Finding a job in Stockholm isn’t easy. One needs perseverance and dedication… and connections. So how does a new girl tap into the system? YLC’s arbetslös Solveig Rundquist bugs out and tries to figure out how to fly into the Swedish web.
Over the past few weeks I’ve read a lot of job announcements. My most-visited pages are Arbetsförmedlingen’s Platsbanken and Facebook, which should tell you a lot about where I am in my life right now.
You see, when you read some 100 announcements each day, you start to familiarize yourself with a lot of the terminology and cliché characteristics employers are looking for. One of the most common qualifications I see listed in job announcements is “a spider in the web.” In other words, employers want a team player; one part of a larger functioning whole. Ironically, the metaphor could also be used to describe the importance of networking in Sweden…and just how hard it is.
The problem with the Swedish spiderweb of networking is that its strands are woven of Swedish culture and experience, not to mention language.
For those who don’t already know where to find this web, it’s practically invisible. You’ve got to look at exactly the right angle and even then the lighting has to be spot-on.
So how do you network in Sweden then? Apparently you just start by talking to every other bug you know, big and small, and hope that they know other insects.
Luckily, since I’ve lived in Sweden previously, I know a lot of busy bugs. I’m finally working to put money in my own pocket. But it’s not thanks to any of the countless CVs I sent out or personal letters over which I sweated and slaved. I didn’t even get an interview. Not one. Instead I had a third-degree connection; a friend’s sister’s boyfriend managed to get me in as an ice cream seller at a kiosk near a museum.
I wouldn’t exactly call myself employed. When you have an expensive foreign education behind you, selling overpriced sweets to gullible tourists doesn’t exactly seem like a career.
But when you choose to move to a country where you lack citizenship, experience, and professional references, you’re also choosing to move down the food chain. At least temporarily.
I thought I was a suave spider, but it turns out I’m just a fruit fly.
And as hard as I try to throw myself into the web, I somehow keep slipping through the cracks. It took me six weeks and an arbitrary connection to land a week’s worth of employment selling ice cream.
Moving abroad is humbling in many ways, and with a native population that seems so hard to get to know, it’s easy to act stereotypically Swedish and keep to yourself. But it’s a lot harder to find opportunities all alone.
So be friendly. Talk to people. Be awkwardly oversocial, even. Ask that Swedish acquaintance out for fika and work up a conversation about job-hunting. I’m learning that, as reserved and impersonal as many Swedes may seem, they can be surprisingly receptive to random connections. A venerable viking who bought me a drink gave me some tips about getting in at various hotels in town. A friend with whom I was out walking shamelessly stopped a neighbor to ask if she knew of any open positions. Even the librarian at my local library insisted on adding me on Facebook so she could introduce me to a contact in the journalism trade.
So I guess I’m in, if only barely. I got into the Swedish web by being stereotypically American and asking around. It’s true that perhaps ”selling yourself” doesn’t rub Swedes the right way; lack of humility is as distasteful to them as a can of rotten fish is to the rest of the world (barring Norway). However, simply saying, ”this is who I am and this is what I’m seeking” tends to work wonders.
Well, maybe not wonders. But if you’re lucky, a social Swedish spider will show you the way to the edge of the networking web and you can start scuttling along on your own from there.
And that’s better than nothing.
Solveig is a recently-graduated American cactus who plucked up her ancient Scandinavian roots and transplanted them back to snowy Stockholm soil. When not writing for YLC she can be found cantering about town in search of culture, cheer and a career.