Learn Swedish, be proactive and don’t give up. These were some of the main advice presented to internationals looking for work in West Sweden during the seminar ‘Create your career path’, held at the West Sweden Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
The importance of learning Swedish came up time and again during the seminar. Even though most Swedes speak English, Swedish language skills are essential for many jobs. Also, keep trying. Be prepared to work hard to find employment; research the market and contact companies even if they haven’t advertised available positions. And network, not only with other internationals but with Swedes as well.
But it isn’t easy. Feelings of hopelessness and frustration may not be far off when yet another job application has been rejected, or worse, not even recognized with an answer. A member in the audience, who has an MBA and degrees from two of the highest ranked universities in the world, said head hunters she had met didn’t even understand her qualifications.
“Sweden is an open society in some ways and in others not. And that is something we need to work with,” said Ingrid Pousard, project manager at the Chamber and moderator of the event.
A representative from one of the staffing agencies in the audience said that foreign experience and qualifications do matter. But they have to been shown to the right people. This seems to be one of the main challenges.
Major companies such as Gothenburg-based Volvo, search worldwide for the right talents. Almost 25 per cent of the companies in West Sweden are foreign-owned. But there seems to be a wide gap between the professionals looking for work and the companies hiring. Why can’t they find each other?
Ingrid Pousard referred to the problem as a mismatch. People are looking for work, at the same time as the companies complain they can’t find the right skills.
“We have to make it easier for people with an international background to find work here,” she said.
“You are needed; we just need to find the ways.”
More and more employers realize the value of the perspectives, insights and networks foreign born employees bring to an organisation. This is also something job hunters should try to sell in their applications.
Vanessa, a British expat who has spent ten years in Sweden, offered some practical advice:
“One of the first things I did when I arrived, because everyone was telling me I need to speak Swedish, was that I went to the British Consulate and asked for a list of all the companies working directly with England. And then I went and contacted the French Consulate because I speak French and Spanish, and I asked the same thing. I basically got a list of the companies working directly with countries in the languages that I have.”
Another audience member said Business Region Göteborg now has a list of all companies in the region that are foreign owned.
An additional tip from Vanessa was to work as a consultant, as a way of being able to take on short term contracts.
American expat Nicole Joël Roswall has spent a total of five years in Sweden and works for two language providers in Gothenburg.
“How ready are we to step out of our comfort zone?” was her opening question to the audience.
She gave an inspiring speech into the main challenges for international job seekers – and the steps to overcome them.
She boiled it down to five main points:
1. Learn the language. You don’t have to be perfect at Swedish, but if you don’t know Swedish you risk missing out on the nuances in the conversation.
2. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. Don’t be too proud or too afraid. Consider everything in order to get a foot in on the labour market. It’s a humbling experience.
3. Tap into the education system – the universities or courses at the different education providers. It’s a great way to network.
4. Do the “Swedish thing”. Quack like a frog dancing around the Midsummer Pole. Embrace nature, “Tell a Swede where you can find the best mushrooms, and you have a friend for life”. Becoming part of the Swedish society helps you overlap the professional and social aspects, which could be essential for getting a foot in somewhere.
5. Please, be careful with stereotyping and negativity.
“It’s easy to stick within the international community. It’s not easy, but just jump in. Sweden is after all one of the top five to ten places to live in… so at least we are on the right track!,” said Nicole.
Instead of searching for work, you could turn it around – create your own job. Merlind Hinz and Katarina Ingenlath are doing just this. Their new site, The M Society, will be launched in December. The M Society is a platform targeting mums and dads in Gothenburg. It gathers activities and products for parents all in one place.
“If you have an idea, just go for it. It doesn’t matter what it is, just go for it,” said Merlind.
Think about if there’s something you can do better, if there is something from your home country that Sweden is lacking.
But be prepared, she warned: everything is harder and takes longer than you may expect. Forget trying to get anything done during the Swedish summer holiday season, and brace up for the mountains of paperwork you need to get through.
However, and most importantly, don’t despair. There is help out there. Merlind especially mentioned the support system for start-up businesses from Swedish authorities, such as Almi, Framtidens Företag and the Public Employment Office (Arbetsförmedlingen). She also marvelled at the support from people around her.
“Include people in your plans; you get so many positive things in return.”