Questions about the cultural differences between Scandinavian countries and the US in the workplace.
June 10, 2009 12:24 AM   Subscribe

How do employment interviews in Scandinavian countries work? Questions about the cultural differences between Scandinavian countries and the US in the workplace.

I have an interview with a Scandinavian company, and I want to impress them very much. In the US, when you interview for a job, you tell of your achievements and skills. But, what should I do to be successful with this interview?

I've been reading about Scandinavian culture, and came across Jante's Law. I think the underlying concept is a value of sameness, and a dislike for bragging about achievements.

From this website, I read, "From an American perspective, Jante's law may be Scandinavia's greatest cultural difference. In the American workplace, management uses positive reinforcement with employees as a method of motivation. In Sweden and much of Scandinavia, one is expected to get ones work done, without much herald. It can be related to the Swedish proverb, "Noble deeds are done in silence." (Engellau, 57).... It is typical of Swedes to respond to compliments in a negative manner, by saying "No, I really didn't do anything special," or "It wasn't anything anyone else couldn't easily do." In the states, responding to a compliment in this manner is insulting to the person giving the compliment in the way that it infers the person didn't know what they were talking about. However, should the American respond to a compliment in a Swedish workplace with "Thanks, I did my best!" or "It was easy", they will be received as being boastful, overly proud, and in direct violation of Jante's law, thus instilling envy in their coworkers. "

So, how can I impress them with my skills, without seeming boastful or proud? All tips are appreciated!
posted by Houstonian to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been working in Sweden for nearly nine years (note that I'm British, and have never worked in the US, but I did have one job in a US-influenced corporate culture). While the Jante thing is a tangible influence on Swedish society (incidentally, I once posted an FPP about it), I have very seldom felt it impinge negatively on my day-to-day work. When dealing with praise, responding with simple thanks has not been looked at askance (as far as I can tell): in any case the Swedes will know not to expect you to respond exactly like a Swede would.

Some observations & opinions:

* My current workplace is more casual than most I've worked in before: suit & tie was the de facto uniform in most of my jobs in the UK, but would seem odd here, where very few people dress formally for office-work.

* Management hierarchies are 'flatter' at my current workplace than at my previous jobs: managers (at least middle-managers) are regular guys with regular desks in the same open-plan space as everyone else.

* More value is placed on consensus-based decision-making here: this can be both a good thing (everyone gets a say) & a bad thing (decisions can be deferred for too long).

* It can apparently be really hard to fire underperformers here: companies have to jump through a lot of hoops when letting people go.

* Despite taking incredibly long summer vacations, and enjoying their leisurely, and near-mandatory 'fika' (coffee-breaks) every day, Swedish workers do seem to get a lot done. My (completely subjective) impression is of a more methodical & conscientious workforce than in the UK.

My own interview here was primarily a matter of demonstrating some very specific technical knowledge, so I can't help much there. I would guess that a plain statement of your achievements couldn't hurt, but that steering clear of hyperbole & ostentation would be prudent.
posted by misteraitch at 2:33 AM on June 10, 2009

Norway here for a go at answering the question that almost an expat will have in regards to local working habits.

I second misteraitch on his points, and especially agree with the fact people are much more relaxed and organisational heirarchies thrive on consensus.

There are a couple of things to add especially given your from the USA. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason and this comes from someone who grew up in the states.

1. Interviewing. If the interview is in Scandinavia, tone down the volume 2 notches and leave the aggressive sales pitch at home. The reason you are interviewing in the first place means the company involved recognises some skills and attributes they need.

You didn't mention where the interview is, but I would assume since you are in Houston the job will probably be there as well. Aker Solutions or Petro Geo perhaps? That means USA standards apply unless you have been told you will be interviewing with someone from HQ.

2. Scandinavian companies generally treat there employees quite well, but having worked in a large global scandinavian company, I can with a lot of first hand experience tell you regions, espcially the Americas, tend to feel undervalued as the core business decision making process is done at home. It is important to remember which team you are playing for.

3. The Company Values. Ask about them. If it is a Scandie Organisation they will have great pride in their values as it reflects on so many aspects - employees, environment, ethics, etc... If you are working for a US office then ask if the company values are represented and followed. Find out what mechanisms HR has put in place to measure. This will tell you a lot about the company's committment to its people.

4. Expectations. Where is your work product going? Again, if you are doing work solely for a US office, then you probably won't have very many cultural differences to worry about. Check to make sure.

5. Rewards. Scandie companies will reward employees that put in hard work. People are valued higher and efforts are made to make sure employees have more than adequate access to further training and mentoring. This includes seperate budgets for conferences and training etc., find out what the company policy is regarding this.

Thats it for now off the top of my head. If it is a norwegian global you are interviewing with, feel free to mefi mail me and I can fill you in much better. Have greats contacts and good friends at all the major ones.

posted by Funmonkey1 at 3:47 AM on June 10, 2009

Not all Scandinavia is the same. I know you said Scandinavia (presumably Sweden), but if it's Finland (which is officially not part of it but people often don't know this) you might want to check out Management by perkele, but I think otherwise the compliment thing stands. Also, Finnish companies don't usually do the consensus decision making. You might be surprised how unresponsive and quiet (this might seem really rude, but it's not really meant that way) people seem at first (applies to all countries).

(I'm a Finn working in the UK, so I've got some backing for my comparisons, don't know how this applies to US people/companies)
posted by phax at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2009


Your specific question is how a interview in a Scandinavian country works.

It's quite difficult to answer without knowing the sector you apply for work in. Technological sectors are generally more americanilazied than for example wood-industries.

So - with limited knowledge of your field of work I would propose the following aspects on the job-interview in a scandinavian firm:
-- Team-player - do boast with your personal successes, but do point to beeing a teamworker. "I couldn't make it without xxx and xxx, in my team."
-- Concrete, measurable, results - no surprises here. If you have successes, back them up with numbers, evulations, etc.
-- Apologize in advance -- make sure that the interviewers know that you're aware of the cultural differences. This, I think, is paramount: You have to transmit the concept of "I know that I'm used to a different style of work and personal high-head-holding - but I'm willing to bow down to fit in the requiered work-atmosphere".

Hope you get some use of these broad, un-specific, thoughts.

posted by Rabarberofficer at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2009

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