"Desirable for international jobs and yet I can't get an interview as a receptionist in Sweden?"

Although high-educated, multilingual and with 5 years of work experience it took Emily Joof 4 years and 210 applications before she even was called to her first job interview in Sweden. Meanwhile she was offered interviews abroad. Why? Emily is certain that there was something about her. But what? Her Malian background? This is Emily's story as she looks back at her journey.

I was sitting in London working as a Coordinator for an NGO when I decided to move to Stockholm. Being pragmatic, I sent my CV to a couple of NGOs and schools as I’ve always had this dual love for Education and Development. Much to my surprise I got called for an interview in Stockholm within 2 weeks and was offered a job, working a nursery/primary school.

Just like that moving to Stockholm became more concrete.

At that time, I had a BA from UCL, a Masters from IOE and over 5 years work experience doing project management for NGOs, including working for the UN. I spoke English, French, Wolof fluently and had passable Spanish so I figured, I'd move and within a year I would be sure to find a job in my field again.

We moved. We settled. We learnt Swedish. We started a family. Everything was going smoothly, except on the professional front. Being the pedantic person that I am, I made an excel sheet of all NGOs I could find in Stockholm and made sure to get on mailing lists and newsletter lists etc.

I knew I had to stay 'connected', I applied for a job almost weekly. I called the ones I wasn’t successful with to get feedback on how to improve my application. I networked. I attended conferences, all alone to meet people in the field. I created my own group on FB to link professionals (like me) in Sweden within in the Development field. I contacted strangers on Linkedin to volunteer and asked for advice for getting access to the Industry from a Swedish perspective.

And still nothing.

I listened to advice from Swedish friends about wording and formatting of my applications. I considered picture on cv, or picture off. I considered changing my last name 'Joof' ( staunchly West African) to my husbands 'Campbell' (wonderfully international) but in the end I kept my Joof, I didn't add a picture either. I stuck to my formality. During all this time I was still teaching. I contacted the Swedish employment agency, Arbetsförmedligen, to see if they could help me find the way back to roles that I am passionate and qualified for. They informed that they could not help as I was not unemployed (this is true) and encouraged me to quit my job and then contact them!

By early this year my energy was running dry. I still hadn’t managed a single interview in 4 years. All the HR people I spoke to, told me my application was flawless and just to keep trying. By this time I spoke almost fluent Swedish and so submitted my CV in the language that was required.

And yet, still nothing.

In the end, it was through a friend that I had met through teaching in schools, that I found a voluntary role, I was incredibly grateful and I took the role on, in addition to my full time job. It drove me insane, working long hours in the school, running home to be a mum for the few hours that I could and then going out for the volunteering job again. However, the voluntary role paid off and almost led to a paid position. It wasn’t exactly my field but it was something I was good at, with an NGO that I genuinely cared for. Right when i was about to sign for that role I got called for an interview.

My first official interview in Sweden

My energy was literally at its lowest, but I went anyway. I gave it my all thinking to myself at least it will be real-life practice for the future. It had taken 210 applications, literally, I kept count. I went to the interview feeling like my chances were zero but it was the Dream Job, so I did my best.

Right after the interview, They offered me the job.

To be honest, I had worked so hard that I couldn’t feel that immediate satisfaction or happiness right away. Something in my head wanted me to be cautious as it felt too good to be true. I did finally explode with joy on that first day of work 2 months later, standing in front of the mirror in the bathrooms!

I still reflect on my journey though. It is still inexplicable how i managed just one interview in 4years of active searching. I had applied for management roles, lower management roles, admin roles, secretarial roles and somehow my profile wasn’t suited for any of these. Sadly, I know too many people who are going through the same situation right now in Sweden, I've often thought about why I never made it to interview.

My background

My ethnicity

My non-Swedishness

My name

The sheer number of applicants

I guess i will never know, but after all that, I was certain there was something about me, my profile, that they didn’t want, I know this for sure because during these years I have been invited 3 times for interviews with Large NGOs outside Sweden.

How can my profile be desirable for International jobs and yet I can't get an interview as a receptionist in Sweden? If everyone else i knew was happily employed i would take it personally, but the opposite is in fact true. I know too many professional international persons in Sweden who are experiencing the same in a society strongly perceived as embracing and open to diversity and other cultures the reality on the ground is rather surprising.

During my search, I noticed the lack of diversity over and over again.. at talks, conferences, or even just looking on office websites. Stockholm society IS multicultural then why are we struggling to see diversity represented in the workplace

I'm just going to leave that question there...

For those who are still job hunting;

volunteer, get a paid internship at Arbetsförmedligen, talk to people and don't give up and network, network, network.

You can follow Emily Joof on her blog http://mymummydiaries.blogspot.se/

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