If you’re a foreigner, finding a job in Denmark is not easy, but it can be done. It depends a lot on what you can do. And what you can do better than a Dane. Because, let’s be frank here, if all things are equal between you and a Danish person, they’re going to hire the Danish person.
The Danish person knows the language, the Danish person knows the culture, the Danish person knows not to bring Brie cheese to the Friday shared breakfast. In every Danish office I’ve ever worked in, there’s been a Friday shared breakfast, and they always eat exactly the same cheese. Sliced, medium-sharp Riberhus Danbo cheese.
Sometimes I would try to bring a different cheese and my Danish colleagues would smile and nod like they do when a foreigner has done something silly … and then not eat my cheese. They’d eat no cheese at all until someone brought out the Riberhus Danbo medium-sharp sliced cheese. My daughter and I call it ‘Danish people cheese.’
Having a Danish diploma helps
Anyway, the Danish workplace is about teams, and working together, and getting along as a group, and there’s an automatic suspicion that a foreigner might not fit into that. Back to my original point – to overcome this, you have to show what you can do better than your Danish rivals.
If you have an education from within Denmark, that’s a good start, because that’s kind of a local seal of approval. If you’re just moving here with a partner, you might want to consider this as a way to start out. Higher education is (in some cases) free here, and the government even gives you a stipend to live on while you learn. By the time you’re finished with school, you’ll have a network that should make job hunting easier.
Otherwise, I suggest you put all your effort into Danish classes at the start, and then get a job that will force you to speak Danish all day, every day.
I often recommend working as an assistant in a Danish day care center. The jobs don’t pay well, but they’re relatively easy to get, particularly in Copenhagen, and particularly for men. They’re always looking for men that the little boys can look up to. And quite frankly, the kids speak very simple Danish, and you speak very simple Danish. It’s a good match.
Just speaking English is not enough
When people come from English speaking countries – the US, Britain, Australia – they often ask me if speaking English well is enough to get them a job. The answer is no, even though there are many companies that have English as their corporate language. But those are prestigious companies – Novo, Lundbeck – places that everybody wants to work. So, you have to have a job skill, plus English, to work there.
So, if you do have a job skill, plus English and you want a job in Denmark, what do you do?
This is my recommendation: search the job ads on databases like Jobindex.dk and WorkinDenmark.dk. But unless you’re a perfect fit, don’t rush apply for these jobs, where you’ll be competing with a lot of other people.
Instead, study the ads to figure out what skills companies are looking for. What skill can they not find? Figure out if you can dress up your cv to highlight some of those skills, or even get take a quick course so you have them.
Go to as many professional events as possible, chat with people, but don’t ask them for a job. Ask about them about your industry, ask them where the pain is, where the problems are.
Show how you can solve their problems
And then, write your job application and your cv, explaining how you and your skills can help them solve exactly the problems that everyone is worried about. Put the problems at the top, and explain how you are the answer. Create a little elevator speech explaining how you and your skills can help solve this problem or that problem in your industry.
The local union that covers employees in your field can also help with this, and can also help you adapt your cv and cover letter for Danish employer tastes. Joining a union is well worth the money when you’re looking for a job that requires an advanced degree.
And then start approaching companies, and you gotta be tough. The first time I was unemployed in Denmark, I approached 100 companies with personalized letters. I got about three responses…and one job, where I stayed for 8 years. So it’s a numbers game.
Denmark loves LinkedIn
Two more tips. Danish people love LinkedIn, so get your LinkedIn profile looking really spiffy. Please put up a professional picture that shows your real face. Of just the people who have asked for my help, one guy had a picture of himself at wedding, maybe his own wedding, wearing a little white carnation. He looked like Fred Astaire.
Another guy had a shadowy picture of himself at a nightclub, holding a beer. No. You have to put up a clear picture of yourself smiling and looking friendly in whatever type of clothing you wear for work. If you’re a music producer, you don’t have to wear a suit. If you’re a banker, it’s probably a good idea. Danes are casual, so a nice, colorful sweater or blouse is perfect.
And secondly, pay somebody to look over your LinkedIn profile and make sure it’s in really good English. I’ve hired people in Denmark, and it’s always amazing to me I got so many cvs and cover letters in terrible English. There’s a website called Fiverr where people will copyread your CV or your LinkedIn profile for only five US dollars. It’s definitely worth the investment.
So, that’s my advice. It’s hard to get a job in Denmark, but the good news is that everyone is rooting for you – particularly the Danish government. They want to get you working as quickly as possible – so you can start paying your giant Danish taxes.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2019