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How to kick-start your Swedish career: Six top tips for job seekers

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How to kick-start your Swedish career: Six top tips for job seekers
Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se
13:36 CEST+02:00
Thinking of moving to Sweden for work? Here are six expert tips to help you boost your career prospects.
1. Learn the rules
 
Can you just pack up and move to Sweden and worry about the job later? That depends on where you're from.
 
If you're a citizen of another EU country, you can move to Sweden without first obtaining a work permit. But all non-EU citizens who wish to move to Sweden for work must apply for and receive a permit before they can make the move, and their immediate family including partners can apply to move to Sweden on the same permit.
 
Under certain circumstances, you can apply for a work permit after arriving in the country but it is vital that you understand the rules, so make sure you do due diligence by researching your particular situation on the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) and Swedish Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen) websites. 
 
If you've got a job offer lined up, in most cases the process is fairly straightforward. The Migration Agency processed 51,430 job permit applications in 2018 and almost 80 percent of them were accepted.
 
But extending the work permit can be stressful and a 2015 rule change that meant that even minor administrative errors could lead to an application being rejected leaves some foreign workers feeling like they must constantly contend with dread and uncertainty. 
 
 
2. Learn Swedish
 
This might sound painfully obvious, but a lot of job seekers report that they came to Sweden with the impression that English would be enough to land a job only to find that that really wasn't the case.
 
That's not to say that there aren't English-language jobs. There most certainly are – you can start by searching for some here – but even within companies that have English as their corporate language, employers are more likely to feel comfortable offering a job to someone who has at least a basic grasp of Swedish. 
 
International job seekers have also told The Local that they've been asked to send a Swedish CV after applying to English-language job adverts, or been told Swedish fluency was required for a job working with English-speaking markets.
 
Amelie Silfverstolpe is the programme director of ÖppnaDörren, an initiative to help newcomers start establishing a network in Sweden. She advises newly-arrived job seekers to "learn as good Swedish as possible as fast as possible". 
 
"It's definitely possible to get a job with just English, but it's more complicated without knowing Swedish because you'll lose out socially and a lot of employers also think that Swedish is more important than it actually is," she said. 
 
 
Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
 
3. Have realistic expectations
 
For those who have moved to Sweden without a job lined up – whether that is as an accompanying spouse, a student who wants to stay or even a work permit holder who wants to switch jobs – there are certain unfortunate realities that are likely to affect the job-seeking process. 
 
Studies have shown that job applicants with non-Swedish names are less likely to be called into an interview and plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that this remains a serious problem. 
 
Silfverstolpe recommended trying to minimize this by addressing "things that could be frightening to an employer" head-on. For example, clearly express your level of comfort working and communicating in Swedish and be sure to include the Swedish equivalent of your qualifications and education.
 
Many Swedes also find good jobs through their circles of personal and professional connections, something that is not going to be of much help to newcomers. 
 
Silfverstolpe said that roughly seven out of ten jobs in Sweden are filled through some sort of personal contact. Her advice to newcomers is to never turn down any networking opportunities and to pursue the passions they might have – whether that's cooking, sport or whatever – as a way to simply start meeting as many people as possible. 
 
"Meetings create networks and networks create jobs. It doesn't really matter how you build the networks, people are just as likely to get jobs through personal and casual networks as professional ones," she said. 
 
4. Tailor your CV and cover letters to the Swedish market
 
You're probably going to want to give your CV an overhaul. No, it doesn't necessarily need to be translated into Swedish. In fact, mistake-ridden attempts to put your qualifications into the local language will almost certainly backfire. But it is probably a good idea to develop a Swedish version of your CV for when applying to job adverts written in Swedish and a brief introductory Swedish message that can accompany your English-language CV and cover letter. 
 
While the typical Swedish CV structure will be common to most Western job seekers, there is one element that can come as a surprise to a lot of internationals. Swedes tend to put a headshot in the document and while this isn't strictly necessary, the lack of one may draw attention to your 'outsider' status. If you do include a photo, make sure it is a professional and neutral image.
 
 
When it comes to writing your cover letter, it's good to remember that Swedish culture is pretty informal. While it might feel unnatural, it's best to start your email with a simple 'Hej Anna' ('Hi Anna', or whatever the first name fo the hiring manager might be), rather than 'Dear Mrs Andersson'. 
 
In the body of the letter, you'll want to highlight why you would be a good fit for the job, which of course requires that you familiarize yourself with the position and the company. If you're new to Sweden, or even seeking a job before relocating, it's wise to include a short line or two about why you've come (or hope to come) to the country. 
 
Silfverstolpe's advice was to keep your CV in English for as long as you'd prefer to work in English but as soon as you think you're ready for a Swedish job, your vital documents should be translated. 
 
"Even though Swedes are quite good in English, it is easier for employers to compare CVs if everything is in Swedish," she said. 
 
 
File photo: Tim Guow/Pexels
File photo: Tim Guow/Pexels
 
5. Don't let cultural misunderstandings undermine your chances
 
The informal Swedish business culture can create a conundrum if you are called into an interview. Sure, it's quite common for Swedish employees to come to work in t-shirts and jeans but that's not a good look for an initial interview. It's much better to err on the side of overdressing, but a full suit is probably unnecessary unless the potential job is in an industry like finance or law, where more formal attire is the norm. 
 
In most situations, a dress shirt and smart trousers will do for a man, while a smart shirt and trousers/skirt or dress is a safe bet for women. 
 
Swedes are generally well-organized and timely, so be sure to bring along relevant documents like your CV, references and work samples. Perhaps most importantly, be on time. While you probably don't need to be told that it's never a good idea to show up late to a job interview, in Sweden it can also be considered rude to show up too early. The best strategy is to plan to arrive at the interview site ten to 15 minutes early and then spend a few minutes relaxing and composing yourself before arriving right at the specified time. 
 
How you perform at the job interview is another thing, but following these tips will keep you from torpedoing your chances before it gets underway. 
 
6. Remember that differences will continue even after you get the job
 
Once you've landed your Swedish dream job, there are still some important cultural differences you'll want to pay close attention to if you want to blend in to the local labour market. 
 
A lot of foreigners will find that life in a Swedish workplace is full of potential pratfalls. For example, the Scandinavian concept of 'Jantelagen', the Law of Jante, is the bane of many ambitious foreigners who feel unwillingly constrained by this notion that "you are not to think you are anything special".
 
Some would also argue that the Swedish concept of 'lagom', or 'just enough', stifles ambition in the workplace. In short, those coming from hard-charging work cultures might be shocked by just how laid back Swedish workplaces can seem. 
 
But, of course, working in Sweden has a boatload of perks. The country's parental leave policies, work-life balance and flat hierarchy are probably part of the reason you're considering working in Sweden to begin with, but here too a foreign worker may run into problems. 
 
In Sweden, you're not going to earn brownie points by staying at the office after everyone else has gone. If anything, you'll probably get a stern talking-to from the boss. Likewise, no one is going to be impressed if you express a desire to return to work shortly after the birth of your child. So, if you do get a job in Sweden, make sure to fully embrace everything that made it appealing to you in the first place. 
 
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