How to take the next step in your Swedish career

Unsure about the next step in your career? The answer could lie in going back to university. Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) alumna Karen Kesner tells The Local how getting her Executive MBA helped her land a leading role at a top global firm.

How to take the next step in your Swedish career
Woman studying in the library. Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos

When American Karen Kesner decided to get her Executive MBA at SSE, she already had an impressive CV.

“In my early 20s I was recruited by Oracle Corporation, today the world’s second largest global software company. The role offered me opportunities to experience a variety of jobs and cultures within America. It was hard work, but rewarding. I learned core work lessons and experiences that I still practice today.”

Karen’s career eventually took her to San Francisco, where she was working when she met her Swedish partner.

Karen is now Vice President of Global Sales at Tata Communications

“I met my sambo (the Swedish term for live-in-partner) while we both lived and worked in San Francisco. After two years he wanted to relocate back to his home country. I was excited to experience a new country and culture, so off we went!”

Despite arriving in the midst of dark December, it didn’t take long for Karen to fall in love with Sweden. But with no Swedish under her belt, she knew it would be a challenge to find the right role.

“It was an adventure! I would wake up each day and treat my job search as a daily project. My efforts paid off – I found a job with a large communications company within five weeks.”

It was while working at Verizon Business in Stockholm that she decided she wanted to continue her education. And the company was more than supportive.

“Verizon encourages its employees to attend classes for growth and skill development. So I began my research on schools offering MBAs and came across SSE in an online advertisement. I was thrilled when I found they offered a programme in English.”

Find out how the Executive MBA at SSE can enhance your career

Established in 1909, SSE is one of Europe’s leading business schools. It offers three bachelor programmes, five two-year master programmes, highly esteemed MBA and PhD programmes, and Executive Education courses.

Karen chose to enrol on the Executive MBA programme and began her studies in 2009.

“The programme was organised over an 18-month period, with a week of classes you attend every five weeks. During this week, you have a full day of classes with focused study and a change management course that ran throughout the programme.”

Conducted in English, with modules on topics including Business Law, Strategic Management, and Financial Accounting and Analysis, the intensive programme prepares students to enhance their skills and grow their network.

“It was incredibly fun to be part of this dynamic environment, learning from professors and having the opportunity to study with classmates from 14 different countries. Some of my favourite learnings were teaming on case discussions for discovery and proposing solutions,” she recalls.

“Not only did the school provide a unique experience to study abroad, the programme supplied me with a variety of business subjects I use in my everyday work environment that help with management decisions, strategy and planning.”

Learn more about studying at the Stockholm School of Economics

When Karen’s partner was offered a job at Google in California, the family moved to Palo Alto where they are currently based. Despite living nearly 9,000 km away, she is still in touch with many of the friends and contacts she made during her time at SSE.

“Our class grew very close. I finished the programme in 2011 and have remained in close contact with most of my classmates — many have visited us in California.”

She believes in “never burning a bridge”, which was advantageous earlier this year when a former boss told her about a role at global telecommunications provider Tata Communications.

The application for Global Head of Sales required an extensive interview process, which Karen felt prepared for thanks to her Executive MBA.

“I applied my approach to these interviews with principles I learned through the Executive MBA programme.”

Karen has settled back into life in the United States, but Stockholm and SSE will always hold a special place in her heart.

“When we moved back someone asked me how I liked Stockholm compared to Palo Alto. It was an easy answer – there’s no comparison! Stockholm will forever be our second home, and studying at SSE has been one of the most rewarding choices I’ve made.”

This article was produced by The Local in partnership with the Stockholm School of Economics.



‘They feel conned’: Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules

Sweden's top universities are to call for doctoral students to be exempted from Sweden's tough new permanent residency rules, arguing that it will damage both academic standards and national competitiveness.

'They feel conned': Swedish universities fight for PHDs hit by new residency rules
At Lund Technical University, a majority of doctoral students are international. Photo: Kennet Ruona/LTU

In a post on Wednesday, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, the chair of Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, said that Sweden’s universities had agreed to submit a joint letter to the government “very soon”, calling for parliament to put in place a special exemption for PHD students to make it easier to stay in Sweden after their studies. 

The parliament, she wrote, “should introduce an exemption for doctoral students and young researchers from the requirement to be financially self-sufficient”. 

Previously, doctoral students were eligible for a permanent residence permit if they had lived in Sweden with a residence permit for doctoral studies for four out of the past seven years. Apart from a slim set of requirements, this was granted more or less automatically.

But according to Sweden’s new Migration Act, which was introduced in July this year as comprehensive legislation to control the number of asylum applications, they now need to be able to additionally show that they can support themselves financially for at least a year and half.

The new law means that the rules for permanent residency are now the same for all categories of applicants, including doctoral students.

Stefan Bengtsson, the rector at Chalmers University of Technology, said that the change would mean as many as 400 to 500 doctoral students, many of whom have built up considerable expertise, might be unable to stay in Sweden.

“This makes for an uncertain future for those from outside of Europe who have applied to come to Sweden for an academic career, which is cause for great concern and disappointment among those who came here under other circumstances,” he told The Local. “Some of them may, of course, feel like they’ve been conned

But what was even more worrying, he said, would be the impact the change to the law might have in the longer term. 

“This change to the law could contribute to giving Sweden a bad reputation. This will create difficulties in recruiting internationally and damage our long-term skills supply.”


At Lund University, the majority of doctoral students in the science and technical faculties are from outside Europe, while Söderbergh Widding, who is also vice chancellor at Stockholm University, estimated that about half of doctoral students were international. 

Söderbergh Widding told the TT newswire that the change was “a devastating death blow”, which put to waste a “previously hard-won battle to make it possible for doctoral students to obtain a permanent residency permit after four years of studies”. 

She said in her letter that the change contradicted the research policy proposition from December 2020, which stated that the “number of foreign doctoral students who stay in Sweden should increase”, and said that giving residency to doctoral students was a good way to increase this.  

Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the elite Karolinska medical university, told the newswire that he thought the change in residency laws would damage Swedish competitiveness. 

“This is not good for Sweden. This will damage our ability to attract and recruit talent from other countries. For a country that lies on the periphery, the goal should be to make it easier, not harder, to recruit competence.”