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.
Most jobs are found via networks
Networking in Denmark is tough, even for Danes. This is a culture where it’s considered bad manners to talk to someone you don’t know, unless you’re drunk, in which case all bets are off.
And it’s a place where people grow up with their networks. Many Danes still have the same friends they had in grade school, and they develop professional networks through secondary school, university, internship programs, and their first jobs out of school. These are people they know, at least a little bit, so it’s OK to talk to them, even when you’re not drunk.
Most jobs in Denmark are found via networks. Somebody mentions on their LinkedIn profile that they’re looking for a new team member and the cv’s from friends of friends and old classmates start flowing in. And since “fitting in” is such an important part of the Danish work culture, someone from the network is more likely to seem like a known quantity when it comes to being a “good fit.”
“Flexicurity” means you can be laid off at any time
So what does this mean to you as a foreigner? It means you’re going to have to figure out how to network in Denmark.
And you can’t stop once you already have a job. The famous “flexicurity” system in Denmark means it’s very easy for an employer to get rid of you, and then you’ll be back in the job market again.
Even if you have a job, moving up professionally often requires going to a new company instead of persuading your current company to promote you. Particularly because Danish companies are notoriously bad at seeing foreigners as middle management material.
So – how do you build a network?
Smaller groups make for better networking
Tip 1 is to start by getting involved in small groups. The networking meeting that I went to was too big, and it was too general. If engineers are in the same room as flower arrangers, not a lot of business is going to get done. But I’ve seen smaller groups that are very effective – for example, English-speaking women in corporate communications.
If there’s not a group that’s tailored to your professional interests, consider starting one. There’s a culture in Denmark of something called the “go home meeting” – gå hjem møde – which is a meeting held at the end of the work day, right before people go home. It’s pretty easy to get out of the office that time of day, so a lot of these professional groups get a speaker, get some sandwiches, and get together. Over time, you get to know these people. They’re part of your network.
Take a course in your field
Tip 2 is to take some kind of course in your field. Not a one-day course, but something that lasts at least 2 or 3 months so you can really get to know your classmates. Look for a course with group work, where you will be forced to talk to each other and create professional relationships. (Don’t make the mistake I did and take a course where everyone just stares at their own computers. I took a Photoshop course and didn’t know anyone’s name by the end, except for the girl who used the course to design fliers for her exotic dancing business. We all took an interest in her work.)
So choose a course in your field where you’ll be forced to get know other people in your field. And in general, it’s easier to get a job in Denmark if you have some kind of Danish educational credentials, which is another thing you can get from a course. Danish employers have often never heard of your university from back home, and they don’t know if it’s much good. But if you’ve been rubber-stamped by a Danish institution, even for a short course, that gives them a sense of comfort.
Don’t ask for favors; share what you know
Tip 3 is to never try to take out of your network more than you put in.
After another speaking engagement, a man who was new to Denmark came up to me and said he’d met several local people in his industry and was connected to them on LinkedIn. He said, “Now I’ve asked them for a job three or four times and they don’t even write back anymore!”
This guy was going about it all wrong. He was asking from his network without giving back to his network. And that, unfortunately, fits into the nasty stereotype some Danes have about foreigners – that they just come here to take and not give back.
That’s silly, and of course you have a lot to share. I think a lot of foreign jobseekers undersell how useful their experience from their home country can be. Denmark is in the forefront of some industries, but it’s a little country, and a lot of stuff has already been done well or better elsewhere.
Share what you know, find out what your contact might be interested in and offer that information as part of a meeting. “I see you’re putting up a building using translucent concrete. I worked extensively with that concrete in China. Should we meet to exchange experiences?”
Take care of your network in Denmark
Tip 4 is that once you’ve begun to build a network, you have to carefully maintain it, a bit like a houseplant. You don’t always have the chance to meet with your contacts in person, but you can comment on people’s online updates and congratulate them on their projects. If there’s a job going at your company, post it for your network to share.
And offer support when something goes wrong.
I once left a job very quickly, so I wrote a few brief farewell emails to colleagues I didn’t have time to say goodbye to. Most wrote back saying something pleasant and generic – great working with you, good luck in the future – but one guy did not.
Let’s call him Jeff. Jeff never responded to my email. Later, I was going for a job at a place where Jeff worked, so I contacted him to see if he had any tips. He never wrote back.
About six months later, I did hear from Jeff. It was a mass email – he had a new product he was selling. He said, Tell your friends and family about my new product.
Did I tell my friends and family about his new product? No I did not.
So, keep your networks warm, it only takes a few words. If someone gets a new job, email them or add a comment on the LinkedIn announcement that’s cheerful and upbeat, along the lines of Congrats, you’ll be great! If someone loses a job you say, Man, sorry to hear that, I’ll keep an eye open for you. It doesn’t take much time, but it means a lot to people.
Never come unprepared
Tip 5 is to never come to a networking meeting unprepared. You should have Google Alerts set up to tell you about all the major companies in your industry, so if you meet someone from that company, you can talk intelligently about what’s going on there. Their new projects, their new CEO, whatever.
I also recommend having business cards, even though you’ll hardly ever use them in Denmark. The one time you need them, it’ll be crucial. I lost a voiceover job once because a potential client asked me for a business card and I didn’t have one with me.
Plus, as foreigners, we have to face the fact that it can be hard for Danish people to remember our names. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Kate. Hey, Kate. No! That’s not my name. You need something with your name on, and a title that shows your both your expertise and something that sets you apart from others with similar expertise. “Denmark’s friendliest IT support man” or “Engineer and specialist in translucent concrete,” something like that.
And get some nicely designed ones on quality paper. You never want to have anything that’s poorly designed or cheap in Denmark.
Talk to the old people
At a networking meeting, big or small, I always recommend talking to some of the older people in the room. Usually everyone else is trying to talk to the new young hotshot, but older Danish people have a lot of knowledge.
You can ask them, If you were me starting out in the industry today, what would you do? Which companies would you want to work for?
Occasionally you get a Bitter Betty or a Bitter Burt who just wants to talk about how awful the world has become. But generally, older people have more time to talk to you, and they’re not always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s somebody better across the room.
Bring a conversation starter
If you’re a bold person, and you want people to come to you at a networking meeting, carry something large enough to be visible that makes a good conversation opener. For example, when I go to these things I carry copies of my book, How to Live in Denmark.
And at the networking meeting I had been invited to, the one where no one was talking to anybody, there was one man who was meeting a lot of people. That guy was carrying a sextant.
Now, get your mind out of the gutter. A sextant is an antique instrument for navigation out on the water, using the stars and the planets to find your direction.
Everybody wanted to talk to him. Everybody wanted to look through the eye of this shiny brass sextant and examine all the mirrors inside – it’s fun. And he met lots of people.
I don’t know if he was looking for a job in the shipping industry, but if he was, I’ll bet he got a lot of good business cards. And it would be easy to follow up the next day – Hey, I was the guy with the sextant. Great to meet you. Let’s connect. Maybe we can do business together.
So that could be you, breaking the ice at one of those dull networking meetings with say, a miniature of the latest solar panel installation you built in Iran, or an unusual piece of packaging from an ad campaign you did in Italy.
Remember, when you’re networking, you’re not begging. You’re offering a business deal as a person who has some very useful skills that people need. And you’ll know you’ve succeeded in networking in Denmark when Danes are going out of their way to talk to you.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2020