Working in Sweden
Expats planning on working in Sweden should stake less in the quantity of their monthly salary, and more in the quality of their life ahead. Sweden's exceptionally high taxes but extensive emphasis on welfare benefits means even workers maintaining mid-level positions and moderate monthly paycheques can access a high standard of healthcare, reputable schools for their children, and retirement security for years to come.
With such obvious draws, it seems millions of expats would be marching on Sweden's entry points, but a highly-skilled labour force and a fairly insular economy prohibits easy entrance into the nation's working world.
Like a large part of the European Union, Sweden was affected by the global financial crises, but not paralysed by the turn of events. As of 2011, the country's economic downturn and its rise in unemployment (to double digits) had plateaued, and Sweden had made movements toward recovery and even onto rapid growth. Household consumption in the country was still low and jobs were still slow to materialise, but nonetheless, a reserved optimism settled in.
As can be expected from a country with universal social benefits, the workforce in Sweden is highly-skilled, with roughly a third of employees having some degree of tertiary education. Nearly 50 percent of the country's output and exports are accounted for by the engineering sector, followed closely by the telecommunications, pharmaceutical and automotive sectors.
Sweden is also credited as an up-and-coming European creativity hub for business; another possible pull for purposeful expat workers looking to spread their wings wider.
Most expats wanting to work in Sweden should have at least a basic knowledge of the language. Most jobs require fluency in Swedish, with the exception being the large multinationals that use English as the corporate language, most of which are located in Stockholm and possibly Göteborg and Malmö. It follows that these international companies are often an expat's most likely opportunity for employment. Many companies are more willing to hire expats who don’t speak Swedish if the potential employee shows an interest in learning and would at least be able to understand what is spoken around the coffee machine.
Expats who don't speak Swedish and who don't have any interest in becoming a member of the corporate world should consult the Swedish labour shortage list, a twice-annually published detail of the nation's needs in the labour force. If your profession appears, the chance of finding a job in Sweden is significantly better. Currently, there is a lack of skilled workers in most areas of healthcare, trade work (such as bakers, painters, concrete workers, transportation drivers, etc), most areas of engineering, teachers, and IT-related positions. Workers seeking a position in these and other areas with shortages will be able to apply for a job within Sweden rather than returning to their home country first.
Sweden also publishes a regulatory list, a detailed account of the professions which require some form of certification (i.e. doctor, lawyer, psychiatrist, etc.). If planning to work in Sweden and your profession appears on this list, check with the respective regulatory agency listed to find out what certification you need, or whether or not the certification you already have is acceptable.
European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens do not need a work permit to work in Sweden, but citizens of all other nations do need a work permit to be rightfully employed in Sweden. Work permits can only be applied for with a formal written offer of employment from a Swedish company.
Finding a job in Sweden
Though most positions in Sweden require proficiency in the language, there is a wealth of English resources available to expats trying to find a job in Sweden, most of which are available online.
- Swedish Public Employment Services
- European Job Mobility Portal (EURES)
- Job Portal of "The Local", Sweden's English News Site
- Jobs in Stockholm
Additionally, recruiting companies and temp agencies can be useful resources. Contractual and temporary work is on the rise in Sweden, and for many expats, a job of this nature may be a good stepping-stone toward a better opportunity.
When applying for a job in Sweden, it's standard practice to send a one-page cover letter and Curriculum Vitae (CV), that's succinct and to the point. It's common to be interviewed only when short-listed for a job. During July, August and December, due to the vacation times of the majority of Swedes, it may be difficult to find employment as many companies have put administrative matters such as hiring on hold.
If extended an offer, be aware that salary levels in Sweden are often subject to agreements between labour unions and employers. Do your research before accepting an offer, and be aware that tax in Sweden is astronomical.
Business etiquette in Sweden
- Egalitarianism dominates workplace etiquette in Sweden. It follows that communication is open and works toward compromise and consensus.
- Regarding the egalitarianism, many workplaces are non-hierarchical and it follows, for example, that upper management may not always have special and separate offices. Employees of all levels tend to freely mix and discuss business.
- It will be important to dress nicely and cleanly in Swedish workplaces, but there is a range of dress code, as many environments can be found to be quite casual or formal, from technology companies allowing jeans to only suits allowed in some finance companies.
- Swedes are direct but reserved and not confrontational. Loud and ostentatious behavior is best kept at a minimum.
- Punctuality is of primary importance in Sweden, always phone if you are going to be late.
- Be sure to respect an individual's personal space in the business world; a handshake is normal, but otherwise, touching is generally avoided and conversing is done farther apart than in many countries.