Creating a solid professional network is a tricky task in any language and in any culture. It is especially tough as an expat in a country where English is not the national official language. Check out the YLC guide to professional networking in Sweden!
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Hiring is often contingent on personal connections. The same applies for new client acquisition – most new customers and clients come from word-of-mouth referrals and personal connection. So how does one create a solid professional network as a foreigner in Sweden? Here are some tips from Your Living City:
1) Learn Swedish.
No really. You need to, sorry. OK, maybe not if you’re only staying here to work on a contract for a year or two. But if you are here for the long-haul and intend on working here, it’s really good to speak the language. Even if you live in awesome-at-English-Stockholm. The absolute truth is that most Swedes are better at their native tongue and will cover heavier hitting and deeper topics more comfortably in Swedish. If it comes to hiring, I’d estimate that 9 out of 10 hiring managers would prefer to have a bilingual Swedish and English speaker than an English-only speaker. Even if you work at one of the international English-as-company-language, many of your co-workers will be Swedes and speak Swedish amongst themselves. If you’re alright with not knowing the murmurings and social happenings of your environment, well OK, that is a bold choice. I’m not that brave myself. I need to know what is happening and to stay current. I also believe that you forge deeper connections with people and show something about your character to give it a go in Swedish. You might surprise yourself!
2) Write fan-mail.
I feel fairly dorky when it comes to this but I’ve found it incredibly effective as a person who is shy with approaching strangers cold. I read a LOT and do a lot of research (hell, I’m still a librarian at heart, y’know?) and I enjoy reading the Facebook statuses websites and blogs of people working with things I admire. This is also a great way to practice your reading Swedish too! When I find a concept or person or business I admire, I send them a brief email telling them that I like what they do, and I tell them what I am doing (er, well, hoping to do – I’m just at lift-off phase now). Sometimes I hear nothing, but more often than not, I get a kind reply. Sometimes I even get invited for a fika to meet in person. Even if nothing professional comes of this contact, it’s great to get your name out there and become part of a network amongst people who work with things you would like to. Which leads to:
3) Meet people face to face if you can.
That’s the tricky part. Especially here in Sweden where people are generally much shyer and more reserved than Americans and other cultures. You might feel silly or awkward trying to meet face to face, since it can spark fears of rejection (or just weird behavior). The best way to buffer this is to send an email or call beforehand and set up a time. Or create a natural situation to meet up in. Like, if you know that the owner/creator will be present at a convention or professional show, be there and introduce yourself. They are there to present and to sell their products/ideas AND to make new contacts. Be one of them!
4) Become a fan on Facebook or Instagram.
That is a really easy passive way to quietly let a business contact know that you think they are cool. It’s not as awkward as “friending’ them as a stranger personally on a network. But yes, liking or commenting on posts is always appreciated. It’s nice to know that people admire what you are doing!
4) Be open about what you are looking for, even in your social circles!
I am a member of a few Facebook groups for English-speaking expats in Sweden and these are a great source for creating a social and personal network. That said, one often sees posts for job openings or houses for sale/apartments for rent or other opportunities that you might not have otherwise heard of. When you are looking for customers or for a job, just put it out there. You don’t know who your online friends might know. Although I live quite far away from many of my FB group friends, I love to meet them for a fika if I am visiting. Some of the most wonderful people I know have become in-real-life friends this way.
6) Know and accept that stuff works differently here.
Try not to live in a bubble. This creates resentment and negativity. Swedes do behave differently socially and professionally than the people from where you come from. Celebrate these differences. Vent about them (privately) if you need to. But it is more constructive to learn about these differences in practice and expectation so that you are prepared. In New York, for example, phone calls and emails were responded to immediately. Here, the person you contact might be on mammaledighet or away with her family. She might be waiting for the right moment to craft a thoughtful response. It’s not rudeness. It’s just different. Different, not wrong should be your motto.
Good luck with your search, YLC readers!
Amy moved to Sweden in July 2011 with 1 child, 1 Swedish husband, 2 large suitcases and no idea what she was going to do with her new life in Swedish subtitles. Two years and two more children later, she is starting up a retro-modern vintage children’s store.
You can find out more about her experiences at www.expatmompreneur.com.