My top tips to find a job in Sweden as an expat.
Finding a job in Sweden has been a challenge for me and for many of my international friends and classmates here. In my opinion, there are a few key reasons for this. One possible reason is that Swedes are, in general, a highly educated society. The norm here is to have a Master’s degree and to be fluent in Swedish and English. Another possible reason of why it is so hard to get a job in Sweden is that Swedes are more reserved and therefore more likely to hire people they already know rather than take a chance on a stranger.
Despite the challenges of finding work in Sweden, it is possible (I’m proof!) with perseverance and some strategic thinking. Here are my top tips:
Networking in Sweden, as in much of the world, is huge when it comes to job searching. But as an expat, networking plays an even bigger role. Having someone refer you for a job goes a long way (remember what I said earlier about Swedes hiring within their network?).
Try building up your job network as soon as possible, ideally before moving abroad. I had countless networking calls while finishing my MBA in the US. It was a big time investment (especially during finals!), but it definitely helped me get a few interviews once I moved here. And speaking with people already living in the country I was moving to gave me tons of helpful information and expectation management.
Tip! Facebook is a great place to find events in your area. I would also recommend connecting with alumni groups located in the city you are moving to and to join a Creative Mornings chapter.
I joined Creative Mornings Malmö and attended a lecture held by a local networking group called MINE. I then applied to be one of the MINE mentees and was paired with a recruiter from IKEA. After the mentorship program ended, I reached out to do my Master’s thesis with IKEA. During an interview with my current employer, my experience working with IKEA was a key factor that set me apart from other applicants and I got the job! Who knew a one-hour networking event would have led to all this!
When to Apply
There is an art to applying for jobs in Sweden and two cardinal rules you should know.
First, only apply for jobs between January – June and August – November. Swedes take their vacation very seriously, and will be out of office for about four weeks during the period of June 15 – August 15. The same happens during December where Swedes leave around the 18th (sometimes even the 6th!) and don’t return until the second week of the new year. So if you do try applying for a job during these times, except to receive a few OOO automatic replies.
Second, notice periods here are typically three months. That means we give a full 90 days of notice when we want to leave a job. In the US, the standard is just two weeks! So if you are applying for a job, it is safe to assume that you will not be starting for about 3 months’ time. Of course, some expectations do apply, as was the case for me when I started my job three weeks after my offer.
Be Willing to Learn Swedish
While many companies use English as their business language, knowing Swedish will definitely be a competitive advantage as an applicant and will allow you to apply for jobs at more companies. And jobs that are posted in Swedish get less applicants than those posted in English, so the competition may be less intense. The companies that work in English (think: IKEA) are often the most competitive (especially between expats), and they receive hundreds of applications per job.
I have found, however, that while job ads are posted in and “require” Swedish, a quick phone call to the hiring manager will reveal that the company will make exceptions for the Swedish requirement for “exceptional” candidates. So it is always worth asking before passing a job that requires Swedish! My job also listed Swedish on the job description, but letting them know that I am interesting in learning and willing to continue with classes was enough for me to satisfy the Swedish requirement.
Get Your Story Straight
Every one of my many interviews started with, “So, why did you decided to move to Sweden?” Be ready to have an interesting and engaging answer to this question. Weave in ways to have a conversation with the interviewer, instead of just monologuing, and know that you get bonus points if you point out Sweden’s superior social system!
Also know it is common to be asked during an interview about how long you think you will live in Sweden. Since my partner and I are both Americans, many employers were cautious that I would soon leave. So be prepared with an answer here.
Reset Your Expectations
Job searching as an expat is hard. At a networking event I was attending, I heard a statistic that it takes immigrants, on average, seven years to find a permanent, full-time job in Sweden! SEVEN. YEARS. And, honestly, I completely believe it. Many people who immigrate here do not have good command of Swedish or English, and end up spending a few years in language classes before applying to jobs.
Others find that their career is “protected” in Sweden, meaning one must study in Sweden to have that job in Sweden. For example, let’s say you are a doctor in another non-EU country but want to work as a doctor in Sweden. To do this, you:
…need to submit your diploma for validation by the Socialstyrelsen. You then need to pass the Kunskasprovet exam [in Swedish] just like Swedish medical student would, followed by attending a course on Swedish laws and regulations for foreigners. Regardless of if you have clinical practice experience, you are also required to do a 6-month supervised internship to prove you are comfortable with Swedish medical practice environment.
Yikes! Many expats looking for work under a protected job end up going back to school in Sweden or making a career pivot.
For me, it took two years (almost to the week!) to find and start my job. And – not to toot my own horn, but to give you some perspective of who I was as an applicant – I have: two Masters degrees, six previous years of work experience from Fortune 500 companies, and am a native English speak and had been in Swedish classes since moving here. I am also very outgoing and networked like crazy throughout that entire period. And it still took me two years to find full-time professional work. Let me tell you, it was maddening. But, eventually, it happened!
- Not all jobs are created equal. Certain industries have strict visa regulations. Read more here.
- If you are moving to Souther Sweden, consider job search in Copenhagen! Since it is Denmark’s capital city, the industry options are numerous and English is widely spoken at the offices. But know that you will need another visa if you are a non-EU citizen. It shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, but it is an extra step. Also, it will effect your tax situation! (Want to know more about Swedish taxes? Read here.)
Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!