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Swedish vocabulary: The words and phrases you need to survive the job hunt

In many companies across Sweden, English is the working language, but understanding at least some Swedish will serve you well in the search for a job.

Swedish vocabulary: The words and phrases you need to survive the job hunt
Knowing a few key phrases could speed up your job hunt. File photo: Burst/Pexels

There are several ways to look for a job in Sweden. The first is to register with Arbetsförmedlingen (the Swedish Public Employment Service), which you’ll need to do in order to register for any job-seeker benefits you’re eligible for, and they can also help you find a role, which you can look for in the platsbanken (job bank).

Alternatively, you can look at jobbannonser (job ads) online, including on The Local Jobs and other English-language options, but you may want to include Swedish sites to expand your search. There are a few different types of role, so check carefully: vikariat is a short-term job covering absences (this may be for a fixed period or ad hoc, for example as a substitute teacher), sommarjobb is a summer job and säsongsanställning is a seasonal role, while anställning (employment/position) can be either permanent or for a fixed period.

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Job adverts will usually include kravprofil (a profile of the skills or qualifications they’re looking for) which may mention qualities such as: fem års erfarenhet (five years’ experience), noggrannhet (accuracy/attention to detail), IT-kunskaper (IT skills), analytisk förmåga (analytical capabilities). And of course there will be the more wishy-washy terms, such as: serviceinriktad (service-minded), engagerad (committed), vågar drömma stort (dare to dream big) and so on.

The other main section will contain the arbetsuppgifterna (job details), outlining your potential tasks and responsibilities. And you’ll want to check the key information, or anställningsvillkor (employment conditions) such as whether the job is heltid (full time) or deltid (part time) – if it’s the latter, there will often be either a percentage such as 50 percent, meaning 20 hours per week, or it might state the expected hours. For example: Tjänsten är deltid på 50 procent med arbetstider måndag-fredag 8.00-17.00 (The position is part time at 50 percent hours, with working hours Monday-Friday between 8-5pm).

Pay close attention to whether it’s en tillsvidareanställning (a permanent position) or en tidsbegränsad anställning (a fixed-term position) – if the latter, they should specify the time and might mention whether there is god möjlighet till förlängning (a good chance of extension). And look for the following phrases: tillträde snarast/tillträde enligt överenskommelse/tillträde 1 mars (starting as soon as possible/start date dependent on agreement, ie between you and the employer/starting on March 1st).

READ ALSO: Ten jobs for internationals in Sweden you may not have thought of

If the job description is written in Swedish, look closely any mention of language abilities. For example, if they say the ideal candidate behärskar svenska i tal och skrift (has an excellent command of written and spoken Swedish) or ask for flytande svenska (fluent Swedish), it’s unlikely they will accept an applicant who is in the early stages of learning, whereas a job requiring kunskaper i svenska (knowledge of Swedish) might be more flexible.

Look for the phrase är meriterande (is an advantage) after any skills or qualifications; this means it’s not required for the job, while starkt meriterande means it’s not essential but highly preferred.

Depending on what kind of job you’re searching for, it’s also worth keeping an eye out when walking around your town or city. You may well see signs saying personal sökes in cafes, restaurants or shops. And online ads often have the heading är du den vi söker? (are you the person we’re looking for).

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Other phrases you might see:

Urval sker löpande – applications accepted on a rolling basis (ie there’s no strict deadline but they will fill the role once they find a suitable person)

Vid eventuella frågor kontakta (Anna) – please contact (Anna) with any questions (this should be accompanied by a phone number or email address)

Du rapporterar till (vår VD) – you would report to (our CEO)

En tjänst med utvecklingspotential – a position with the chance to develop

Nära samarbete med (kunder/vår CFO) – working closely with (customers/our CFO)

Lön/anställningstid enligt avtal – salary/working hours according to agreement (this refers to collective bargaining agreements or similar, and means you are unlikely to be able to negotiate)

When it comes to the interview, it will generally be carried out in the language you’ve been corresponding in, but it’s worth double-checking. If, for example, you’ve been emailing in Swedish but would rather interview in English or at least have time to prepare, make sure to ask.


In many tech companies the working language is English, but a bit of Swedish always helps. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand

You’ll also want to find out about the benefits and perks offered by the employer, and to ask about the company culture as well as any other factors that would affect your decision as to whether to take the role.

The questions you ask will depend on how far along in the process you are, but here are some ideas:

Är det okej att jobba hemifrån ibland? – Is it OK to work from home sometimes?

Vad är nästa steg i intervjuprocessen? – What is the next stage in the interview process?

Har ni kollektivavtal? – Do you have a collective bargaining agreement? (This is useful to know because it usually guarantees you perks such as extra pay for overtime and ‘uncomfortable hours’, but it may mean you’re limited when it comes to negotiating salary or holiday)

Finns det en klädkod? – Is there a dress code? (One to ask once you’ve secured the job and are working out the final details)

READ ALSO: These are the most future-proof jobs for the next five years in Sweden

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SWEDISH LANGUAGE

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

A new study shows that more than one in five Swedes is irritated by the pronoun "hen", and the same number can't stand it when compound words are split up. Here's a rundown of the main offenders.

