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How to impress at a Swedish job interview

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How to impress at a Swedish job interview
From the dress code to questions to ask, how to ace a Swedish interview. Photo: stockasso/Depositphotos
16:17 CET+01:00
Can you ever be too early to a job interview? Are you supposed to wear high heels in snow? How to answer the dreaded question 'tell me a bit about yourself'? Job interviews in a foreign country present a whole new set of questions and worries, but with our guide you'll ace your Swedish interview.

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Dress code

If you've done some research into Swedish working culture, you'll probably know that offices here tend to err on the 'casual' side of smart-casual. In many workplaces, it's perfectly acceptable to wear T-shirts, jeans, and even shorts.

But that's once you've got the job. For a first interview, dress up more than down: consider a suit and tie if you're in an industry where that's usually the norm (think finance, law, management), and a shirt and smart trousers if you're not. For women, a smart shirt and trousers/skirt or dress is an appropriate equivalent. Even if that means you're the most over-dressed person in the office, don't feel uncomfortable; after all, you're the one who's trying to make a good impression.

READ ALSO: How to write the perfect Swedish CV and cover letter


File photo: Rawpixel/Pexels

If your interview falls in the winter, the weather might not allow for your chicest interview outfit, and Swedes will understand this. Make sure to check the weather in advance if you're travelling for the interview with limited luggage – it can snow as late as May in many parts of Sweden! Even a warm coat, boots, and gloves should be relatively presentable, but make sure you can easily remove the outer layers once you're inside as Swedish offices are typically kept very warm.

If it's raining, snowing, or muddy outside, make sure not to bring the slush into the office with you. If possible, bring a smart pair of 'indoor shoes' to change into, and ask at reception (in a smaller office, just ask the first person who greets you) if there's somewhere you can put your outdoor shoes/coat/umbrella.

What to bring

Show that you're organized and reliable by having all the relevant documents to hand. At a minimum, bring a printout of your CV and references (written copies and/or contact details for referees). Depending on the job, other documents could also be useful, such as your diploma, work samples, a police check (for jobs where you'll be working with children or other vulnerable people), driving licence and so on.

And don't forget a notepad and pen so you can write down any important information – though you shouldn't spend the interview scribbling down everything they say. You can also use this to make a note in advance of any questions you want to ask, and then refer to it at that section of the interview.


Photo: gpointstudio/Depositphotos

Timing is everything

You never want to be late to a job interview, but that's even more true in Sweden, where punctuality is practically a national sport. However, arriving too early is almost as inconsiderate as being too late. This applies even to social occasions – you'll hear stories of Swedes standing outside a friend's apartment door for several minutes so they can ring the bell at the exact time they were asked to arrive. 

If you're new to Sweden, allow ample time to get to grips with the public transport and find your way there, but if that means you're more than ten minutes early, walk around outside or wait in a cafe before announcing your arrival at around five to ten minutes ahead of the scheduled time.

If you're unavoidably late, with a good reason such as a family emergency or transport problem, call as soon as you know this is going to happen, and apologize.

Greetings

Whether you're greeted by the interviewer, a receptionist, or someone else depends on the size of the company and the location of the interview. The standard greeting involves eye contact, a smile, a 'Hej!' (plus their first name if you know it – you can avoid Sir/Madam and even Mr/Mrs), and a firm handshake as you introduce yourself.

Make sure you know how to pronounce the interviewer's name before you arrive if it's one you're unfamiliar with, in case you need to let a receptionist or someone else know who you've come to see. And greet everyone in the way described above; not only is this a matter of being polite, but professional hierarchies are far less rigid in Sweden than in many other Western countries, so failing to make eye contact with the boss, receptionist, assistant, or intern (if you're introduced) will reflect especially poorly on you.


File photo: Tim Guow/Pexels

You will almost certainly be offered a drink when you arrive, and it's a good idea to accept, and practise the Swedish skill of office small talk. That means sticking strictly to neutral topics such as the weather, how nice the office or local area is, and so on.

Talk the talk

As for the actual interview, there are several formats this might take. It's fine to ask in advance what the interview process at the company looks like; for example it might be a traditional interview with one person or a panel; a group interview with several other candidates; or may involve tests, either to assess skills relevant to the job or to see if your personality is a good fit for the role.

You should also find out in advance whether the interview will be in English or Swedish, to avoid any unwelcome surprises. If your communication with the hiring manager up to this point has been in English, it's likely that the interview will be too, but don't take it for granted. Be aware that even if they have a very high level of English, the interviewer might not have a perfect grasp of local idioms, slang, or strong regional accents, so try to keep those to a minimum or look out for signs that they haven't fully understood you.


