Thursday, September 25, 2008

Patience & Luck?: The Swedish Job Market

A typical job search is undoubtedly a job of its own: seeking out postings, applying with the tailoring of your CV and covering letter, follow up calls, emails.....continually persevering and keeping hopeful someone will call back for an interview. Now after this callback, the real work begins: presentation, appearance, selling yourself and ability's to the interviewer. Hopefully you have not been typecast on your initial greeting with the interviewer and that you have the attention you require to get your personality across. Even after this the waiting game continues. Calling the company that interviewed you back, sending a letter of thanks for the interview, etc etc etc.....

This difficulty of this whole process is amplified by orders of magnitude for the foreigner that is applying for a job in another country. The irony of the Swedish job market is that although everyone in Sweden takes English language lessons from the time they are in grade school, most speaking the language fluently and actually better then many that i have worked with in Canada, they will not give you a second look if you are not a Swedish speaker. Its possibly foolish of me to expect this country to welcome foreign migrant workers into the Swedish labour market, or is it?

Having run my own company on several occasions before, i know the challenges of sorting through dozens if not hundreds of perfectly qualified people, trying to determine which one should be brought in for interviews. Unfortunately, the process usually boils down to semantics: those who forgot to sign their Covering letter, perhaps spelling or grammatical mistakes or some other mundane or irrelevant method of sorting through the clutter.

The ¨section process¨ in the Swedish market has been influenced significantly by they influx of migration into the country due to the lax and ineffective immigration policies of the Swedish government (see my previous post for more information on this). Qualifications aside, its been my experience here through speaking with friends and colleges that one of the first methods that employers here use to prioritize candidates is the name you use on your application. Ethic sounding name? you need not apply or if you feel like wasting your time, ensure your postal box or email account is empty to receive the rejection letter you'll no doubly receive. Sometimes the rejection can take a year to receive (as was the case for me from a Norwegian company Aker Kvaerner) so be patient, it will come.

The frequency of discrimination by employers in Sweden is actually quite surprising for a country that prides itself on having open arms; taking in refugees and people that ere unfortunately born in volatile regions of the world. Its not uncommon for Sweden's to even discriminate against the first generation Swedish born, whose parents were originally migrants to the country or those of mixed origin where only one parent is Swedish. Your name is a quick and efficient way to typecast you, your religious beliefs, the color of your skin and origins.

Maersk, although not Swedish is a prime example of Scandinavian racism. An example that i myself went through convinced me to change my approach when looking for work in Sweden. I have several years of experience in my respective field and have managed teams in the past and projects worth several million dollars. The position I applied to was actually somewhat below my experience level and qualifications however realizing that when entering into a new country and their respective job market one has to be prepared to make sacrifices and start somewhere, so i applied. About 3 weeks after sending in my application I received the anticipated rejection letter. Maersk politely informed me that mine was one of numerous applications that were received and that on this occasion they felt that i was not a good match for the role i had applied to. It was specifically noted that this was based on information provided within my CV. Now lets fast forward and see what happens when i change the name on my application, leaving all the information within the CV the same but this time the name on the CV is a Scandinavian sounding one. No One was more surprised then me at the time, when no later then 36 hours after my CV was sent, i received a call from Maersk. They were suddenly interested in getting to know me beetter and (in their own words) ¨although the position i applied for does not directly match my experience, we would still be itnerestd in having you come down for an interview¨. One hour later i received a web link to book a time convenient for me to come in as well as ifnormation on compensation for my travel costs.

This series of events opened up my eyes to the unadvertised qualifications that most jobs in scandinavia require: blue eyes and blonde hair.

I never went to that interview with Maersk. I felt it would have been a waste of time on both our parts as there is no way in the firey depths of _ _ _ _ that i would ahave even considered accepting a job from a company such as that.

So at this point i knew what to do. I changed my name to a derivative of my actual one with the help of a swede thereby swedifying myself. THis simple act had expected consequences. Applications i made now seemed to be penetrating companies first line of defence and I was now getting call backs and interview requests.