Mind the gap.
It's a common phrase of caution, on the Stockholm subway and the London metro alike, warning commuters of the danger between the momentum of the train and reaching the next platform. But it's such a small gap; it's no danger really, and most travellers ignore it entirely.
But for expats, the gap can quickly mutate into an extra stumbling stone in the already-harrowing hunt for a Swedish career.
”Many people who have had great work experience in other countries are shocked to discover that their merits aren't really seen here,” said Ulrica Schenström, political commentator and communications consult, at an Almedalen seminar addressing the issue of CV gaps.
”In Sweden we have a hard time judging competence which isn't directly comparable with what we have here. We don't want to work with merits we don't understand.”
The seminar, hosted by Akademikernas a-kassa, featured a panel discussing how job-seekers can handle periods of unemployment in their CVs. The panelists included Schenström, Tina Ersson from the Swedish Jobs Agency, Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson from LO, and several others.
The Local also managed to catch up with Richard Wright, a British expat and love-refugee who has aso had to address CV gaps in the great Swedish job hunt. “I was made redundant by a language school where I worked earlier, and the main gap in my CV is from taking parental leave,” he told The Local.
But while Wright and the panelists all acknowledged that CV gaps can present an extra challenge, they remained positive. A gap doesn't have to be crippling, they agreed.
”It's frequently individuals, the job-seekers themselves, who think it's shameful to have a gap in their CV,” Schenström remarked. ”If you think it's bad then it will be bad.”
As long as a gap can be explained, Swedish employers are generally understanding. A gap of income does not equate with a gap of knowledge, a panelist said, and Swedish employers are likely to recognize that.
“I actually feel that Sweden is more accepting towards gaps than the UK is,” Wright remarked. “It's quite normal to take a year's leave of absence here, and combined with the general attitude to the social welfare system, it gives us a fairly easy way to explain any gaps.”
Having a gap in your CV may still not be the best option, due to stereotypes about what that means. But the panelists noted that there are many valid explanations. The most important factor is simply that job-seekers can explain the period of absence in a personal meeting.
”There's a lot that you can do during that period, such as volunteer work,” one panelist noted.
Wright agreed. If you must have holes in your CV, the best course of action is to fill them with something meaningful.
“Use the gap as a time for reflection,” he said. “Maybe you can use the time to study or travel. Meet new people and make new contacts, gain new experience. Travelling can also expand your mid view and your attitude to work, giving you new energy and ideas.”
While it is of course recommended to find work as quickly as possible in general, the panelists agreed that it is even beneficial for the labour market for people to switch jobs now and then, and that it is also better to wait a few months to find a perfect job matching your qualifications than to simply take whatever unqualified jobs may come your way.
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More often than not, it will pay off.
“I moved to Sweden during June and everything was closed for summer break,” Wright said. “But I used that first summer both as a holiday and time to get settled and do casual job hunting. I had managed to find two jobs by September the same year.”
By far the most challenging aspect of having a CV gap can simply be the accompanying gap of income – which is one reason why Wright joined Akademikernas a-kassa, Sweden's largest unemployment insurances organization.
“Being a member of Akademikernas a-kassa provides me with the security of 80 percent of my salary if I lose my job,” he explained.
“That means you actually have the chance to search for new work without worrying about paying your bills.”
Being unemployed for short periods of time doesn't have the same stigma in Sweden as it does in the UK, he said.
So should expats or new arrivals in Sweden be scared about how to discuss CV gaps?
“Not at all,” Wright said. “Sweden is quite tolerant and has a great understanding of this situation.”
This article was produced by The Local in partnership with Akademikernas a-kassa.