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Finding A Job in America: A trailing spouse from Sweden’s story of success


If you’ve ever looked for a job, you know it can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience.  If you’re from another country, finding a job in America can be even more daunting.  You’re immediately at a disadvantage because you don’t have American work experience, your social and professional network is in your home country, your understanding of “how things are done” in the new culture is limited, and English is not your native language. That’s enough to keep some people from even starting to look for a job!

These challenges, however, did not deter Asa, a trailing spouse from Sweden, from looking for work soon after she arrived in the United States.  Asa came to America in December 2011 to follow her husband, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley.  She immediately applied for work authorization, and once she got her two small children settled in pre-school and received her authorization, she began her search.

I interviewed Asa about her job search and how she successfully landed two job offers within four months. Here’s a summary of the interview:

What type of job and how many years of experience did you have in Sweden?
I had 12 years of experience as a product and project manager in telecommunications and IT software.

When you first started to look for work, what job search strategies did you use?
I looked at Monster and Craigslist to find out about companies.  I saw that there were many positions available and applied for a few, but I never got any response, not even an acknowledgement that my resume had been received.  In Sweden, this is how we look for work and I thought this was the way to do it here.

What made you shift the way you were looking for work?
I started talking to other people who had applied for jobs and learned two things:

  1. You have to network.
  2. You should tell people that you’re looking for a job.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of in this country.  When you tell people you’re unemployed, they start thinking about people in their network who might help you.
  3. I took some free job search classes at the Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco.  I learned how to write an American resume and how to network.

What is the difference between a Swedish resume and an American resume?
In Sweden, we use a CV, which can be 6-7 pages long. It’s like a novel of each job because you list your whole career.  An American resume is usually one page and focuses on what’s essential for the employer to know about you.  It shows your key qualifications, accomplishments, and results.  The focus is on what YOU accomplished, not your team.  The purpose of the resume is to convince the employer to meet with you; it doesn’t get you hired.

What were the main ways that you began to build your network?

  1. At UC Berkeley, I attended a monthly evening social for spouses. At first I didn’t want to go.  I thought there would only be other unemployed people like me who lacked a social network, were new to this country, and only here for a short time.  I immediately realized that this was silly thinking and that I could learn from their experience.  Some of the spouses had jobs, and some had contacts that I didn’t have and ideas that I hadn’t tried.
  2. I went to a weekly morning program for spouses at the Berkeley YWCA. An older woman there gave me the business card of her son, who worked in the IT area.  I called him, and he referred me to a recruiter.
  3. I joined a network of Swedish people here.  They gave me information and tips on how things work here.
  4. I used Linkedin.  First I looked to see how many of my contacts in Sweden knew someone in San Francisco.  Then I asked them to introduce me.  Once we were introduced, I would have lunch with the person in San Francisco.
  5. I did cold calls and emails.  I would find a company I liked on Craigslist and then go to their website to read about their products and management team.  I found out that one company had two Swedish guys on their management team.  I emailed them to ask if I could meet with them to get more information about the company and ideas about how to get a job.  This is the company where I eventually received a job offer!

What advice do you have about networking?
You can meet people anywhere! It doesn’t have to be at a professional seminar or job search workshop.  People here are willing to share. In Sweden, you have to know a lot about a person to recommend them.  Here, people are friendly and want to help.

What is the one thing that you wish you had known at the beginning of your job search that you know now?
The importance of networking!  Also, you need to have your resume done in the American style and you need an elevator pitch [a short, 30-second commercial about yourself].  When you develop your elevator pitch, you have to think about what makes you unique and how you can benefit the company.  They don’t care about your personal needs.

Many people claim that it’s hard to find a job in this economy, and that there aren’t very many jobs. What is your response?
I would say it’s not true!  In my field (telecommunications and software), this is the perfect place in the world to be.  There are so many different kinds of jobs. You don’t have to do what you did before.  Change your idea of what a good job is.  Change your role or line of business. You don’t have to start at the top.  You may need to start at a lower level.  Convince people of your capabilities.  Also, be prepared to spend a lot of time looking for work.  I spent 60-70% of my day looking for a job and never even took the time to visit San Francisco!

What advice would you give to other spouses or people looking for work?
Don’t be afraid to tell people you’re looking for a job.  Try to be positive, and show energy and interest! That’s how Americans do it.  Also, don’t just sit behind your computer to look for jobs – go out and meet people!

What is your new job and when do you start?
I’ll be working as a senior project manager for a company that sells mobile television services to telecommunications operators.  I start in June!