What irritates Swedes the most about the Swedish language?

One in five Swedes dislike the gender-neutral pronoun hen

In the study, carried out by Novus on behalf of language magazine Språktidningen, 22 percent of Swedes said that the pronoun hen was the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language. 

The first reported use of the gender-neutral pronoun, to be used instead of han (he) or hon (she), was in the 1950s, when it was used by language professor Karl-Hampus Dahlstedt, but it didn’t appear in writing until linguist Rolf Dunås wrote a newspaper article in 1966 proposing the introduction of the new pronoun.

After that, use of the pronoun was mostly limited to those within the LGBT community until 2012, when a children’s book sparked debate and media attention thanks to the exclusive use of hen to refer to its characters.

In 2015, hen entered the Swedish dictionary, a move which made it more difficult for critics to argue that it wasn’t an established or accepted alternative to han or hon.

As Språktidningen’s editor-in-chief Anders Svensson points out in this article, the pronoun hen has had an ideological and political dimension since debate took off in 2012, and this is still clearly visible today.

Although 22 percent of the survey’s respondents listed hen as the most irritating aspect of the Swedish language, this number rose to a whopping 50 percent amongst respondents who identified with the Sweden Democrats.

On the other side of the political spectrum, those sympathising with the Left Party, the Greens, the Liberals or the Centre Party were least likely to find hen irritating, with a mere 5 to 7 percent of these groups putting it in first place.

Torbjörn Sjöström, CEO of polling company Novus, told Språktidningen that these results didn’t surprise him.

“The fact that hen is irritating for Sweden Democrat sympathisers more than others is not surprising. People join that party because they want things to be like they were in the past. A new word which is gender-neutral symbolises a lot of the developments these people are against,” he explained.

One in five against särskrivning

The same amount, 22 percent, stated that särskrivningar – writing compound words incorrectly as two separate words – annoyed them the most.

This may sound like a minor error, but särskrivningar (literally: “separate writing”) can lead to major misunderstandings. Just look at these amusing examples of särskrivning gone wrong:

En rödhårig kvinna: “a red-haired woman”

En röd hårig kvinna: a red, hairy woman

Kassapersonalen: “checkout workers”

Kassa personalen: “useless employees”

Barnunderkläder: “children’s underwear”

Barn under kläder: “child under clothes”

In contrast to debates over the use of the word hen, debates over särskrivning have raged since the 1800s, where they were often considered to be major mistakes if featured in a text. One reason for this, Svensson notes, is that order in itself was seen as beautiful at this time.

Maria Bylin, language advisor at the Swedish Language Council (Språkrådet), told Språktidningen that she recognises this argument in modern debate on särskrivningar.

“You associate developments in the language with the country and with society,” she explained. “So whatever changes you can see in the language, you think it will happen in society, too.”

One popular scapegoat for this increase in särskrivning is the influence of English on the Swedish language. In English, we have fewer compound words than in Swedish, although they do still exist: a few examples are postbox, doorknob and blackberry. It is, however, harder to form compounds than in Swedish.

To return to the examples above, it would look strange to write “redhairedgirl”, “checkoutworker” or “childrensunderwear” as compounds in English.

So, is the rise of English to blame for mistakes in Swedish? Not according to linguist Katharina Hallencreutz, who noted when studying high school students’ English essays that they had no issues writing English compound loan words such as makeup or popcorn. 

This also wouldn’t explain the large amount of särskrivningar seen in historical texts in Sweden: they feature heavily in laws dating back to the 1200s, as well as Gustav Vasa’s Swedish bible translation, which was published in 1541.

One surprising result of the survey was the fact that young people were more likely than older people to find särskrivningar irritating:

“That surprised me a bit,” Svensson told public broadcaster SVT. “Often you hear the argument that older people think young people write carelessly and särskriver too much.”

Svensson wasn’t sure why this was, but did have a theory: “I suppose those who have recently finished school – most of them have learnt when words should be written as one word, and when they should be separate,” he told SVT.

English loanwords

The influence of English on the Swedish language was a major bugbear for a number of respondents, though. As many as 15 percent of those in Novus’ survey answered that “unnecessary English loanwords” were the most irritating thing about modern Swedish.

English loanwords were most irritating amongst Swedes over 65, where 29 percent stated they were the number one source of irritation, a number which was much lower in other age groups.

Lena Lind Palicki, a Swedish lecturer at Stockholm University, said that this could be to do with comprehensibility. She noted that irritation over English loanwords was especially high amongst older respondents who had left school at 16.

“We can assume that these people have a lower level of English, and then it’s a democratic problem, if English loanwords are used which can be difficult for many people to understand,” she told Språktidningen.

Palicki can’t imagine that English will remain as large a source of annoyance in the future as it is now, though.

“The irritation over English loanwords may have gone out of date in twenty years. Today’s youth will not start to be irritated by the same things as today’s elderly, but they’ll probably start making a symbolic issue of things they struggle with in school today,” she told the magazine.

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