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How to write the perfect Swedish CV and cover letter

Personal networks account for a lot of career opportunities in Sweden, which makes the job-hunt a daunting task for foreigners even in non-pandemic times. But with the right CV and cover letter, you can impress hiring managers in Sweden – here's how.

a woman working at a computer
Swedish business culture has some marked differences from other countries, so tailoring your CV will improve your chance of success. Photo: Margareta Bloom Sandebäck/imagebank.sweden.se

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. 

Keep scrolling to read some of the fundamentals to keep in mind.

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.

Summary

Some job-seekers like to start out their CV with a summary or “career objectives” section, which is also optional, but 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.

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 organisational 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 emphasise 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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WORKING IN SWEDEN

CHECKLIST: Here’s what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

What authorities do you need to inform before you leave, are you liable to Swedish tax and how can you access your Swedish pension? Here's a checklist.

CHECKLIST: Here's what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

Tell the relevant authorities if you’re leaving for more than a year

If you’re planning on leaving Sweden for more than a year, you will have to let the authorities know. The main authorities in question are Skatteverket (the Tax Agency) and Försäkringskassan (the Social Insurance Agency).

Försäkringskassan

You have to tell Försäkringskassan when you leave so they can assess whether or not you still qualify for Swedish social insurance. As a general rule, you aren’t eligible for Swedish social insurance if you move away from Sweden, but there are exceptions, such as maternity or paternity benefits if you’re moving to another EU country.

This also applies to any family members who move with you – any over-18’s should send in their own documentation to Försäkingskassan about their move abroad. If you’re moving abroad with anyone under 18, you can include them in your own report to Försäkringskassan.

If both legal guardians are moving abroad together, both need to include any children in their application. If one legal guardian is moving abroad and the other is staying in Sweden, you need the guardian staying in Sweden to co-sign your application. If you are the sole legal guardian of any under-18’s travelling with you, you don’t need any documentation from the other parent.

You can register a move abroad with Försäkringskassan on the Mina sidor service on their website, here (log in with BankID).

Skatteverket

If you are moving abroad for a year or longer, you also need to tell the Tax Agency. This also applies if you were planning on moving abroad for less than a year but ended up staying for longer.

If you move to another Nordic country, you will also need to register your move with that country’s authorities if you will be there for six months or more. You’ll be deregistered from the Swedish population register the same day you become registered in another Nordic country’s register.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your personnummer – you’ll still be able to use it if you ever move back to Sweden – but you will no longer be registered as resident in Sweden.

Similarly to Försäkringskassan, you will also need to report any children you are bringing with you, and both legal guardians must sign the form, whether or not both guardians are moving abroad or not.

In some cases, you may still be liable to pay tax in Sweden even if you live abroad – particularly if you are a Swedish citizen or have lived in Sweden for at least ten years. This could be due to owning or renting out property in Sweden, having family in Sweden, or owning a business in Sweden.

You can tell the tax agency of your plans to move abroad here.

Contact your a-kassa, if relevant

If you are member of a Swedish a-kassa (unemployment insurance), make sure you tell them that you’re leaving the country. As a general rule, you have unemployment insurance in the country you work in, so you will most likely have to cancel your a-kassa subscription.

If you are moving to another country with the a-kassa system, such as Denmark or Finland, it may pay to wait until you have joined a new a-kassa in that country before you cancel your membership in Sweden.

This is due to the fact, in some countries, you only qualify for benefits once you fulfil a membership and employment requirement. In Sweden and Denmark, you must have been a member for 12 months before you qualify. In Finland, the membership requirement is 26 weeks.

If you qualify for a-kassa in Sweden before you leave the country, you may be able to transfer your a-kassa membership period over to your new a-kassa abroad and qualify there straight away, but this usually only applies if your period of a-kassa membership is unbroken.

Check what applies in your new country before you cancel your membership in Sweden – your a-kassa should be able to help you with this.

Contact your union, if relevant

Similarly, if you are a member of a Swedish union or fackförbund, let them know you’re moving abroad.

If you’re moving to another Nordic country, they might be able to point you in the direction of the relevant union in that country, if you want to remain a member of a union in your new country.

If you’re moving to another EU country, you may be able to remain a member of your Swedish union as a foreign worker with the status utlandsvistelse.

If you chose to do this, you will usually pay a lower monthly fee than you do in Sweden, and they can still provide assistance with work related issues – although it may make more sense to join a local union in your field with more knowledge of the labout market.

If you don’t want to be a member of a union in your new country and don’t want to be a member of a Swedish union, you should contact your  union and ask them to cancel your membership.

Collect relevant documents regarding your Swedish pension

If you have worked in Sweden and paid tax for any length of time, you will have paid in to a Swedish pension. You retain this pension wherever you move, but you must apply for it yourself.

To do so, you will need to give details of when you lived and worked in Sweden, as well as providing copies of work contracts, if you have them. If you have these documents before you leave Sweden, make copies so that you can provide them when asked.

If you move to the EU/EES or Switzerland, you may also have the right to other, non-work based pensions, such as guarantee pension for low- or no-income earners, or the income pension complement (inkomstpensionstillägg).

Currently, you can receive your Swedish pension once you turn 62 – although there is a proposal in parliament due to raise pension age to 63 for those born after 1961 from 2023, so this may change.

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