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'There is a window of opportunity to recruit in new ways in Sweden'

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'There is a window of opportunity to recruit in new ways in Sweden'
Starting the conversation is the first, and often most difficult, place to begin, writes Kate Harris. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/Scanpix NORGE/SCANPIX
06:59 CEST+02:00
OPINION: Hiring outside your usual networks and taking advantage of immigrants' skills will pay off in the end, argues Kate Harris of Gothenburg-based jobs and integration initiative Opportunity Day.

Like so many immigrants, I came to Gothenburg ready for my next adventure. And, like many also, I’ve struggled with the repeated rejections from many jobs applications. Whether it be an e-mail confirming I was unsuccessful (often up to three months after applying for the job and not providing any explanation why), or never getting a reply at all – rejection seemed to be a pretty consistent thing.

Online expat groups and stories from fellow students at SFI classes (Swedish For Immigrants) helped me to not take it personal (as much as you can), and to understand that the rejection I was experiencing was part of a bigger problem in Sweden. For anyone born outside of Sweden, finding a meaningful job here is next to impossible.

However, I’m stubborn. So being told it was extremely unlikely wasn’t enough for me – I had to spend almost a full year of getting excited, applying for a job and getting rejected before I accepted that "Yep! It is indeed a problem".

Granted – I am in Sweden for a limited time and this has always hindered my motivation to learn a language that I will probably never need again, but there were also a number of jobs that required only English, for which I still was rejected. This helped me to realize the second layer of difficulty in the job market in Sweden. Contacts!

Seven out of ten jobs are never advertised on a job board in Sweden, according to Statistics Sweden. Most jobs are filled by a person with a connection to a current colleague, so unfortunately for the dedicated SFI students who are expecting their hard work in learning the language to pay off with a meaningful job at the end, unless they know someone in their target job sector, they may only be half way there.

READ ALSO: Why it's time for Sweden to fully accept English in the workplace


Kate Harris, Opportunity Day. Photo: Private

I’ve been in Gothenburg a year now, and I have accepted that I’ll probably never be employed here as a project officer by an NGO. So I’ve changed my strategy and instead of looking at what experiences I wanted to take with me from my time in Sweden, I’m now looking at what I will leave in Sweden when I go next year.

And what better aspect of society to leave my mark on than the one that has repeatedly challenged me and the one that I (inadvertently) ‘researched’ for the past year: the job market.

For immigrants coming to Sweden without a solid job network and without fluent Swedish – the chances of finding meaningful work are pretty slim.

Yet how are people meant to develop their professional Swedish and their networks unless they work? It’s a catch that most people are well aware of, yet don’t really know how to solve.

From a business’ point of view, I understand the hesitation to change a recruiting method when it may have worked well for a long time. Hiring someone who is known to someone in the company is a pretty safe way of minimizing risk. I get it!

However, according to a study by McKinsey & Company in 2015, businesses that employ people with backgrounds from outside of Sweden are 35 percent more likely to beat their competitors in business.

And as Johan Alsén from Hays Sweden said in his opinion piece in The Local in June this year, "It is in the nation's interest to fill the growing competence gap to protect Sweden’s competitive edge" that Swedish employers "broaden their recruiting base".

THE LOCAL JOBS: Find your new career path in Sweden here

With over 30 percent of migrants in Sweden working in jobs for which they are over-qualified (compared to ten percent of Swedes), (see page six and nine of this OECD report on Sweden's migrant integration system) there is a huge resource pool of under-utilized skilled workers.

I know from my own experience, working in a job that you are over-qualified for, not having a clear purpose and meaning of taking that job, doesn’t make you feel so good about the society that you’re living in. There are many challenges that come with moving countries. Finding meaningful work is key to a person feeling accepted into a new society and therefore motivated to contribute.

It is likely that recruiting in an open, fair and accessible way for everyone in Sweden will eventually become the norm. Businesses in Sweden now have an opportunity be seen among the first few innovative companies who tried a new approach to recruiting before it was expected.

My advice is to not be afraid to get things wrong! Seek support and become informed about other ways of recruiting. Like most things, starting the conversation is the first, and often most difficult, place to begin. So feel the fear and do it anyway!

Kate Harris is currently developing a project with Opportunity Day that is aimed at closing the gap between companies who want to try new ways of recruiting in Gothenburg and non-native Swedish people who are looking for work.

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