Work visas and wait times: How to get hired in Stockholm (part 2)

The visa process

And now, for the not-so-fun part. Because of the refugee crisis in Europe, the Swedish Migration Agency is tight on resources, causing delays in all operations. So while the work visa used to be processed in as few as 2 weeks, estimated wait times were ranging from 2 to 5 months (which still pale in comparison to the 14-month wait time for a sambo visa!).

Knowing this, I negotiated a clause in my contract that said that if my visa took longer than 3 months to get approved, we would renegotiate the terms. This helped me feel confident that the company wouldn’t pull out the offer, and also gave me some flexibility. (Friends and family were skeptical that the company would be willing to wait so long for me to start, but remember that many Swedish employees have a 3-month notice period for resignation, so it really wasn’t much different than hiring someone already employed in Sweden.)

I can’t speak highly enough of the Recruitment Manager at my new company, who put up with all my questions and eased my nerves when it felt like the wait would go on forever. She clearly explained the visa process to me and kept me updated regularly.

After signing the contract, my company sent a copy to the Union, which had to approve the terms of our agreement. Basically they look at whether the offer meets the salary requirements and so forth. It took about 10 days to get approval from the Union, at which point my company could initiate the work visa application. They filled out an application on their end, and the next day I received my portion to complete. It called for pretty basic information like employment history and took maybe two hours to complete. I clicked submit and BOOM, I was on my way to getting a work visa.

The wait

The hardest part about waiting is you have no idea how long it could take. I wanted to take some time to travel, but didn’t want to be backpacking through the rainforest when my visa finally came through and have to scramble my way back home as quickly as possible. So I did some traveling here and there, but nothing farther than a 5-hour flight.

I started off calling MV every week or so for an update, but quickly learned that as the employee, I had little sway. When my employer called, however, they seemed to take it a bit more seriously. Still, each person we spoke with gave a different vague reply, mostly repeating what was written on the website. About 7 weeks in, the Recruiting Manager informed me that we had been assigned a case officer — finally!! — and I was thrilled. That didn’t last long, though, because we soon found out the case officer was on vacation for 4 weeks and on top of that, only worked one day per week! Ohhhh, Sweden… Still, having a direct contact at MV was helpful because we could target our pestering.

As part of a city-wide initiative to promote moving to Stockholm to join the tech scene, my company published a Q&A with me. I figured it couldn’t hurt to send the article to my case officer, and it might even lend some legitimacy to my case. After all, how bad would it look if Stockholm was trying to encourage people to move there, but the visa process took so long that we had to pull out?! While I can’t say for sure that sending the article helped my case, I magically received an email the next day confirming that my case had been settled.

Important: The email does not state whether my visa had been approved or denied, just that the case “has been settled.” My employer called MV and confirmed that indeed I had a visa! In total, I waited 11 weeks.

Things moved pretty fast from here. My company booked me on a flight to Stockholm that weekend and because I’m from a country that doesn’t require a visa to visit Sweden, I could fly over and visit MV to have my fingerprints/photo taken from there. (If you’re from a country that needs a visa to visit Sweden, I believe this must be done at the nearest embassy, prior to entering Sweden.)

I landed in Stockholm on March 1 and started work the next day.

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Work visas and wait times: How to get hired in Stockholm (part 1)

The job hunt

Stockholm is an exciting city to work in right now, especially if you’re interested in the tech scene. Some people have even gone as far as calling it the Unicorn Factory — a reference to the number of billion-dollar startups it produces.

With so many startups, there are ample employment opportunities. I had heard from other expats that it was nearly impossible to find a job in Sweden (especially if you don’t speak Swedish), but I think that entirely depends on your skill set and industry because I found quite the opposite to be true. Tech startups in particular are very English-friendly because in order to scale up in size, they likely have to expand internationally.

I had my eye on Stockholm for a while, so when I decided to seriously start job hunting here, I had a few ideas where to start. I hardly used any job sites to find openings, although The Local and Hyper Island job board both have a fair number of opportunities for English-only speakers. For the most part, I constantly checked the career pages of fast-growing companies I admired and did my best to network with people who worked there as well.

