Most of us have probably had one or two less than successful job interviews. A lot of things you do not have control over – but on the other hand, there are a lot that you CAN control as long as you know what is expected. So let’s go through some mistakes that many internationals make in job interview settings simply because they are not aware of the cultural importance.
Not accepting coffee
If you are invited to a physical interview, you are more than likely to be offered a cup of coffee when you arrive. You may have learned by now that Sweden is one of the biggest coffee nations on the planet, relying heavily on this brew as a social lubricant. Remember! This is how Swedes talk, over their fika. Accept this drink and you have managed one-third of the interview. Decline and you communicate to your interviewer that you are not the kind of person who will make an effort to get on with other people, which is a fundamental skill when working with Swedes.
Not everyone likes coffee though, and the interview will not go smoothly if you choke on your hot drink. But no despair, there’s probably ‘tea’ (which tea connoisseurs won’t call tea) and, in the worst of cases, tap water. Politely declining coffee but asking for a glass of water serves the same purpose; you can walk to the kitchen together, make some small talk on the office layout and you can send off a polite smile to anyone you meet.
Emphasizing your achievements and excellence
I’ll tell you this is where you heard it first: Sweden is weird. In any other country, a job interview is a perfect opportunity to tell your potential employer about your achievements and your passion for delivering excellent products and services. But in Sweden, this doesn’t make a good impression. In fact, this is not what your potential employer is looking for. They are more interested in someone who is a good team player, someone who can manage their time and their tasks by themselves, and who take a pragmatic approach to work.
In more hierarchical cultures, outstanding individuals make great contributions to an organization, but in cultures where employees are expected to work more autonomously, such individuals are often considered as high-risk, as they may interrupt the balance of a team. Therefore, think twice before you tell the interviewer how exceptional you are, and dwell instead on your ability to communicate and inspire others.
Not asking enough questions
An interview is the adult equivalent of an exam, right? If not an interrogation. There will be a set of questions, some of them set up to corner you. The best you can do is to prepare and memorize some good answers and try to get everything right. Perhaps elsewhere this is true, but not in Sweden. In fact, many internationals may be so focused on getting all the answers right that they forget to ask any of their own. Or they might believe it would be disrespectful to query their potential employer too much.
However, most Swedes will interpret a questionless interviewee as passive and lacking interest and initiative. They may also find you disorganized and unprepared, if you haven’t prepared your questions in a notebook or digital device that you brought to the interview. This may come as a shock for many professionals who believe that such methods would be seen as ‘cheating’. But again, a Swedish interview is not an exam, it is a dialogue. Good questions can relate to organization topics, such as who you will be working with and what their backgrounds are, as well as more technical questions such as what software and applications they are using for different tasks. However, you should avoid asking about pay until the hiring manager brings up the question.
Still feeling confused?
Sign up for one of my courses: How to make a good impression at your new job in Sweden. You should also prepare for your salary negotiation, as it is easy to sign for too little, if you are new in the country and unaware of the salary system. Learn more on Get the salary you deserve.
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