Friday, August 20, 2010

Interviews in Sweden

I have a lot of time on my hands right now. That means I’m cleaning out really old e-mails from my inbox. And I stumbled upon this gem. It’s an e-mail sent to my mom, dad, and aunt immediately after a job interview in Sweden for a marketing position at a company focusing on green products.

Names have been altered to protect the innocent. Enjoy.

“Well, I had my interview. It was supposed to start at 10:00. I was done and out of their office at 10:04.

This country never ceases to amaze me. For better or worse. So let me explain.

The interview was supposed to start at 10, but due to the public transportation connection I had the option of being 15 minutes early or 2 minutes early. This being fall, the trains tend to be delayed. Because of leaves. Seriously. Every autumn the leaves fall. But apparently, Stockholm's public transportation has yet to figure out a solution. Anyway, I opted to show up 15 minutes early.

I went in and was offered some coffee. I asked for water instead. By 9:50 I was in the interview with the two women I had interviews with previously, one being French, the other being Swedish, and the CEO of the company, another Swedish woman.

The CEO had not seen my CV. Luckily, I listened to all that nonsense they fed us in business school and had an extra one with me and handed it to her. So I went over the exact same stuff I had already covered in the first interview, except this time in Swedish. Which went well, probably because I already knew how to answer the questions seeing as how I had done it just a couple of weeks earlier in English.

While I thought it a bit strange that the CEO of a company of only 11 employees hadn't seen my CV, the interview got stranger. Solely because I am an American. Having covered my education and a bit of my experience we moved on to some personal information. Like really personal that didn't seem to have much bearing on my ability to do the job or not.

Did I have siblings? Was I the oldest? What do my siblings do? Where do my parents live? What do my parents do? Pappa works in jordbruk, by the way. I left out the chemicals part. Do I have a family here in Sweden? This meaning, very obviously, whether I had a girlfriend/sambo/wife and children. Where do I live?

Of course, in the first interview I was asked how old I was.

Never before have I been asked these questions in a job interview. And from my American perspective, a couple of them seem borderline illegal. But here? No problem.

I was asked again why I applied for the job. Once again, I responded that I was very interested in the marketing aspect, the international aspect, and the small-business aspect. It was the CEO that had asked this question and she was obviously fishing for the environmental spin to things. In fact, at first I only responded with the international and marketing part, but she delved deeper. And asked me again for more reasons. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't give it to her. So I gave her the small-business thing.

For a second I considered going the environmental route. Espousing the teachings of the great Al Gore, railing against big oil, damning the use of pesticides and all that could potentially harm the environment. Then I remembered that I hate Al Gore, big oil is one of the few stocks that I have picked that actually made money, and pesticides are responsible for all economic success in the family household. Whether that plays a big role in me being offered the job or not I don't know, but I didn't want to go down that road.

Anyway, following the personal information the two women I had interview with earlier each asked me one more question. And that was it. The whole thing took 14 minutes.

The whole time I was thinking that more questions were going to be coming my way. Questions about my experience. Actual examples of things I had accomplished. Maybe a list of references. Nothing.

The funny thing is that all the while I was answering my questions I was looking at each of the three women, not just the one who asked the question. From the overall body language and other non-verbal cues, the two women I had interviewed with previously loved me. It's probably my boyish charms and good looks. Plus I gave a little spritz of cologne before I left the house for good measure. Unfortunately, the CEO was not wooed by me. Honestly, my first reaction was of an old disillusioned man-hating hippie (if I get a job offer and accept it, I will deny any knowledge of the aforementioned description). She seemed distracted, annoyed, cold, and distant. Which may explain the incredibly short interview. Fourteen minutes short.

It's down to me and one other candidate. They have yet to interview the other candidate a second time so we'll see how it goes. Now I just get to wait. To be honest though, I felt much more confident after the first interview than I do right now. But as I said before, this country never ceases to amaze me. Hell, I might get a call tomorrow asking me to start on Monday. Of course, it seems equally as likely that I won't get any call at all. It's a crapshoot at this point. But if you know of any sports jobs back home... I'm all ears.”

I ended up getting the job. And held it until I quit to move out of the country.