I found Twitter incredibly helpful when trying to network remotely. In one instance, I started up a Twitter conversation with a CMO at one of my target companies. (Note: a conversation does NOT mean asking about job opportunities.) A few weeks later, coincidentally or not, I was contacted by the company to interview. When we met on Skype, the interviewer mentioned that she heard I had spoken with the CMO. Ultimately, the job wasn’t a perfect match, but I was super impressed with the internal communication — a testament to the flat organizational structure that makes Swedish companies so appealing.

I had pretty good luck landing interviews, but it took a few months before I found a company and a role that was a fit: A content producer at FinTech growth company.

The original job posting required fluency in both English and Swedish, but a friend of mine (who happened to know a recruiter at the company!) encouraged me to apply anyway. I made it clear in my cover letter that while I don’t yet speak fluently, I thought I had other skills that would be very valuable in the meantime. I was contacted about a week later and began the interview process.

The interview process

The interview process was a bit more intense than I’ve experienced at New York companies. Perhaps that’s because in Sweden it’s much harder to fire someone, so the company needs to make sure you’re the best fit? Anyway, my first round interview consisted of a Skype call with the Head of Marketing, which I honestly thought went pretty poorly because he was calling from a noisy cafe in Barcelona where the wifi kept dropping, making it difficult to have an engaging conversation. But I guess it went well enough because he asked me to send over some writing samples and a week or so later, I was asked to take a few aptitude tests.

The testing — which consisted of a personality test and timed reasoning, creativity, and logical deductive tests — was the strangest part for me because I’ve never been asked to take more than an edit test in the U.S. But again, I made it through. As a next step, the company flew me out to Stockholm for face-to-face meetings. It was a long day of back-to-back interviews but I received a verbal offer before I left the offices. They sent through a formal offer letter the next day, which I was thrilled to accept. All in all, it took about 5 weeks from the day I applied to the day I accepted my offer.

Check back on Friday for more on the application process and the great wait.

Finding a Job/ Working in Sweden

When talking with anyone interested in taking the plunge and moving abroad the top two worries are always 1.) language barrier, and 2.) find a job/ working abroad. In this post I hope to answer some of the questions you may have, and alleviate some of the concerns about finding a job and working in Sweden.

From my experience, finding a proper day job in my field of expertise proved to be reasonably difficult – but I don’t think this is the norm – in my case it was because most of my professional business experiences are rather hard to quantify on a CV, it requires a discussion, face to face, with a potential employer to truly express my talents and the benefits of having me on the team. While I ran several small online, web based projects from home, it took around 6 months for me to find an employer willing to take a chance on a “seemingly untested” employee. Once I was in the job there was no problems whatsoever, in fact, I was able to advance and move forward in my career. Main point – on your CV it is important to showcase measurable experience from each and every job held. Swedish employers place too much emphasis on how good you look on paper, so to get a good job, make yourself look good, without showboating.

Overall finding a job on your own in Sweden is not something to worry about – if you have a valuable professional skill set, you can almost always find a few companies willing to play ball. Never once has there been an issue because I am not yet fluent in Swedish. My best advice is to research the companies in Sweden – from the big names, to the small boutique agencies and startups, there is so many unique businesses with headquarters in Sweden, and operations around the globe. The great news for developers and designers – basically every single Swedish company is constantly looking for more developers and more designers. Sweden has blossomed as startup hub, new companies are emerging and growing worldwide extremely quickly. If you have any remotely decent skill set and experience with web and design, you should have a job before you step off the plane. I recommend heading to the jobs board on Swedish Startup Space and explore some of the great up and coming companies.

If you have exhausted all resources trying to find a job (and I mean absolutely all resources) you can register with Arbetsförmedlingen, which is the Swedish employment service. While they provide a much needed service, and there is a lot of companies who source employees through Arbetsförmedlingen, this is one government agency that is best to avoid. When you walk into the Arbetsförmedlingen office you can nearly cut the bureaucracy with a knife it is so thick. Arbetsförmedlingen is attractive to companies because the government will subsidize your salary through a company tax break for between 6 and 12 months. If this is your only option for gaining some experience with a Swedish company, all immigrants qualify – unfortunately it takes forever because it is a government agency, and there is certain things you must fulfill as long as you are enrolled in one of their programs.

