On a recent gig, I was provided with everything except the water. And since I had met several of the company’s employees when I arrived – handshakes with Mette, Søren, Nikolaj – I asked one of them to kindly get me a glass of water. I asked Nikolaj.
Nikolaj smiled, walked off, and brought me back a glass of water.
It was only after the presentation was finished and I was home making connections on LinkedIn that I found out that Nikolaj was Senior Vice President for Europe, with more than 650 people working for him and a salary that must have been in the 3 million-kroner-a-year zone.
But Nikolaj had never mentioned his title to me, because that’s just not done in Denmark.
Finding a job in Denmark is often a long, frustrating process – particularly if you’re not Danish. In this ‘How to Find a Job in Denmark’ presentation, we offer a few practical tips about how to research the Danish job market, how to network, and how to balance the enforced modesty of ‘Janteloven’ with promoting your skills at a job interview.
Job interviews in Denmark can be tricky, because you must present yourself as highly skilled without bragging too much.
Kay Xander Mellish arrived in Denmark more than a decade ago. She’s searched and found jobs at small Danish media agencies as well as Danske Bank, Carlsberg Breweries and Saxo Bank. Kay runs her own communications consulting business in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is behind the podcast series ‘How to Live in Denmark’ and is the author of the book ‘How to Live in Denmark‘, available in English, Chinese and Arabic.
This presentation is available in both English and Danish, and can be directed towards highly-educated jobseekers (as it was for DTU’s new graduates group) or lower-skilled new arrivals (as it was at Glostrup Sprogskole.)
“Your talk had a lot of fresh insights and very useful information.” – Andreea-Georgiana Enache, jobseeker
Book Kay for your group
If you represent a corporate or community group and would like to have Kay make a presentation at your location, please get in touch via this site’s contact form for more information. Or go to the How To Live in Denmark events page to download a PDF you can share with colleagues.
I was at a high-level networking meeting the other day. Not on purpose, but because they originally asked me to be their speaker, and then decided they wanted somebody else to be their speaker instead and were too embarrassed to un-invite me.
So there I was in a vast room of men (and it was mostly men) wearing pretty much the uniform of the male Danish executive: blue business suit, pale shirt open at the collar, a few neckties – not many – and pointy leather shoes.
And they were all wandering around the room like children lost in a department store at Christmastime looking for their parents. They were all there to network and meet each other, but they didn’t quite know who to network with. So they mostly ended up talking to people they already knew. They did not expand their networks.
When you work in a Danish office, you’ll often find yourself invited to impromptu in-office social events with your Danish colleagues. Somebody’s birthday, someone’s having a baby, somebody has been with the company for 10 years, someone is going on vacation the next day. And they almost all involve cake.
Cake is very important in Denmark. Cake builds bridges. Cake makes friends. And when there’s cake on offer, as a foreigner, it’s a good idea to show up and accept it.
When I first started working in a Danish office, I made a big mistake. I said no to cake.
My apologies that I haven’t been blogging for the past couple of months – I’ve taken some time off to promote my book Top 35 Mistakes Danes Make in English, which you can get on Amazon or Saxo.com, or at any Danish bookstore.
But taking time off is a very important part of Danish life – in fact, some people would say it is one of the best parts of Danish life.
The best example, of course, is the famous Danish summer vacation. When I first began working in Denmark, people used to start saying around April or May, “So – are you taking three or four?”
What they meant was, are you taking three or four weeks off for your summer vacation?
If you’ve been asked for a job interview at a Danish company, congratulations. Danish companies don’t like to waste time, so they wouldn’t be setting aside time to meet you if they didn’t think there was a solid chance they might hire you.
Job interviewing in Denmark is a difficult balance, because the Jantelov makes all forms of bragging or self-promotion distasteful to the Danes. You’ve got to convince the person interviewing you that you’re skilled and capable without sounding like a used car salesman.
What I tell potential hires to do is prepare by reviewing their working history and coming up with three good stories about projects they’ve worked on – two in which you did well and succeeded, and one that went very badly, but where you learned some important professional lessons.
By admitting to have made some mistakes in your work life or have been less than perfect on the job, you’ll give yourself a lot more credibility with Danish companies, where the default motto is “Work hard, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Danes grow up watching U.S. movies and T.V. shows and listening to U.S. music, so they sometimes assume they ‘know’ how to work with Americans – but that’s not always true.
In this presentation, Kay Xander Mellish – an American who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade – talks about how Danes can survive and thrive when working with the multicultural, competitive, sometimes excitable Americans, and how Americans can understand Danish priorities and the culture of dry, sometimes aggressive humor and Jantelov. Kay is personally familiar with some of the misunderstandings that can take place when Danes and Americans work together.
‘We are an international marketing team with people working together across the Atlantic with offices in Copenhagen and Minneapolis. We were very happy to have Kay run a session with us that in an entertaining and interactive way provided insights into the differences and similarities between the US and Danish cultures – and how these impact the collaboration and interaction between our teams. We had a lot of fun and at the same time we are now able to talk more openly about who we are and why we behave in certain ways in our daily collaborative situations we find ourselves in.
– Lars Kristian Runov, CMO, Siteimprove A/S.
Book Kay for your group
If you represent a corporate or community group and would like to have Kay make a presentation about working with Americans at your location, please get in touch via this site’s contact form for more information. Or read more about Kay’s other events.
I’ve applied for jobs in Denmark and been hired; I’ve also been the person doing the hiring and sorting through applications.
Here’s the truth: It’s really no fun on either side. On the applicant side, you can feel like a beggar, desperate for someone to recognize and reward your talent. It wears on your confidence, particularly in a long hiring process, which is common in Denmark even for Danes.
And on hiring side, you’re facing a huge stack of applications, mostly from people who know nothing about the company, nothing about the job, and are sending you a standardized letter or cv that gives no indication about why they’re a good fit.
For example, when I was hiring for a copyediting position at a financial company in Copenhagen, I got a letter in flawless English from an Eastern European woman who was a display artist at IKEA. She put together the sofas and pillows to give the imitation living rooms a chic and homey atmosphere. It’s noble work, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the job we had advertised, and she’d given no indication of how her skills would transfer.