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How to write the perfect Swedish CV and cover letter

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How to write the perfect Swedish CV and cover letter
Swedish business culture has some marked differences from other countries, so tailoring your CV will improve your chance of success. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se
17:21 CET+01:00
Personal networks account for a lot of career opportunities in Sweden, which makes the job-hunt a daunting task for foreigners. But with the right CV and cover letter, you can impress hiring managers and secure your dream job in Sweden – here's how.

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Generally speaking, Swedish business culture is informal compared to working life in many other countries, and your job application should reflect that.

This means that when you send your email, you don't need to address a 'Sir/Madam' or even a 'Mr/Mrs'. Instead, open with 'Hej' (or 'hi/hello', if you're writing in English) and the first name of the person you're applying to, if you have it.

So, English or Swedish? You'll hear different advice from different people, but unless you're extremely confident in your Swedish skills, or know a native speaker who will check it for you, it's best to stick to English. Well-written English will always give a better impression than mistake-filled Swedish, but make sure to mention your level of Swedish, any classes you're taking, or at least your willingness to learn.

The exception is if the job advert is written in Swedish, and/or there's an explicit request for applications to be sent in Swedish. In that case, you should definitely follow the instructions, and take the time to translate your documents. 

Another option is to write the CV and cover letter in English, attached to a brief introductory e-mail in Swedish. 


Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

1. The Swedish CV

First, the basics. Your CV shouldn't be longer than two pages (if you can condense it down to one, even better) and should be clear and simple to read, outlining your professional experience and qualifications.

Personal details

Include your personal information at the top; that's your full name, phone number, and email address. Try putting it in a header or footer for a clear layout, and to ensure it shows up on each page.

If you've already moved to Sweden, it's a good idea to include your personal number and address (just the street name will do), as this will set you apart from any candidates applying from abroad. However, it's advisable to leave off your date of birth, particularly if you're starting out in your career. Swedes typically stay in education longer than those in other countries, so a hiring manager might not take a close look at a 26-year-old's application, for example, on the assumption that they wouldn't have enough work experience. 

If you're applying for a marketing role or similar, include links to your public social media accounts (LinkedIn, Twitter, and possibly Instagram). Turn these into hyperlinks to make it easy for employers reading your CV on the computer.

Photo or no photo?

A lot of Swedish CVs include a photo; it's not necessary to do this, but if you choose to, make sure it's a professional image. That means not blurry or grainy, not a shot from a party where a wine glass has clearly been edited out with Photoshop, and a neutral, non-distracting background.


Finding work can be tough in Sweden: this mural by a Swede, reading 'I want a job now!' shows one way of going about it... but your CV doesn't have to be an artistic masterpiece. Photo: Fritz Schibli/Scanpix/TT

Summary

Some job-seekers like to start out their CV with a summary or 'career objectives' section, which is also optional particularly useful if you're just starting out in a new field. Be sparing with the buzzwords; just give a clear description of who you are and what you're looking for, that will instantly grab the hiring manager's attention.

Experience and education

Lead with your professional experience, in reverse chronological order. Depending on how much experience you have, and how much of it is relevant to the position you want, this might include previous jobs, internships, freelance work, or voluntary work.

For each position, list your job title, company, and location (city and country, if outside Sweden), as well as the relevant dates.

For those jobs which are relevant to the position you want, include a few bullet points outlining your key tasks, responsibilities, and/or accomplishments in the role. Replace 'did' and 'worked on' with stronger verbs such as 'responsible for', 'developed', 'wrote', or 'trained', particularly if your past responsibilities overlap with those listed in the job ad. Cut down on superlatives and adjectives unless they're absolutely necessary; you've probably heard about the Swedish concept of 'lagom', which means 'not too much, not too little; just the right amount', and it applies to the world of work too. So mention your successes by all means, but don't boast.


A Swedish office in the creative industry. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

If your experience is in a different industry from the one you hope to work in, think of what you learned there that would come in useful – for example, did you manage a team, interact with clients, or run a social media account? And if you have the opposite problem of too much experience, it's fine just to include the title of less relevant jobs, with no bullet points. Just make sure not to leave any unexplained gaps in your employment history.