It is important to note the hiring process in Sweden can be very slow, or very rapid, depending on the company. In my experience, the process has been rather informal and has taken several weeks to complete the interview process, and hiring process. Often times companies will hire someone with the start date 6-8 weeks after signing all relevant paper work. Another oddity I had never experienced before – at many Swedish companies your salary is structured on a one month delay, so if you are fired, you still will have one additional month of salary. The Swedish workplace is a very relaxed, informal environment. My experience working full time at a Swedish company has been very pleasant. Maintaining a balance between work, play, and home is a major facet of the Swedish workforce. Upon request I would be happy to discuss resume/ CV/ personal letter requirements in more detail.

In the next posts I will begin an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. Detailing various facets of society, as well as annoyances and differences in culture. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.

Cheers,

//Karl

Swedish For Immigrants (SFI)

When moving to a foreign place people often fret about not fitting in with the culture because of a language barrier. In Sweden I have never once encountered a significant language barrier, in part because Swedes love to speak English. In a sense, learning the Swedish language is made more difficult only by the Swedes eagerness to speak English with a native English speaker.

In an effort to encourage more Swedish speakers, the government offers free Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) courses. SFI classes are offered in nearly every city in Sweden, and there is different levels from beginner, to advanced. To apply for SFI  classes simply go to your nearest kunskapscentrum (just Google “kunskapscentrum”). The kunskapscentrum is a local government agency that exists to help people discover educational and career opportunities. When you apply make sure you have a passport or other identification, as well as documentation confirming you are a Swedish resident. You will need to fill out a one page form asking a few basic questions like address, personnummer, etc., as well as your current level of Swedish language skill. The levels are broken down A, B, C, D – A indicates a beginner, D indicates proficiency. Within each level there is a sub category of A1, A2, etc.

The final question on the application for SFI asks where you would like to study – there is a number of different programs in which you can enroll – ultimately the decision is up to you – how much time do you have to commit to studying, which school is closest, etc. After you have answered these few questions, your information will be submitted, and you will be reviewed for acceptance at the chosen school. While the process of applying takes only a few minutes, you must wait up to 4 weeks to start the SFI course. Once accepted you will receive notice in the mail, with a day you are supposed to come to class and begin the course.

Success in the SFI program is based largely on how much time you can commit to the studies, but also, what school you choose. I have had experience with two different schools in Stockholm (there is way more than two) – Eductus, and Hermods. I would never recommend Eductus to anyone – I was attending Eductus twice a week after work, for 2-3 hours. The classroom experience was extremely unprofessional and lacked any proper structure. After 2 months of Eductus, I switched to an online only course with Hermods. The Hermods course is quite thorough and educational. If you are pressed for time and still wish to study, I would definitely recommend trying Hermods – either online, or in the classroom. If you have the time for extensive classroom study, and live in Stockholm, everyone I have spoken with says the Folkuniversitetet SFI class is by far the best in Sweden. Again if you are in Stockholm, have the time and desire to learn Swedish – go with Folkuniversitetet as your first choice, and Hermods as your backup.

Because the SFI classes are free (and used to carry a monetary incentive to finish), there is no reason not to at least try the course. I have spoken with many other English speakers who are learning or have learned Swedish, and everyone (myself included) says the same thing – SFI is good to a point, but it is definitely a broken system of learning. In my personal experience with Swedish language learning, I have had the most success from using a combination of Babbel and Pimsleur. While they cost a bit of money, they fundamentals are much better and easier to understand. I would recommend signing up for a free trial and test the Babbel and Pimsleur learning systems – the combination of visual and audio makes for a much more pleasant learning experience.

In the next posts I will be discussing finding a job and working, as well as an ongoing commentary on life in Sweden. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to comment or send an email at movingtostockholm@gmail.com.

Cheers,

//Karl