Arbetsförmedlingen: How to not get a job in Sweden

As an English speaking job seeker in Sweden I got acquainted with Arbetsförmedlingen  , the official governmental employment agency.  To be honest some non local friends had warned me against registering for Job Coaching, as it would be a waste of time. But having recently obtained my Personal Number in Sweden and being an active job seeker, I thought it would not do any harm exploring all my options. Besides, an acquaintance recommended a career consultant who, once I were successfully enrolled in an employment program, would help me with my job search.

So it works that way: Once you have your Personal Number you have the right to go to any Arbetsförmedlingen office in town, create a CV on their database and then register as a Job Seeker.  In this application you include the name and details of the professional you wish to have as a Career Consultant or Job Coach, and that person is being contacted by Arbetsförmedlingen  to sign up an agreement with them that he or she will help you with your job search. They are paid by the State to do so, regardless of the outcome. They are paid for the coaching.

Before I tell you my experience I want to make something clear: I applied for the program as an English speaker and having no knowledge of Swedish. I do not claim that it is supposed to be easy for a person that does not speak a country’s native language to compete with native speakers in the local job market. Very much the opposite. But English is the official language of many companies, and in the healthy Swedish economy there are multinationals that do not formally request knowledge of Swedish.  Surely knowing the language of a country helps a lot when you apply for a job, but I repeat, multinationals are happy to employ people fluent in English. So basically it depends on the company and the role.

Day One: I have an appointment with the woman who in the next four months will be my Job Coach. She is a typical Scandinavian woman in her middle to late 40’s, blonde, cheerful and really pleasant to be around. I will call her Ingrid here. You can literally speak to her for hours; she has a very charming personality. She gives me a few tips about how to apply in Arbetsförmedlingen  and urges me to go there as soon as possible to sign her up as my Job Coach. She enthusiastically explains that we will be very busy once she is my career consultant and we will work very hard towards the end goal: getting me a job. She has after all tons of contacts in multinational companies that she could introduce me to.  International people like me are in demand if you know the right people.

“Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” is her motto.

Day Two: I finally have the Personal Number in my hands and I am entitled to register with Arbetsförmedlingen  . I show up at my local branch and I tell the blonde girl at the reception I am there to register as a Job Seeker. The girl asks for my Personal Number and I show her my little precious recently obtained ID Card. “Do you have Clearance from the Migration?” she asks. “But I am an EU citizen” I reply,  ”Sorry you need clearance from the Migration to sign up with us”. “But in order to get my Personal Number I need Migration Clearance and here I have my Personal Number.” I try one last time. “Sorry but unless you show us a paper that gives you Migration clearance we cannot help you.”.she replies.

Not feeling disheartened (I grew up in Greece after all) I decide to take the train and try a more central branch.  My decision is correct: They show me in, no questions asked. My application is handled by a very polite smiling fluent in English Swedish guy.

“So is it hard for someone with no Swedish language skills to find a job here?” I ask at some point to initiate a conversation.

“Not really, it happens, especially with people with good education” he replies kindly and makes a compliment on my CV.

He prints a document with the details of Ingrid as my Job Coach for the next 4 months.

The following four months:

My appointments with Ingrid start shortly after that. She appears to be constantly on the go and super busy with her coaching appointments. Every time I go to meet her she dashes in the room with the air of a businesswoman jumping from meeting to meeting, always looking immaculate in her black fitting suits, and very sophisticated looking holding her fancy MacBook.

Ingrid always has a story to tell. It is either about the good times she nowadays has vacationing in Greece with her Greek tycoon friends or her daughter’s professional skiing achievements. Or her daughter’s Italian vacations on a yacht with her Italian tycoon friends.   Difficult times as well of course. Like when more than 20 years ago she got a cleaning job in a restaurant in Greece. Or her wasted potential and her missed opportunity to become a prominent politician.

Ingrid one day unfortunately is feeling unwell. I show up to find her unusually gloomy and serious looking. She asks me if instead of our coaching I can join a seminar next door introducing Social Media as useful tools in Job Searching. She says the seminar is in Swedish, but would I be kind enough to join just this time and try to understand the basics. Besides, It would be such a good practice of Swedish, she adds. I reluctantly agree to join a group of people who have never heard of LinkedIn before and they appear to listen to the speaker in awe.

But thank God it is nothing serious, her feeling sick was a false alarm and she is back being her old self soon.

Time passes and I have more appointments with Ingrid. Our session usually goes like that: We meet in a private room and then she googles jobs in her sophisticated MacBook computer.  She then recommends roles for me. As a proficient Google Search Engine user I wonder when will we reach the Meet My Contacts part.  She now insists that I enroll in a Swedish language course. “It will help tremendously with your job search” she insists. I agree to do so but at the same time I try to make clear to her that I am not planning to wait around until I become fluent in yet another language in order to find a job. (In the past I have studied around six other foreign languages)

At some point she suggests I meet a girl, a fellow job seeker. “You have the same UK Masters education and you apply for the same International roles! You should definitely meet!” she says one day excited. I do not see how this would help me in my job search (especially in such a small pool of English speaking jobs) but nevertheless I meet the girl in question during one of my sessions. She is a Swede of African origins who is planning make some kind of official complaint for discrimination in the hiring process in Sweden. The girl claims that after submitting numerous job applications she cannot get a job because she is black. As Ingrid admits with honesty,” it is difficult in Sweden for a colored woman”.

I walk with the girl until the nearby metro station. As I expected, applying for the same roles does not exactly make us want to become best friends. “it must be easier for YOU” we tell each other.  I am thinking that if she could give me some of her Swedishness and I could give her some of my rather yellowish skin tone, both of us would have a much a better chance of landing a Swedish job. I am about to share this thought with her when she says goodbye and we part.

More time passes by. Ingrid still googles jobs for me. Our time is almost up now. Using the key word Greek in the search engine, Ingrid shows me a job post hiring a fluent in Greek waitress in a Greek Taverna in Stockholm.

Nothing better than have a nice Greek girl like you serve the food!” she encourages me and adds:

You should not be afraid to try waitressing or even cleaning jobs! It’s a good way to practice Swedish and make useful contacts!” she said one day near the end.

The day of our last session is here. It is almost summer and people already are talking about their Summer vacation plans.  Things have slowed down quite a bit as well.

Ingrid encourages me to keep looking and not lose faith. “Wait a minute, I have something for you” she says and goes to fetch her bag. I then realize that Ingrid is not only a talented PR person, she actually somehow likes me. Coming back she gives me a tiny box.

“A small goodbye gift for you”

And she hands me an eye shadow, silver color.

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook” she reminds me for the last time before I leave.

So folks, that’s my experience with Job Coaching in Sweden .  Definitely not worth the trouble but worth recording it as I just did. The bottom line is there are English speaking jobs in Sweden but a Career Coach is not the way to find them. Nor perhaps is any conventional job searching. Remember you are competing with locals, so you have to apply very smartly  and  only for certain roles and companies. It might seem impossible in the beginning but eventually you will come across the right job posts or even better the right contacts.

Good luck to ya all.

One thought on “Arbetsförmedlingen: How to not get a job in Sweden

  1. Hi, I’m a student in Halmstad University, I’m looking for a job. I can read, write, and speak english fluently. Can anyone help me find a job please.

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