Guest Entry: A Practical Guide to Finding a Startup Job in Scandinavia
Look out Silicon Valley, Scandinavia’s startups are coming for you.
OK, maybe it’s not quite apples-to-apples comparing a small part of California with all of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. But the point is that these three countries have each become major hubs of innovation in all kinds of creative and tech-based industries.
Take Stockholm for example, the city has the second-highest number of billion-dollar tech companies per capita in the world, trailing only Silicon Valley.
What’s the secret behind Scandinavia’s meteoric rise in the startup world? Well, the answer involves a complex web of economic and social policies – better save that conversation for another time. But for the sake of this post, let’s just say that Scandinavia has created a supportive ecosystem for innovation by attracting lots of investment and top talent.
A globally recognised high standard of living and startup community has meant that thousands of eager job seekers are now flocking to cities like Aarhus, Oslo, and Malmö for a piece of the action. And this post is about lending these people a helping hand.
As a Copenhagen-based startup with a mission to end unemployment using technology, we are keen to share some insights on how to land a startup job in Scandinavia. So let’s get to it.
Living and working in Scandinavia may seem like a sexy idea. But realising this dream isn’t necessarily straightforward. Denmark, Norway and Sweden each have their own immigration and employment policies that you had better get a grasp of before you start your job search.
First off, you should decide whether you plan on moving to one of these countries and then looking for work or securing a job first and then moving there. Your options here may be limited by whether you are a citizen of the EU or not.
If you are a citizen of the EU, you won’t need a visa or work permit to enter the country, so you can move there first and then find a job. However, once you have a full-time residence, you need to register with local authorities – employers will require this of you as well.
If you are a citizen of a non-EU country, things are a bit more complicated. To enter the country you will need a residence permit or visa as proof that you are entering the country for the purpose of working. Therefore, your job search starts abroad, and once you have an offer of employment, you can apply for the necessary documents.
In either case, once you arrive in the city or country where you’ll be working, you need to be registered with the local authorities so that you can gain access to services like healthcare and transit passes, set up a bank account and receive an official tax number.
Speaking of taxes, don’t forget that all those amazing services that give Scandinavia its high quality of life come at a hefty price. This gets a lot, pay a lot scenario varies by country and income level, but consider yourself forewarned.
Types of work available
Now some good news: there are lots of different startup jobs available in the Nordic region. Most startup jobs are based in English since these companies have global ambitions, but knowledge of the local language is seen as a huge plus. Some roles even require it.
So what kinds of roles are these startups looking to fill? Obviously high-tech demands software engineers with a diverse set of skills and experiences for the sake of product development. But the goal of most startups is scaling up, and growth demands a team of pros in business development, marketing, design, account management, and the list goes on.
The bad news is that there is A LOT of competition for these roles. Speaking from experience, when we hire new people for our team, we get a lot of applications from people all around the world. We realise this situation makes it tough for job-seekers, but having diverse, highly skilled teams is the reason why local startups are proving so successful.
A lot of startups are also strapped for cash, so instead of bringing on full-time employees, they rely on the gig economy to outsource projects or fill temporary projects. Not that we’re complaining, but we’ve noticed our favourite café here in Copenhagen serving more-and-more as an informal office for freelancers. It’s clearly a popular work arrangement in the startup community.
Search for a job
OK, what you really want to know is how to get a job with a Scandinavian startup. Well, your starting point is almost certainly online. After all, it would be a bit ironic if digital-focused businesses didn’t advertise online.
As you search online, you will probably realise that LinkedIn doesn’t have the same power in Scandinavia that it does in North America. That doesn’t mean that you won’t find opportunities on LinkedIn, in fact, we think it’s a mistake not to use the site for job hunting, but you will definitely want to expand your search to these other popular sites:
Of course, searching for jobs online can be time consuming. And you never really know where you stand when all you do is send out digital applications. That’s why networking is so important to landing a job.
One of the things we love about being a startup in Scandinavia is that there is truly a sense of community amongst these burgeoning enterprises. Forget the cut-throat business attitude: what we’ve noticed more often than not is a desire to collaborate and share experiences.
It seems like almost every day there are events or activities to attend organised by local accelerators, universities or tech/startup hubs (Check out Startupvillage.dk, startupnorway.com and sup46.com).
We can’t even count the number of valuable contacts we’ve met at conferences like TechBBQ. And these types of networking opportunities are also open to job seekers. So if you want a startup job, this is where you may find your future employer.
The application process
Once you’ve found an opportunity that you’re ready to apply for, the real challenge begins. Like we said, it’s a hyper-competitive job market. So even if you have a mind-blowing portfolio of past work, you can expect there to be other candidates on the same level as you.
How do you give yourself an edge when applying for startups jobs? Well, consider who you are applying to work for. Scandinavian startups are all about cutting-edge technology and design. So, a good starting point for your application is to make sure your cover letter and resume look like they are from the 21st century.
If you really want to make an impression, now is the time to move past the basic Word document and Times New Roman font. Give your application documents some Scandinavian sleekness. A well-designed, professional resume and cover letter will really stand out in crowd of other applications.
In terms of content on your resume and cover letter, you again need to consider the audience. One of the core rules of applying for jobs is to customize your documents to the position and company in question. In the case of most startups, they place a huge emphasis on specialised skills when hiring.
With this in mind, make sure you give plenty of space for a skills section on your resume. You can even split this section into two, one for “hard/technical” skills and the other for “soft” skills. Whether both are relevant to a certain position will depend on the job description.
You will also want to show employers how these skills translate into results. Any job recruiter likes to see tangible proof of your work, but it’s especially important for startups who have so many people knocking on their doors for jobs. So, if you’ve got an online portfolio to show off, make sure to include a link to it near the top of your resume.
Mastering the startup job interview
We’re a young company, but we’ve interviewed dozens of people for different roles in the past few years. Take it from us, there some qualities we look for in candidates that we really like to focus on in interviews. Granted, these probably apply to any startup interview, not just in Scandinavia.
First, as already mentioned, we want to be convinced that the person we hire is an absolute master at his/her craft. Since we get hundreds of applications for a position, and we select 5-10 people to come in for interviews, we end up with a pretty talented group of specialists who have portfolios to show us.
What often tips the scale in favour of a particular candidate is their attitudes. Startups need specialised expertise but they also need someone who is willing to wear several hats. Even if you are the world’s greatest programmer, we want to know what else you can offer the team. Startups are famous for being lean, dynamic teams where everybody chips in where and when they can.
The startup culture gets plenty of attention for its informal work structure, interesting perks and creative environment. We can confirm that all of these are accurate depictions of how we work. And when it comes to interviewing candidates, we want assurance that the person we hire will fit this unconventional style.
Finally, the popularity of Scandinavia as a destination for creative work means that startup culture places an emphasis on diversity. We want employees who have worked, and want to work, across a team of people from different countries and backgrounds. Having global insights come together results in big ideas. As someone interviewing with a startup, make sure to highlight international collaborations and experiences.
The genesis of our company was a project at CPHBusiness, where we received some pretty fantastic mentoring to grow our idea and turn it into a real-life business. The fact that we all chose Scandinavia for our studies and then decided to base our startup here speaks to our love for not only the local business environment but also the lifestyle.
It’s clear that thousands of others share our love for Scandinavia given the boom in startups taking shape in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. As more and more of these enterprises crop up, that means more and more opportunities for people like you to come live and work in this beautiful part of the world.