden most employers will take you for your word. You might be trying to portray yourself as ambitious but you can just as easily comes across as arrogant.

“You will be asked about both your strong points and weak points,” advises Frank Ericson from StepStone recruitment.“You shouldn’t shy away from admitting any weaknesses.”

By confessing your flaws you can have the beneficial effect of putting yourself across as honest and trustworthy. It shows self-awareness and humility.

“If you try to claim you have no weaknesses then people will suspect you’re hiding something,” says Ericson, “Everyone has weaknesses; you’re just showing you’re mature enough to admit it.”

As a foreigner you’re probably going to be asked about your future plans in Sweden, and many employers will be looking for reassurances that you’re not planning on moving back home too soon.

“If you don’t speak Swedish, show a willingness to learn by offering to take a class,” says Ericson, “This shows you’re planning on staying for the long term.”

Although don’t forget the golden rule of being honest about your capabilities. If you claim you can speak Swedish when you can’t it won’t be long before everyone realises your vocabulary doesn’t extend beyond hej and tack.

Appropriate dress code can be tricky as many Swedish workplaces can be casual and informal with jeans, runners and T-shirts being just as common as suits.

Frank Ericson’s basic guide is suit and tie for finance or banking, suit without a tie for IT, and jobs in the media can often get away with jeans and a jacket. But if in doubt always dress up:

“It is better to dress up than dress down.”

Arriving on time is a given in any country, but no country takes punctuality as seriously as Sweden.

“It is of absolute importance that you show up on time – or preferably 5-10 minutes early,” says IT consultant Lars Westlund, “If you are late then you won’t get the job, they won’t even bother talking to you.”

Bring a well-written CV documenting your complete working history, and be wary of any long gaps between jobs or frequent job changes.

“Most companies will look for someone to fill a position for 2-3 years so if they see you often leave a job after less than a year, it might be an issue,” says Ericson.

“If it includes frequent changes, try and have a good explanation.”

The same applies to any long gaps between jobs. Good reasons include travelling abroad, maternity leave or studying, but whatever you do don’t leave gaps unaccounted for.

“Read up on the company and bring some questions of your own,” says Ericson, “It shows your interest.”

You might not be allowed to blatantly show off but some well-crafted intelligent questions can be an exceptionally effective way of getting yourself noticed amongst the crowd. So do your research!

Read more:

How to write a Swedish CV
How to get an internship in Sweden
Tips for entrepreneurs in Sweden


‘When I leave Sweden, my fairy tale becomes fake’

Alexandra 'Austin' Muirhead, 31, is about to run her first ever music festival, in Gothenburg. It comes at a hectic time for the Canadian, who is sleeping in a rehearsal studio as her working holiday visa is close to expiring.

'When I leave Sweden, my fairy tale becomes fake'
Alexandra Muirhead is launching her own music festival in Gothenburg. Photo: Lovisa Wallin

This article is part of The Local's My Swedish Career series. Read more interviews with international professionals and entrepreneurs in Sweden here.

“To get out of devastation, I just do stuff, I just do more,” she explains to The Local. We meet her at a Gothenburg art gallery  a few hours before a cozy acoustic concert she has organized herself.

While we talk backstage about her work and experiences in Sweden, her friends cut in to tease Muirhead about how little she sleeps.

An Arts & Entertainment Management graduate, she has co-organized multiple film and music festivals before but always hoped to run her own.

Muirhead's work and love of travel have taken her around the world and she has lived in Vancouver, Galiano Island, Montreal, Toronto, London, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Glasgow – but it’s Gothenburg where she first felt able to fulfil this dream.

“I don’t think I could have done this outside Sweden,” Muirhead says. She feels that very few major bands play in Gothenburg, only passing through it between tour dates in Oslo and Stockholm, but at the same time local musicians have limited access to the stages, so they don't perform often either.  

It’s that untapped potential that inspired Muirhead to implement her ideas here one year ago.

Before arriving in Gothenburg in August 2017, she contacted the newly created local team for Sofar Sounds, an international startup that runs secret concerts in unconventional places ranging from living rooms to retail shops. She was only the third member of the team, which in two months set up the first show in Gothenburg. Now the events take place regularly.

In March Muirhead becaume part of a production group, Flocken Media, and decided to organize her first festival, called Waves Rolling.

Included in the lineup are bands from Gothenburg, Oslo, Stockholm and even Canada, which she warns “may not play here on another occasion”.

The musicians will also be part of the audience, which is unique, she says, but admits: “I’m scared of whether the people will show up and whether it will sound good”.

Flocken Media. Photo: Achen Jim Liu

Muirhead has always thrown herself into establishing new projects when she has moved to a new area. “If there’s a local problem that you could contribute to fixing, it’s very rewarding,” she explains.

And it's a two-way street: she also believes that staying active helps to solve the problems most expats find themselves facing, from loneliness to trouble adjusting to a new culture. 

“When I feel sad, I make a video. Or start a new project. I would probably recommend the same approach to others, especially if their sadness is because of finances. Some of that stuff will get you money.”

She arrived to Gothenburg without a solid plan as she believed it would be possible to find a job within two weeks, like in other places she had moved to. Today Muirhead says that was a crazy idea.

“It was pretty hard when I came here. Nobody tells you there’s a housing crisis and you won’t get a job. And please bring 2000 dollars that should cover you for three months,” she says, highlighting the high living cost and shortage of affordable housing in Sweden's major cities.

Photo: Ana Paula Lafaire

Like many new arrivals in Sweden, finding accommodation was another challenge. After staying with a couchsurfer when she first arrived, she found her first accommodation for a one-month period, then another that was similarly short-term. The third one was available for five months. In between contracts, she stayed on couches, took bands on tours, and at one point worked at a music festival in Norway. She now lives in a rehearsal studio because it’s the cheapest option.

Despite getting involved in a mix of cultural initiatives, Muirhead has struggled when it comes to finding a stable job in Gothenburg. Alongside her creative projects, she has worked in substitute positions including as a restaurant assistant, a babysitter, and an English teacher at a summer camp

“I’m still trying to get a job in Sweden,” says the Canadian, who estimates she has sent out “hundreds” of application emails as well as knocking on doors.

Each time the effort doesn't pay off, “you get a big heartbreak, it’s devastating and terrible”, she explains. The creative has now applied for a working holiday visa in Denmark as a way to stay in Scandinavia while she continues to hunt for the right role. 

But for her, it's worth it. The region has everything she wants to do, her favourite bands, and friendships that she says are stronger than anywhere else.

“When I go anywhere else, all my friends from here become a story, a fairy tale. No one else gets to touch it or see it – they only hear about it. When I live here, it’s real but when I leave – this fairy tale becomes fake,” is how she sums it up.

Something about the area has kept her coming back, ever since she first travelled to Norway for a concert in 2013. After that, she began to visit every six months, and that soon became every three months. Eventually, she moved to the UK to be closer to Scandinavia, and when that visa ran out,  she moved to Gothenburg and “fell completely in love all over again”.

Despite the challenges she's facing, Muirhead is sure her future is in Scandinavia. She says: “It’s not my style to give up so I probably have to die here trying. I’ve chosen to.”