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Sweden – Foreigners being blacklisted by recruitment agencies

03 September 2013

Foreigners in Sweden are being blacklisted by recruitment agencies for not speaking Swedish, according to a former recruitment manager from one of Sweden’s bigger agencies, reports The Local.

According to the source, who wished to remain anonymous, job applicants remain on the blacklist even after they improve their language skills and this remains a permanent hurdle to them gaining employment.

Commenting to The Local, the source stated: “Let’s say you apply for a job when you first get to Sweden. If you tell the recruiter that you can’t speak Swedish, they have the power to red-flag you for good as a non-Swedish speaker – regardless of whether you later learn to speak Swedish fluently or not at all.”

“Your name will always pop up with a notification that you’re a non-Swedish speaker from that day forth. It doesn’t matter what the job is, you’re red flagging in a global setting,” he added.

The problem, according to the source, isn’t in the official pre-filled information boxes that an applicant completes, but in the private side-notes the recruiters keep after the first interview. The notes, which are rarely updated, are often made in a way that portrays candidates in a negative light.

“There’s too much trust in the recruiters, who are usually under-qualified and fresh out of school. The system is absurd,” the source added.

According to The Local, their source worked in Stockholm at one of the nation’s largest recruitment companies. He said that during the short conversations supposed to weed out the unsuitable applicants, recruiters take the chance to glean information about an applicant’s capabilities.

The source alleges that recruiters are trained to immediately ask for the jobseeker’s Swedish speaking skills if the applicant has a non-Swedish sounding name.      

With over 600 recruitment agencies in Stockholm alone, according to the Local, many job seekers are damaging their interests by being over-eager at the beginning of their job hunt. Many people are reportedly red-flagged from day one and their applications never make it past the first stage, even if Swedish language isn’t a job requirement.

The source added that many job seekers are not aware of their rights: “They’re not going to tell you that you’re blocked, but it’s completely within your right to ask for a copy of the file they have on you from their database”. 

Retaining people’s information can be in breach of Sweden’s Personal Data Act (Personuppgiftslagen – PuL), as confirmed by Malin Sredholm, legal adviser at Sweden’s Data Inspectorate. “Personal data must be adequate and relative. If information is old and no longer relevant, then keeping it could be in breach of the law.”

Ms Sredholm advised the Local that she was unsure of the veracity of their source’s claim, as she had never heard of such cases before. She stated that to determine whether such actions were against the law, an official complaint would have to be registered and the data protection watchdog would have to audit the company to ensure that it was a recurring issue and not just a one-off.

She added: “If the complaint implies that it’s a repeated wrong, or a routine problem, then it’s more likely that we would act. Information must be updated or, if not, erased. That is part of the privacy act.”

Swedish recruitment firm Academic Work, contacted by The Local, advised that they are aware of the Personal Data Act and follow it.

Spokeswoman Elin Frejd stated: “While we do write notes during the initial contact, which is usually done via telephone, these notes are about education, work background, and skills. We want to find out if they are qualified or if the timing right for employment.”  

She added that the agency updates its information constantly in its own system and the recruiters’ notes were there to help in the specific recruitment process. “All [of] our recruiters have training and skills for conducting these first interview[s] and it is done according to our internal procedures.”

The anonymous former recruiter refutes that this is the case for all recruitment agencies. According to him, the problems run deeper than just language capabilities, with first-contact recruiters often missing opportunities due to their lack of knowledge about a job position.

“These people are first-tier staff, they’re essentially juniors but they make high-level decisions. But they don’t know what they’re doing,” claims the source. “It’s like getting someone who knows nothing about gardening to do the weeding. They have no idea whether they’re pulling out weeds or flowers. One stupid comment and you’re out,” he claims.

When contacted by The Local, the CEO of the source’s old recruiting firm vehemently denied the allegations, claiming that while the phone operators did take notes, they only related to skills needed for the job.

The CEO stated: “This doesn’t sound right at all, we work against prejudice. We don’t mind where you’re from, we want to get you a job.”

The CEO added that the telephonists were indeed trained for their job, and that the company challenges employers that have asked for Swedish speakers only. “We ask them if Swedish truly is a necessity, because if the job can be done in English then it’s something we can provide for. Employers saying that people must speak usually just prefer to have Swedish speakers, it’s not a matter of need.”

The source concluded: “Let’s be honest, it’s better to be lazy when you first get to Sweden, then at least you won’t get blocked everywhere. In my experience, I’d advise anyone to learn a functional amount of Swedish first. That’s your best bet if you want to ever get yourself a job in Sweden.”   


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