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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.

Not familiar with Sweden’s income insurance a-kassas? Find out how you could protect your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

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.

Are you a university graduate? Learn more about protecting your income by joining Akademikernas a-kassa

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

WORK PERMITS

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years. 

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