For the same reason, you can add in 'parental leave' or 'gap year volunteering in South America' to avoid a gap between jobs. Both gap years and parental leave are extremely common in Sweden and accepted as a part of working life, so there shouldn't be any stigma attached to this. 

Then there's the education section: include all relevant qualifications, again in reverse chronological order. If you're a recent graduate or still studying, it might make sense to put this part first.

Additional skills and qualifications

Create a separate section for other relevant skills, such as IT systems you're able to use, programming languages if not mentioned in your professional experiences, and foreign languages (don't leave out your native language – this could be a big asset!).

When it comes to describing your ability in each language, use the term 'native' or 'mother tongue' ('modersmål') to describe your native language(s), and for additional languages you can either use the European Language Framework (note: the codes here are different from those used at SFI classes), or stick to general descriptors such as beginner, conversational, intermediate, fluent. If you're currently enrolled in Swedish classes, make sure to mention that.


A poster advertising for staff in a cafe window. Photo: Tomas Oneberg/SvD/TT

As for whether to include extra interests, such as musical accomplishments, sport, or anything else, it's generally better to keep this section extremely brief or forego it altogether. However, look at the job ad or company website for clues about the company culture – Swedes value work-life balance, so it won't be seen as a negative if you have a passion outside the office, and some companies will specifically look to hire outgoing people. If your hobby has taught you transferable skills, for example if you play a team sport or have an organizational role in a voluntary project, it could be worth adding in for that reason too.

2. The Swedish cover letter

The key points for the cover letter are to keep it concise and  sharply focused on the task in hand: showing the employer why you're the right person for the job. That doesn't mean listing everything you put on your CV, but highlighting why you stand out. Recruiting is a two-way process, so the employer will be keen to know both why you want to work for them, and what you think you can offer the company.

Show that you're familiar with the company and what it does. Are there areas of the business or particular projects you're especially keen on? How have your past experiences and achievements prepared you for this? This is also the point to highlight why you want to work in a new industry, if that's the case, and the relevant skills you've learned from previous jobs which will come in useful.

If you're applying for a job from outside Sweden, or if you've just arrived, include an explanation of that as well. This will reassure hiring managers that you haven't missed the fact that the job's in Sweden, and understanding your motivation for moving to Sweden might make them more likely to take the chance on a newcomer, whereas if they get the impression you're firing off applications for dozens of companies around the world without doing your research, they'll be less likely to make the effort.


A man uses the Swedish Public Employment Service's website to search for job vacancies. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/Scanpix/TT

There's no need to go into too much detail; a simple line saying you moved/will be moving to Sweden because your partner is relocating (or whatever the reason is) and perhaps a sentence saying you're excited about the opportunities in your field in Sweden will be enough. If you already know the date, or even just the month you'll be arriving, add that in.

If you're not currently in Sweden, make it as easy as possible for the company to interview (and hire) you. Some companies will pay travel expenses for an in-person interview, but if you've already got plans to visit Sweden, let them know the dates, as well as your Skype and phone number.

Rather than the title 'cover letter', choose something like 'Application for [name of position]' as the document title and file name. Use the same format as your CV (for example 'Firstname Lastname: CV' and 'Firstname Lastname: Application for Position') to make things as easy as possible for the hiring manager, who will probably have lots of these to sort through.

Final points

Some advice that applies to job-seekers in any country, but is still worth stressing: make sure to check several times that you've not made any spelling or grammatical errors, and that you've been consistent in your use of fonts/headings/bullet points. These seem like tiny points, but it's not just about making the documents clear for the hiring manager to read: if you're applying for a role where you'll be producing documents of any kind, or if you plan to emphasize your 'attention to detail', you don't want to find you've used three subtly different kinds of bullet points.

Save both documents as PDFs (and proofread once more just to be sure) so there won't be any incompatibility issues if the interviewer uses a different operating system.

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