Welcome (back) to Sweden. And job interviews.

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  1. Quickly quite late. Had thought of replying earlier and then I knew what to write? Now I’m too tired? But anyway…

    The phenomenon with interviews when employing people has come the last 20 years or so.

    But people at my workplace have reacted strongly against when they haven’t been allowed to have their private lives for themselves.

    Feeling as if we are serfs, not allowed to have any secrets; that everything, both minds, bodies and souls, belong to our employers. We have a female boss too.

    I think you have to be very careful when you ask personal questions in a circumstance like this. You have to show respect to the job seeking. It has with boundaries to do.

    But an interview is a good opportunity for the job-seeking too to see if this really is a workplace he/she would feel happy with. For instance when it comes to showing genuine respect for all working at the workplace.
    If he/she can chose.

  2. I once reviewed a job application written by an American for an American position. And I was surprised that it did not contain any "personal" information, like age and martial status.

    But I suppose that is one of the differences between the US and Sweden.

    Still, you're not allowed to ask the interviewee if he or she is planning to have children, I believe.

  3. Yes! I also had this EXACT same experience 10 years ago! I had made it to the 3rd round of interviews with a large well-known CONSULTING firm and the 3rd and final interview consisted of an 8 hour psychological evaluation where they asked me all sorts of extremely personal questions that had NOTHING to do with the job! And zero questions whatsoever related to the job or my ability to perform the duties involved. Seriously, questions like what kind of grades did I get in kindergarten? How did my parent's divorce affect me? Huh!?! Oh, and they took my photo and stapled it to my CV. This interview would have been 100% illegal in the States. Needless to say I DIDN'T get the job and have concluded that I may be psychologically unstable. :)

  4. haha. My sambo makes me put on my CV that I have a sambo. And he puts that he has kids. So they can decide if they want to hire a person with kids. WTF? Super illegal. You can't ask that krap. But seriously, you are a pesticide suporter? Terrible. And just when I thought we always agreed. No wonder you are so pro-American. Enjoy eating your poison buddy!

  5. I could never imagine anyone asking me personal questions at a job interview, although even in the US it has certainly happened many times.

    I wouldn't share personal info with acquaintances and people I don't know well, so why the heck would I share it with an employer, for whom the only concerns should be whether I could do the job well. Strange phenomenon.


  6. Oy, I had the weirdest dream this morning (yeah, it is Sunday, I slept almost the whole morning): some clothes of yours ended up arriving here, as if they had gone astray during one of your trips or something. One of the items was a bowling glove, something I didn't even realize existed (the glove, not bowling). Oops, and now you're gonna shut me off from your blog thinking I'm a stalker :P Don't worry, I'm too caught up in work and far too far away to do you any harm :P. I guess the dream was because I slept with a pile of my own newly washed clothes on the bed. But I did find funny the bowling glove episode.
    Do you even go bowling????
    Then I looked up "bowling gloves" on the internet: they look more like someone is into heavy metal music than into bowling :P

  7. @Karin – That’s about how I felt. I like having some things to myself. If I decide to share that information with my colleagues later, then so be it. But some things need to be mine. Some things need to be left at home.

    @Stockholm fail – we are actually actively advised to try to avoid any sort of personal information on applications because of the fear of discrimination.

    @anonymous – I got to take a lovely online psychological evaluation online around the same time as my third interview. That evaluation was later used when I came up for a raise. Luckily, it was to my favor, but it was pretty ridiculous.

    @m8 – agreed. About not being able to ask that crap. Not the pesticides. I love them. I prefer my pests dead and gone.

    @anonymous – exactly, whether I am the oldest child has absolutely nothing with my ability to market a product.

    @asazevedo – that is quite strange, especially since I don’t really bowl. In fact, its been several years since I stepped inside a bowling alley.

  8. Just to clear up any misunderstandings. In Sweden the interviewer is allowed to ask any question they want to the person being interviewed. They aren't however allowed to discriminate on certain grounds when they make their decision on who should be hired.

    If a woman gets asked whether she is planning on having kids and answers "yes", and they later hire a less qualified man for the position, that woman has a case to make in court. But asking the question itself is legal.

  9. @J.B. – thanks for the clarification!