How to find work when you're new in Stockholm

Published February 2016 in collaboration between Invest Stockholm and The Local.

People do crazy things for love – things like moving across oceans to a country where they don’t speak the language and have no contacts. So how do those who just happen to end up in Stockholm find work and build their own lives here? 

Stockholm is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with people flocking from all over the world to join the booming tech scene.

There are dozens of reasons to move to the Swedish capital, many of them involving work. But what about those who follow someone to Sweden, with no job awaiting?

“My Swedish wife and I decided to live in Stockholm for professional reasons,” says Mikolaj Norek, a Polish-Austrian expat and entrepreneur. “She’s a psychologist so she really needs her language for work, and we thought I could get by with English.”

Norek and his wife met while he was studying on an exchange programme at the Stockholm School of Economics. They tried long-distance for a while after that before he finally decided to make the move to Stockholm permanently.

What came next threw him for a loop.

“Honestly, when I moved here I was overly self-confident. I didn’t speak Swedish and yet I still had this attitude that ‘This country needs me’,” he recalls.

“It didn’t work out that way.”

Over period of four months Norek sent out 200 applications – and didn’t get a single interview.

“I barely even got any messages saying my application was received,” he remarks. “I was really baffled.”

Part of the problem, he notes in retrospect, is that he moved to Stockholm in May and spent the entire summer searching for work.

“The country shuts down entirely during those months. No one is reading your application,” he says. “Meanwhile, I was getting more and more desperate.”

When autumn rolled around, Norek confesses now, he was so discouraged he was close to leaving Stockholm altogether.

“I was prepared to go back to London,” he says. “But I applied to one last job, at the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship (SSES).”

And then he did something which made all the difference:

“I went to their networking event and workshops,” Norek adds.

The non-hierarchical culture here promotes mingling and makes networking easier. You can go to any event and talk to anyone, in English even. Try that in Paris or Warsaw.

Norek mingled at the event and found himself chatting away with a woman who worked at SSES.

“My CV was sitting on her boss’ desk,” Norek says. “The next day she went to her boss and mentioned my name – and I got an interview.”

Multiple studies and surveys have shown that the majority of open positions are filled through networking – and Sweden is no different in that regard.

“Finding a job in Stockholm, isn’t more or less difficult than in any other city. But networking is the core of everything. In the summer months, don’t even bother writing an application,” he laughs. “It’s better to go swimming.”

Norek has now lived in Sweden for five years and is currently working in his second job here – which he also got through contacts and networking.

“I wouldn’t even have known that the job existed if not for my connections,” he says. 

Stockholmers love networking, and a brief search online will yield a plethora of mingle opportunities for those of any and all interests.

“The non-hierarchical culture here promotes mingling and makes networking easier,” he says. “You can go to any event and talk to anyone, in English even. Try that in Paris or Warsaw.”

Sure, it takes work – but it’s worth it.

“Stockholm is like Silicon Valley but with parental leave,” he remarks. “It’s competitive, yes – but also open and fair.”

The moment you walk through the door, keep in mind where you come from – and flaunt it. A country as small as Sweden needs to bring in the outside world to survive.

For foreigners in Stockholm who are job-hunting, Norek recommends treating networking like a full time job. During his search he attended four or five events a week, sometimes multiple events within a single day.

“Fill your calendar. Talk to people. Show interest,” he says. “Ask them what other events you should go to.”

And while you absolutely should learn Swedish – “unless you were specifically recruited for a job, you can only go so far without it” – Norek advises against trying to blend in too much.

“You are the foreigner, and that’s your advantage,” he says. “There’s no point in learning absolutely everything about the culture. You can’t be a better Swede than the Swedes anyway.”

The moment you walk through the door, keep in mind where you come from – and flaunt it. A country as small as Sweden needs to bring in the outside world to survive, Norek explains.

“Don’t be afraid to bring yourself, to bring the world, to the table.”

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