File photo of a workplace conversation: Susanne Walström/imagebank.sweden.se

A typical Swedish job interview will start with the hiring manager giving an introduction to the company's background and outlining the job, after which you'll get the chance to present yourself. Avoid interrupting to ask questions during the initial presentation of the company – there will be a chance for that later.

Keep your own personal presentation brief (two-three minutes), and focus on your most recent role: what your goals there were, and how you achieved them, concluding with why you want the job you're applying for. After these introductions, the rest of the interview will usually consist of questions, some from the interviewer and some from you.

Interview questions will be a mix of general questions (Why are you relocating to Sweden? Why do you want this job?), competency questions (Why do you think you'd be good at the job? What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?), and situational questions (Can you give an example of when you've worked in a team? What is the biggest challenge facing [industry], and how would you help [company] tackle it?). You can prepare for these by reading the company website to find out their values and recent projects, reading news from Sweden to find out about the industry in Sweden, and re-reading the job ad and your own application to see which responsibilities and skills were highlighted. 

Aim for a practical approach rather than an emotional or theoretical one, so rather than lots of adjectives to describe how great you are, aim to describe it instead, using concrete examples of events and achievements. If asked about a weakness, don't say you don't have any or present a strength as a weakness; show humility and an ability to learn from things going wrong by explaining what happened, what your role was, and how you solved it or learned from it. Honesty and modesty are key.


Say yes to coffee, but be aware it will be strong! Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Another way Swedish working culture stands out is the focus on work-life balance, and this means it's often fine to talk about your personal life if invited to, so feel free to mention your love of hiking or crochet when asked to talk about yourself. In some countries, work might seem like a competition at staying the latest at the office or making the most sacrifices for work, but that's not at all the case in Sweden. Interviewers will be looking for someone they can work with, and who will fit into the company culture, just as much as someone who can do the tasks required.

You should also have done some research into the company itself, and the industry in Sweden.

Make sure to explain why you've set your sights on Sweden, particularly if the move is recent or hasn't actually happened yet. Hiring a foreign national is a risk for employers, and an expensive one if you're from a country that requires them to sponsor your work visa, so letting them know that you're committed to the move will offer reassurance. They will probably ask you outright why you want to make the move. If you're moving to Sweden for practical reasons, such as joining a partner, that's perfectly fine to say, but here it might be a good idea to also mention why you're particularly interested in this company or the industry as a whole. If you've already learned some Swedish, enrolled in classes or would be willing to do this, make sure to say that too! Even if the interviewer says the company's working language is English, learning the local language will inevitably help you get to know your colleagues, plus it shows a long-term commitment to the move.

In total, you might have two or three interviews, and it's definitely OK to ask at the end of the first meeting what the rest of the process looks like and when you should expect to hear back from them, if they don't offer this information. Have some other questions prepared too, that show your interest in the company and the role you're applying to.

Money, money, money

In Sweden, it's possible to quite easily find out how much anyone gets paid. One result of this is that Swedes are much more comfortable talking about money than people in many other countries and while you shouldn't ask about your salary in the very first interview, it will likely be discussed nearer the end of the process.

In general, Swedish interviewers are more likely to tell you their planned salary for the job and ask how that fits with your expectations than to ask you for your own desired salary. This doesn't mean you've got no room to negotiate, or that you have to accept the offer, but if you try to ask for a huge increase, it might raise doubts about your commitment.


Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

To prepare for this section of the interview, you can do some research online, for example on Glassdoor or by contacting the union for your industry to find out a rough average, and work from there. Unions can be a further great source of help during the job hunt, and may be able to help you prepare for the interview.

There are a few other things to bear in mind when it gets to negotiating your salary. For one thing, many Swedish companies offer a generous benefits package, including paid leave for at least 25 days' holiday, sick leave (including if your children are sick), and in some cases they'll offer money towards sports activities, Swedish lessons, and other things associated with relocation. These bonuses might make up for a lower salary in comparison to those in other countries.

If you are offered a salary that's significantly lower than what you could get in your native country or somewhere else, that's unlikely to be an effective bargaining tool unless you have a particularly unique skillset. If you choose to negotiate, focusing on the median wage for your role or experience level in Sweden (which you can find out from a union), or highlighting the skills and experience you have that would bring value to the company, are more likely to help you get what you want.

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