‘You have to understand the Swedish concept of lagom if you want to find work’

When Laras Pinji started looking for jobs in Sweden she kept running into brick walls, but once she had grasped the meaning of ‘lagom’ she soon found her way into the world of work.

'You have to understand the Swedish concept of lagom if you want to find work'
Laras Pinji with her mentor at Mitt Liv.

More than four years have passed since Pinji moved from Dubai to Sweden with her husband and two children after her spouse got a job here.

Brimming with enthusiasm and equipped with journalism skills from her homeland Indonesia, she hoped to soon find work. 

“It was spring when we left Dubai and landed at Stockholm’s snowy white airport. We were staggered, but excited. Starting a new life in this lovely country was a challenge to the whole family.”     

While her husband started work, Pinji set about studying Swedish. After a few months she got accepted onto a master’s programme in international and comparative studies at Stockholm University. 

“Since my husband works and pays taxes we, his family, are entitled by Swedish law to free education. 

“For me this was a chance to evolve academically and improve my competence.” 

Hundreds of job applications – no responses

In 2015 she was keen to start working and decided to take a break from her studies. But the labour market proved tough to crack. 

“I sent countless job applications and hundreds of emails. At first, I was digging in my own field, journalism, but then swiftly reckoned that to get a job in this highly competitive realm, I needed a high level of Swedish that I didn’t yet possess. I changed my strategy and started searching more broadly, but got the same result: no replies at all.” 

She realised she must be doing something wrong, and endeavoured to figure it out. But she had few Swedish contacts and didn’t know where to turn for advice. 

But a tip from a friend nudged her in the direction of a free mentorship programme called Mitt livs chans (the chance of my life). 

“My friend told me that to join this programme and have a Swedish mentor’s help, I needed no more than being a newcomer with higher education, who understands Swedish and wants to get help.”

“I joined Mitt liv in September 2015, and after that many things became clearer to me. I learned that Swedes prefer shorter, detailed and more concise CVs, and that the applicant needs to exemplify their experience, and talk about their previous skills.”

For instance, when she told her mentor about a previous job as a communications coordinator for social media, he advised her to include more specifics on her CV, such as how often she posted and how many people her posts reached. 

Put your interests in your CV

“There’s also the ‘humane part’ of the CV that’s often not taken seriously by job seekers.

“I learned that the job seeker needs to give the employer a glimpse of their personal interests, of their extra activities out of the office. Who are you as a human being, and what do you do in your spare time? The employer might have similar interests to you, and this familiarity might make it easier for them to decide to employ you.” 

The course gave her more confidence and, what’s more, it produced results. With her finely tuned CV she got called to more than ten interviews. But, in a serendipitous twist, she ended up working as a communications coordinator for Mitt liv, the very organization that had given her  the guidance she needed. 

“I love my work. It allows me to meet people in the same situation I was in when I first moved here. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to inspire them. Because I know very well how depressing it feels when you have the skills, but can’t find your place. It really harms your self-confidence.” 

It took Pinji four years to get her first job contract in Sweden. 

“I think this was a bit too long. The process could have been way quicker if I’d known from the beginning the meaning of lagom: that is, adequate and sufficient; not too little, and never too much. 

“Being concise, accurate and articulate is the way to ‘lagomness’, and it’s the way to get a job.”


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Swedish employer ‘tore up my application’ at job fair

A representative for a major Swedish company is accused of having ripped up an asylum seeker's job application in front of his face after he asked her to speak Swedish more slowly.

Swedish employer 'tore up my application' at job fair
Abdullah Al-Moadhen while studying in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo:Private
Abdullah Al-Moadhen, who qualified as a doctor in Ukraine shortly before coming to Sweden in 2015, was visiting the Orkla Foods stall at a job fair in October, hoping he could adapt his medical training to food safety, when the company's representative lost patience with him and seized his application form. 
“She tore it up and threw it on the ground,” he told the Local. “I felt sad and disappointed and depressed. I don't know why she treated me like this. I've spoken to a lot of companies and given my CV to them, and they've all treated me perfectly well, except for Orkla.” 
Al-Moadhen has now made a formal complaint to Sweden's Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) on the advice of the Swedish state employment service. 
According to Al-Moadhen, the altercation began when he asked the company's representative to help explain a section on their application form, and she refused. 
“She said 'this is an elementary question, why are you asking me?'” Al-Moadhen said. 
She then began to speak Swedish so rapidly that Al-Moadhen, who has taught himself Swedish as he is not eligible for free government-funded tuition, could not follow her. 
“I said in Swedish, 'OK, can you speak Swedish slowly? I don't understand if you speak quickly'. And then she said, “In our factory, we don't need people who need Swedish spoken slowly.”
Al-Moadhen felt this was rude and told her so. “I said, 'look, if you say that people will get disappointed'.  And then she ripped up my application paper and threw it on the floor.”  
After this the representative told him to leave the job fair, but he refused telling her that she had no right to ask that as it was a public place. 
Cecilia Franck, Orkla's head of press, said the company was trying to better understand what took place before responding to DO. 
“No one should experience discrimination in contact with us,” she said. “As soon as we got the information from DO about how this person experienced the situation, we started an internal investigation to get the whole picture of what really happened.” 
“Hearing his version makes us concerned, but we need to get the whole picture before we can respond to DO. It wouldn't be fair otherwise.” 
Al-Moadhen is currently trying to pass the language and proficiency tests needed to start practising medicine in Sweden, but is having to study medical terminology alone, as Eslöv municipality where he lives has told him that it lacks the resources to provide specialist medical language training. 
He took a medical proficiency test in September, but failed. 
“Everything we studied for six years, you need to study again in the Swedish language. I have to read all my diploma, and all my six years, I have to study in Swedish.”