Far too many times, I have listened to international professionals telling me how unsatisfied they are with their salaries in Swedish companies. Many of them have started a new position with a rather low salary, in the belief that they have better chances getting a good job in their new country, if the employer does not have to risk too much money. They also expect a raise as they have proven what they are worth. After a few years and this raise never coming up, they start to doubt themselves, the company, or Sweden as a whole country.
I believe that such situations are due poor knowledge of the Swedish system, and that this can be avoided if you know what to expect from the salary negotiation and its consequences, and if you are well prepared.
How are salaries set in Sweden?
Although there are many laws regulating work life and employment, there is no minimum salary in Sweden. Any number that the employee accepts is legal. Instead, collective agreements are often made between employers and trade unions. Actually, almost 90% of all Swedish companies are covered by such agreements - kollektivavtal. These often specify the minimum wage for that particular work-place, as well as other work conditions, such as holidays, overtime, retirement plans.
However, if you are looking for qualified work, the minimum salary for your company is irrelevant. Your starting salary is negotiated for you as an individual. I have seen many cases of internationals discovering that equally or less qualified colleagues from the Nordics are receiving a significantly higher salary for the same positions, and often wrongly deduce that this is because of discrimination from the management. I would argue that this is not at all the case. This rather derives from different cultural differences and poor knowledge of the Swedish system, as compared to what it looks like in other European countries.
I have been told, that in many countries, a first salary is accepted as much lower, in order for the new employee to prove themselves. After a ‘trial period’, when this new member of staff has shown their potential, salary is negotiated according to performance. This means that they could experience a significant pay rise within your first year.
In Sweden, though, you will have to negotiate your future salary from the very start. You will have to convince the interviewer that you are worth a specific sum. They will take the risk. But you are very unlikely to receive an annual raise of more than 3%, regardless of your performance. Actually, the only way to get a significant raise is to change jobs!
Few people I meet look forward to their negotiation. They do not like, as they say it, ‘to sell themselves’. Fair enough, I think this is the case for most sane people. Unfortunately, the most common reaction to this is a complete denial the whole situation, until the very moment it comes up. Being unprepared for a salary negotiation will definitely make it awkward. My advice is, the more you dread your upcoming negotiation, the more you should prepare for it. This does not mean practising in front of the mirror. It means getting hold of facts. For a successful negotiation, you need to ask yourself – and answer – these questions:
- What is an acceptable salary for your type of position?
- How does this relate to your particular case?
- How much will you ask for, exactly?
- What is the minimum you will accept?
- What do you know about the position, the company, and the future of these?
- What arguments will you use to make your case for it?
- How will you react to different scenarios?
- What is your plan B?
When do I need to negotiate for my salary?
Salary negotiations do not normally take place until the end of the recruitment process, when you are about to sign the contract. For most positions you will negotiate you salary right before signing the contract. Your recruiter might ask you for an approximate number earlier in the process, though. Therefore, I always recommend my clients to be prepared from the very start of a process.
What is a typical set-up?
You will be called for a last interview, or ‘chat’ as they might call it at this stage, which often includes signing the contract. You will probably be meeting your future manager, and perhaps their manager, or the CEO. At some point during your talk, they will bring up the question of salary, and ask you how much you think you should earn. At this moment, you should ask them (if they have not already told you), what the contract looks like. When you know what they offer, your first present your arguments, and last the number you have decided upon. Focus on the arguments. Listen to their response, negotiate, and finally agree.
How do I know how much to aim for?
Your trade union has comprehensive statistics about what you could expect to be paid. Not a member of a trade union? Become a member. (I will explain why in a later article, at the moment you need to trust me.) Your union representative can not only give you detailed figures for professionals with your education, your work experience, and of your age, with your position in your location, but they also know your industry well, and can give you appropriate advice on negotiation strategies.
Knowing the average salary for your type of position does not in any way entitle you to this number. Nor does it constitute a valid argument for getting the pay you aim for. But it is a very good place to start, in order to know what is realistic, and what is not. Discuss your particular case with your representative, and in what ways you can aim for the average, below, or above.
How much do I ask for?
Ask for 10% more than what you aim for. Do not present an interval.
Why should they give me what I think I am worth?
The salary is negotiated according to what you, as an individual, are worth for the company that is hiring you. If you want those extra thousands, you will need to convince your prospective employer why they make a good deal doing that investment.
This means that you need to evaluate the situation from your prospective employer’s point of view. If the salary negotiation comes at last, you should be able to reflect on the whole recruitment process. Why does this company seem interested in you in particular? What skills, experience and personal qualities were initially asked for in the job advert? What did you highlight in your CV and covering letter? What did they focus on during your interview? What is happening in the company right now, and how can you contribute to this? Are they perhaps expanding on a market that is familiar to you? Are they beginning a project where your expertise will play an important role?
The more you know about the company and the position, the more you have to back up your arguments. This is another reason why you should ask as much as possible during your prior interview(s).
Again, making and bringing a list is not ‘cheating’.
What to say
Swedes are very factual when negotiating. Hence, use facts, not feelings. Be organised, presenting your facts in a structured manner. Always be professional and friendly. A typical Swede will not appreciate your sense of humour whilst talking about such serious matters, so do not be afraid of coming across as ‘boring’.
Use only your best arguments. If you use all your arguments, the best ones will easily be forgotten.
If you prepare yourself by thinking through several hypothetical scenarios and how you will handle them, it will be easier to stay professional and not displaying any emotion (that will certainly make the Swede uncomfortable), in case the negotiation takes a turn that is not in your favour .
What not to say
Do not use your personal situation as an argument. Your family, baby-to-be-born, economic situation, health, flat purchase or student loans have nothing to do with the investment that the company is about to make. Nor does the average salary. Nor what your previous job paid. Never threat your prospective employer that you might not take the job.
What if it does not work?
If your prospective employer is unable to give you the sum you asked for, they might be able to offer you something else. It is important that you are aware of the conditions in your contract before you negotiate about changes to it. Another week of paid holidays is a common compromise. This is not a bad thing – especially if you want to visit your family and enjoy some travelling the same year. Other arrangements might involve gym cards, public transport or Swedish language courses. Even here, you could successfully present your case from your employer’s point of view. Certainly, they would be interested in you learning the local language.
A successful negotiation ends with both parts believing they made a good deal.