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The guide to working in Sweden: from job hunt to salary talks

Moving to a new country is scary enough. Finding a job in a new country is a whole other ball game – and the many pandemic-related restrictions on life in recent times have hardly made it easier.

The guide to working in Sweden: from job hunt to salary talks
Photo: Getty Images

Swedish work culture is different to that of other countries. If you’re working in an office, stepping away from the desk and taking actual coffee breaks (accompanied with cake) is the norm, as is a casual dress code and flexible working hours. If you’re working remotely, there are still important points of difference to consider, such as Sweden’s flatter hierarchies.

Still, there are things you should remember when looking for a job and preparing for the interview. Here are our top tips.

Job hunting: CV and cover letter

Looking for a job in a new country is hard. We get that. You should check out The Local’s job board – it brings together in one place all the English-speaking jobs from various sites.

When you do find your dream job, tailor your CV accordingly. Yes, it was lovely of you to volunteer at that farm all those years ago, but what does it add to your professional personality? Keep things relevant!

Other peculiarities to bear in mind with Swedish CVs is that it’s common to include a photo of yourself. You’re not required to – but it’s frequently appreciated. Your next task is your cover letter. Skip the “Dear Mr. So and So”. Address the person by his or her first name, or not at all; just dive in with a powerful statement. Then proceed to outline your relevant experience, why you like the company, and why you are suited to the role.

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Interview prep

So they like your CV … well done! Now it’s interview time.

Don’t freak yourself out over the interview, but do take it seriously. It’s the final hurdle (or two or three) between you and blissful employment so you’ll only kick yourself if you don’t prep sufficiently!

Research the company, particularly its recent history. Come up with questions. All this will show an eagerness to learn, but also that you know what you’re signing up for and you’re not just winging it.

A big no-no is turning up in casual gear. Yes, Swedish workplaces tend to be pretty relaxed in terms of dress code – even CEOs will be dressed in jeans and trainers. But you don’t have the job yet! Dress smartly. It gives a good impression and you can always dress more comfortably once you’ve been hired.

Lastly, before your interview, plan your journey! There’s nothing worse than the stress of cutting it fine, or indeed, running late. Swedes are extremely punctual people – you should really plan on being ten minutes early and just waiting there for your interview to begin.

If you do end up late, and it’s unavoidable, call ahead and warn them – call at least ten minutes before the scheduled time, but as early as possible.

Photo: Getty Images

During the interview(s)

So you’ve arrived, you’ve met whoever will be interviewing you, and chances are, you’ve been offered a drink. Take it! Even if it’s just water (though it will probably be coffee).

Swedes like it when you accept their offers. Plus it may give you a couple of minutes to talk outside of the interview context, which, if you feel nervous, will surely calm you down.

Once you begin the interview, treat it as a dialogue. Like we said, have questions and do your research. That way, you can turn the interview into a conversation, which is far less daunting than having to answer a series of questions.

Remember to be honest and modest. Americans may be used to having to “sell themselves” at interviews, but exaggerating all your accomplishments and saying you’re simply the best won’t help you here.

It’s likely that there’ll be a number of rounds of interviews. Keep in mind appropriate questions to ask at each round. For example, in the first round you might ask what the work culture is like, whereas in the second round (getting serious!), you might want to find out things such as whether the company has kollektivavtal – a collective agreement with a union.

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Preparing for the best: money, money, money

So you got the job? Congratulations!

In some cases you will already have discussed salary (perhaps in the second or third round of interviews). But sometimes the salary isn’t brought up until you’ve received the offer. Either way, it’s important to be ready with a number.

Luckily, it’s easy to look up appropriate salaries for various jobs in Sweden. Check out www.lonestatistik.se, where you can search by job type, county, age, and level of experience to see what the normal range is.

Be confident with your salary request (neanspråk), and be prepared to offer reasons why you deserve that salary. Don’t be afraid to reference the market rate. Swedes are rational people. Keep in mind that you will usually land a couple of thousand kronor below your request – so aim a bit on the high end.

Preparing for the worst: unemployment

Now, you may be very good at your job, and the company you work at may be great. But sometimes, things don’t work out.

Even when you do get the job, many positions in Sweden are temporary – for instance summer ‘vikarie’ (substitute) jobs or other substitute positions while a regular employee is on parental leave.

Make sure you sign up to Akademikernas a-kassa, so you’re covered when you’re in between jobs or if you should for some reason suddenly become unemployed. It’s a sort of unemployment insurance that, if you were to lose your job, pays you up to 80 percent of that salary to tide you over until you secure a new job.

Working in Sweden is great for a whole host of reasons, and Akademikernas a-kassa is one of them.

Akademikernas a-kassa pays up to 80 percent of your salary if you lose your job – find out more and learn how to join now

For members

WORKING IN SWEDEN

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

The Local's Paul O'Mahony interviewed Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg, lecturer at Stockholm School of Economics and researcher at the Center for Responsible Leadership about the Swedish style of leadership.

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

Does Sweden have a distinctive management style?

The Swedish style of leadership is often said to be characterised by so-called flat hierarchies, where everyone is able to – and expected to – contribute their ideas and input to tasks, regardless of whether they are in a leadership role or not.

Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg told The Local that there are a number of different aspects which can influence management style, although Sweden does have a distinct style.

“I think that there’s definitely an idea that there is a specific Swedish or Scandinavian management style,” she said. “But I think from a research perspective, it’s much more complex, because we tend to generalise or stereotype.”

“It’s got a lot to do with the company culture and the culture of the country,” Karlberg said, “There’s definitely an idea of Scandinavian leadership, I think we have a common idea of what that is, but then, is it actually practiced everywhere in Scandinavia or in Sweden? That’s another issue.”

“In many of our organisations we talk about Scandinavian leadership where the leadership is very international, it’s a mix of different people from different cultures.”

Sweden is a very individualist society, which is also reflected in Swedish business.

“I think the core of what we talk about when we talk about Swedish leadership is the fact that leaders and managers also call on co-workers to take ownership on the task and individualism comes into business,” Karlberg said.

“It’s even expected, and co-workers take that ownership, and they engage and they take responsibility for the outcome and the result. So it’s the total opposite of micro-management in that sense.”

This culture of ownership and engagement also applies to managers, Karlberg explained.

“To generalise, in a Swedish setting, if there’s a meeting with the boss, the co-workers will expect to be listened to, and to be involved in a conversation and give their opinion on things. And that’s also a way to motivate people, in a Swedish sense.”

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Can lead to cultural clashes

This expectation in Swedish workplaces can lead to clashes if employees from other countries are used to a different system, Karlberg said.

“In another culture, say Finland, for example – I’m just generalising – you go to a meeting with your boss and you expect the boss to motivate you and to tell you what to do. So if you had a Finnish manager in a Swedish context, Swedish co-workers would probably feel neglected or frustrated for not being involved. ‘No-one asked my opinion, I want to share my opinion, my opinion matters'”.

This can also happen in situations where a Swedish manager is managing a group of employees from a different culture or country.

“A Finnish crowd with a Swedish manager might be very frustrated if the manager just asks questions and doesn’t seem to have a direction of their own. There’s just different expectations”.

However, there is also a collective aspect to Swedish workplaces, which foreigners working in the country often pick up on.

“When I work with international crowds, they tend to notice that Swedish co-workers and managers are very collective, they want to have consensus, they have to discuss everything, and it takes forever and it can be very frustrating.”

Swedish co-workers aren’t afraid to speak up though, if they feel that the decision their manager is making is wrong.

“But there are a lot of behaviours where Swedish co-workers will not accept a decision. For example, if they feel that the idea that their manager is bringing is wrong, it will actually be their duty to speak up, not in a confrontational way, but to say ‘Hmm, you know, this idea about doing it this way, it’s probably not a good idea.'”

“And non-Swedish managers might not always appreciate that kind of reaction. And if it continues, and the manager says that this is the way we’re gonna do it, the typical Swedish coworker will insist that this is the best way, and then there is a clash – again, they expect to be listened to and taken into consideration.”

How do you know when a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace?

This need to feel informed and included in decision-making can in some cases make it difficult to understand at exactly what point a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace.

“It’s a different process,” Karlberg said. “It often involves a calculated plan for taking the time to introduce the decision, discuss it, and make people feel that they have been informed.”

This aspect of the Swedish workplace culture caused issues during the pandemic, when many employees began to work from home.

“Decisions are taken in a much more informal way, and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when something was decided. And we also saw that during the pandemic, that the typical Swedish organisation – which is very non-hierarchical – suffered a lot, because a lot of leadership is practiced in an informal work environment.”

“So when people were taken away from that environment – because suddenly they were working from home – it was sort of, you know, ‘how do we practice leadership now?’, whereas in an organisation with a much clearer hierarchy, it was never an issue where decisions were made or how leadership was practiced, because it was done in a different way.”

“And in the more informal, flatter organisations, we had to find a different way to do that, to translate into the virtual room.”

Despite this, Karlberg does believe that Sweden’s leadership style is effective.

“I would say that it is, yes. We stand out pretty well as a nation when it comes to different types of national measurements of competitiveness. We score quite high on that. Of course, there’s also a drawback, if people don’t want to take that responsibility and ownership, because then it’s not typical that the manager would step up and change the leadership style. So it depends on whether you actually share the same expectation.”

Where does the Swedish leadership style come from?

Sweden’s collaborative leadership style is perhaps a product of Sweden’s history, Karlberg said.

“We have always been a small country, very dependent on export. And that means that we had to adapt to the rest of the world and to other markets, but also having to collaborate – we’re too small to quarrel or fight.”

“This has been a way to bring people together in the same direction – it’s a little bit like how we work with the unions with much more of a collaborative focus instead of being confrontative, because it’s simply not rational for a small country like us.”

There’s also a strong tradition of independence in Sweden, Karlberg explained.

“There’s a genuine tradition of independence in the sense of mutual respect. And of course, a lot happened during the 20th century with the development of equality and the whole idea of individualist thinking. Where we’re individualistic with regard to family, with regard to gender, with regard to our roles in society.”

“I think that plays a part as well, with equality and also that everyone matters in that sense.”

You can hear Paul O’Mahony’s interview with Karlberg in our Sweden in Focus podcast where we discuss all aspects of life in Sweden and shed light on the latest Swedish news. Listen and subscribe.

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