It’s with a mixture of elation, relief, and shock that today I can finally say: I have a job!
This past year has been an amazing experience, but it always felt dampened by my un/self/under-employment. I was technically freelancing, but since that was never my long term plan, I usually just picked up a few hours’ work a week and focused on applying to jobs alongside my daily language classes. I was making enough to buy groceries and clothes, but that was about it.
It wasn’t the lack of money that stung the most, though. Meeting new people feels awkward without a real occupation to define yourself by; seeing friends and family back home and having to explain that, no, you still don’t have a job is humiliating in that low-grade way that simply wears you down after a while.
Plus the fact that I had left a job that I loved – my dream job, really – to move to Sweden meant my continued worklessness had me questioning again and again whether I had made a horrible mistake.
What made the difference in the end was the opportunity to do an internship (praktik) through Korta Vägen, a programme to help foreign graduates access the Swedish job market. Most young professionals in Sweden start their career by doing a praktik which often leads to their first entry level job. And the fact is, as a newcomer in a foreign country, you have to be prepared to start at that bottom rung.
Taking an unpaid internship felt at times like I had stepped back five years – it was the same position I had been in when I moved to London as a fresh-faced graduate in September 2010 – but in the end having the chance to prove myself in a real work environment got me what so many carefully-crafted cover letters couldn’t: a job offer.
Now that I’ve made it through to the other side, it feels like a good time to look back on the ups and downs of my journey towards becoming a Swedish employee. Here are a few of my most memorable moments…
1. The time when I got an interview for the very first job I applied for
I spent a lot of time honing the first job application I sent off in October 2014, to a Stockholm tech company. A few weeks later I picked up the phone to an impromptu phone interview, and smashed it. I was sent some tasks to do before the recruitment went to in-person interviews, put my heart and soul into completing them, and scored the meeting.
If you had told me around this point that it was going to take a year before I got a job, I would have been shocked and appalled.
The story ends in a bit of a painful way. While that interview went fine, and the team seemed to like me well enough, I (obviously) didn’t get the job. However, since I had gotten so far in the process I figured I had a decent shot applying for other roles at the same company. I went on to apply for three more jobs there and never heard so much as a peep from them again. Awkward.
2. The time when I turned my CV into an interactive replica of the company’s website
Fast forward to February 2015 and I had found a great-looking role with a high-end high street fashion brand. I knew that my experience to date wasn’t an ideal fit with what they were looking for, so I decided to demonstrate my suitability for the role – a job which required creativity, attention to detail, and a strong grasp of design principles – by reflecting it in my application itself.
This is what the company’s website homepage looked like at the time:
And this was the first page of my application (a combined CV and cover letter):
Each part was modelled on an area of their website. It was an interactive PDF: you could click on the “cover letter” text box and it would whisk you down to the right page. I hyperlinked my email address. I even included a “go to top” button.
It was glorious: probably one of the most beautiful documents I have ever created. I spent hours getting it right down to the last pixel. I sent it to some friends to check that the links all worked and got feedback such as “it looks really fucking cool“, “this CV is kick ass“, and, “I just said to the girls on my tram ‘my friend has raised the frikkin bar for CVs’“.
What did I get for my trouble? Literally nothing. There wasn’t even a hint of a glimmer of recognition for this masterpiece in the rejection email I got two months later. (Thanks guys, but after eight weeks I had pretty much figured out that I didn’t get the job.)
3. The time when I landed three interviews on the same day
By June 2015 things were starting to look a bit hopeless, especially after I learned that only 15% of jobs in Sweden are the result of applying to advertised vacancies (most come about through contacts, of which I naturally had none) but I kept plugging away. At the same time my Korta Vägen work coach was hustling to line up praktik spots for me. And then somehow on the 8th June the stars aligned and I got called to interview for three different roles: a social media job with a (different) Stockholm tech company; a communications coordinator for a global social justice campaign; and a praktik interview at a little agency called Salgado. Another praktik interview came through just three days later.
Emboldened by a newfound optimism, I started to believe that surely ONE of these four opportunities had to pan out. And what do you know, five months later, it did.
When I moved to Sweden I gave myself a year to make it work, and by “making it work”, I always meant “getting a job”. It came around within 13 months, so I’m calling that a win.
Those 13 months saw five job interviews, 30 different tailored versions of my CV, 12 weeks of praktik, and at least three ridiculous job hunting stories.
Getting a job – especially a graduate level job – as a foreigner in Sweden is not easy. There are cultural obstacles that would take so long to get into they merit an entire blog post to themselves. There’s high unemployment among young people, so you’re competing against talented graduates who actually speak the language fluently (as well as English, of course).
A lot of people, when they heard about my move, told me they were sure that with four years of solid work experience behind me I would get a job in no time. I wasn’t at all sure of that, so I gave myself a year, and that turned out to be just how long it took to get what I needed.
For those who are still trying: keep trying. Use the Arbetsförmedlingen job bank and find specialist recruitment websites and agencies for your profession. Make a list of companies you’d love to work for and then ring them up to ask about praktik opportunities. Look into finding a mentor. Or just learn to code: those jobs are a dime a dozen.
For those who are thinking of moving to Sweden: approach with caution, but not without hope. If my story has a touch of horror to it at times, I can tell you stories of other Brits who moved with a job already lined up and waiting or who fell into work within a month of moving. It’s always worth it to try.
And knowing what I know now, if I were making the choice over again, would I choose the same? I think I would. Sometimes it’s not all about the destination. You get something out of the journey, too.