According to Mikael Andersson, an ex-recruitment manager from one of Stockholm's bigger agencies, many job-seekers in Sweden are doomed without even knowing it.
"Let's say you apply for a job when you first get to Sweden. If you tell the recruiter that you can't speak Swedish, they have the power to red-flag you for good as a non-Swedish speaker – regardless of whether you later learn to speak Swedish fluently or not at all," he told The Local.
"Your name will always pop up with a notification that you're a non-Swedish speaker from that day forth. It doesn't matter what job it is, you're red flagged in a global setting."
The problem, he explains, isn't in the official pre-filled information boxes that an applicant writes out, it’s in the private side-notes the recruiters keep after the first interaction, notes which are rarely updated and are often made in a way that leaves candidates portrayed in a negative light.
"There's too much trust in the recruiters, who are usually under-qualified and fresh out of school. The system is absurd," he added.
Andersson (not his real name), worked in Stockholm at one of the nation’s 15 largest recruitment companies. He said that during the short conversations supposed to weed out the people unsuitable for the job, recruiters take the chance to glean information about an applicant's capabilities. Recruiters are trained to immediately ask for the job-seeker's Swedish speaking skills if the applicant has a non-Swedish sounding name, he alleged.
But the troubles don't stop there. With over 600 recruitment agencies in Stockholm alone, job-seekers are shooting themselves in the foot by being over-eager at the beginning of their job hunt, as many of the agencies operate on similar systems.
"We've all heard the stories of people who have applied for 200 jobs without getting called for an interview – even though they may be qualified," Andersson explained. "This plays a big part in it."
These people, according to Andersson, have often been red-flagged from day one and their applications never make it past the first stage – even if it's for a job where knowing Swedish might not be necessary.
Andersson added that many job-seekers don't know their rights anyway.
"They're not going to tell you that you're blocked, but it's completely in your rights to ask for a copy of the file they have on you from their database," he explained.
Andersson said keeping people's information can be in breach of Sweden's Personal Data Act (Personuppgiftslagen – PuL), something confirmed by Malin Sredholm, legal advisor at Sweden's Data Inspectorate (Datainspektionen).
"Personal data must be adequate and relative. If information is old and no longer relevant then keeping it could be in breach of the law," she told The Local.
"I think it sounds wrong," she said when asked about practices described by Andersson, adding that she hadn't heard of a similar case before.
Sredholm stated that to determine whether such actions were against the law, an official complaint would have to be registered and the data protection watchdog would have to audit the company, in writing, to ensure that it was a recurring issue and not just a one-off.
"If the complaint implies that it’s a repeated wrong, or a routine problem, then it’s more likely that we would act," she explained. "Information must be updated, or if not, erased. That is part of the privacy act."
At Swedish job recruitment agency Academic Work, the process is clear, according to spokeswoman Elin Frejd.
"We know and follow Sweden’s Personal Data Act," she told The Local.
"While we do write notes during the initial contact, which is usually done via telephone, these notes are about education, work background and skills, we want to find out if they are qualified or if the timing is right for employment."
She added that the agency updates its information constantly in its own system and the recruiters' notes were there to help in the specific recruitment process.
"All our recruiters have training and skills for conducting these first interviews and it is done according to our internal procedures," she added.
But this is not the case at all job agencies, according to Andersson. The problems run deeper than just language capabilities, too, with first-contact recruiters often missing opportunities due to their lack of knowledge about a job position.
"These people are first-tier staff, they're essentially juniors but they make high-level decisions. But they don't know what they’re doing," Andersson said.
"It's like getting someone who knows nothing about gardening to do the weeding. They have no idea whether they’re pulling out weeds or flowers.
"One stupid comment and you're out."
When contacted by The Local, the CEO of Andersson's old recruiting firm vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that while the phone operators did take notes, they only related to skills needed for the job.
"This doesn't sound right at all, we work against prejudice. We don't mind where you're from, we want to get you a job," the CEO said.
The CEO added that the telephonists were indeed trained for their job, and that the company specifically quizzes employers who have asked for Swedish speakers only.
"We ask them if Swedish truly is a necessity, because if the job can be done in English then it's something we can provide for. Employers saying that people must speak Swedish usually just prefer to have Swedish speakers, it's not a matter of need."
So what is the advice of the former recruiter left embittered by a dysfunctional system?
"To be honest, it's better to be lazy when you first get to Sweden, then at least you won't get blocked everywhere," Andersson told The Local.
"In my experience, I'd advise anyone to learn a functional amount of Swedish first. That's your best bet if you want to ever get yourself a job in Sweden."