Johanna Müller feels at home in Sweden.
Johanna Müller feels at home in Sweden.

This is some of Johanna Müller’s advice to international students wishing to launch a career in Sweden once they have completed their studies. She is currently working as a lawyer at the Swedish law firm Wistrand and, while she sometimes misses her native Germany, she feels very much at home in Sweden where she is now well-established both on a professional and personal level.

Getting to know the Swedish way of life

– It’s not always easy being a foreigner, though, Johanna says. Some Swedish traditions feel foreign and new.
– I learn a lot about Swedish traditions through having my toddler son at a Swedish daycare, for instance that the parents dress up their children for Lucia. When asked by my colleagues on 13 December, the day of the big Swedish Lucia celebration, what Lucia costume my son would wear, I had to rush out during my lunch break and fix a last-minute costume.

Easier for working parents

Otherwise Johanna finds the Swedish job market a lot more adapted to the conditions of working parents than what is the case in Germany.  
– It’s OK if I leave the office at 4 pm to pick up my son from daycare. Then I can continue working at home in the evening after he has gone to bed. It’s also OK to bring children into the office if they can’t be at nursery for some reason.
Johanna ended up in Sweden after she had been accepted to the popular master’s programme in Arbitration Law at Stockholm University.
– There were many people who applied so I didn’t think the chance of getting in would be very high, she explains. It’s a really interesting programme which provides a good specialization and I really liked it. It was a very intensive year and I learnt arbitration from scratch.

Bigger difference than expected

When studying arbitration law Johanna met people from all over the world and she describes the experience as getting the best of many cultures.
She was struck by how much the Swedish way of learning differs from the German one.
– In Germany it’s very much a matter of the teacher talking and the students taking notes, whereas in Sweden the students are challenged to come up with their own ideas, work together in groups and learn to compromize. It’s actually a great preparation for work.

Presenting things in a smooth way

The art of compromizing comes in handy on the Swedish job market, where the Swedes will usually go to great lengths to avoid conflict and confrontation.

Photo: Mostphotos

– People in Germany tend to be more open for a confrontation if necessary, Johanna says. Although our countries are quite close geographically the difference in mentality is surprisingly big in certain aspects. It’s important to know how to communicate at work. In Sweden people tend not to disagree directly but to present things in a smoother way, for instance: "I understand your point. One could also look at it from a different angle…"
Johanna really likes the Swedish culture as she finds that most people are included in the group. She has the impression that Swedes already in school get taught not to stick out too much either end. If you are highly skilled it could be a good idea not to demonstrate it too loudly.
– This is important to know when you get called for a job interview. It’s good to show that you are interested in the job but you shouldn’t come across as too confident, especially if you come straight from university.

The importance of being proactive

When it comes to applying for jobs and writing a CV and a covering letter, Johanna recommends asking a native Swede for tips and advice as what is perceived as a successful CV varies between different countries.
Her own career path in Sweden started with working a few hours a week at another law firm during her studies.
– I was lucky as I was given this opportunity by recommendation by a friend of a friend, Johanna says, but it’s important not to count on being lucky. You have to be proactive if you want to find a job. Don’t be too shy to ask for advice or contacts at the university and tell people that you would like to stay in Sweden. Our tutors were really trying to help those interested in staying in Sweden.

Photo: Mostphotos
Photo: Mostphotos

Don't give up on the Swedes

As far as making friends in Sweden is concerned Johanna hasn’t found it that difficult but she knows of other international students who have really struggled in this area.
– My advice is to find a hobby such as a choir or an orchestra and then not to give up hope. My experience is that friendships with Swedes take a little bit longer. You may have to meet them five times before they say "Hi" but it is worth it in the long run.

Text: Karin Persson