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Expat Careers In Denmark

Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. How easy is it for a foreigner to find a job in Denmark, if they haven’t been fortunate enough to line up something for when they arrive? What sectors are they most likely to find work in, and what are some need-to-knows about Danish workplace culture? My guest to answer all of these questions and more is Kate Dahl, a career consultant for internationals in Denmark.

Of course, finding work is just one thing to navigate if you’re making the move to Denmark – for a complete destination guide, with loads of helpful resources, head over to our website, expatfocus.com.

Kate, thanks so much for joining me for this chat about expat careers in Denmark. It’s lovely to have you on the podcast.

Kate: Thank you so much for having me, Carlie. This is…I’m really excited just to be here and to talk about my experiences and yeah, answer any questions you have. Shoot away!

Carlie: Well, my first one is that I’ve been doing a bit of stalking on your website, and I noticed you mentioned that you’re an American who studied in Germany. Can you tell me how you ended up in Denmark?

Kate: That’s a really long story, but to make it really fast and really short, I was influenced by two exchange students who came to my high school. One was a Dane and one was a German, and they influenced my life completely, and I became really good fast friends with them, and they were one of the first people that confirmed about my beliefs and values and that we had the same beliefs and values, not that Europeans all have the same beliefs and values, but I come from this conservative religious community and I was not allowed to think differently than what the community or my religious community thought.

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And so once they’ve confirmed that my ideas were okay, I felt safe. And that’s when I came to visit. Well, originally it was first Denmark back in 2007 to visit my friend who’s Danish, and then I decided to go to Germany later on to study abroad. And that’s just the quick and dirty answer!

Carlie: So after you studied abroad, you found your way back to Denmark or were you studying abroad in Denmark?

Kate: I was studying abroad in Germany. I did consider Denmark, but at the time, and it still is, that Germany is still cheaper to study, then it is for those in Denmark, for non EU citizens. If you’re an EU citizen, then it might be different in that case because in Germany you have to pay a fee to study, but what led me to Denmark permanently was love. Love makes you do things like come to Denmark!

Carlie: I can relate, yeah. And then how did you end up in career coaching?

Kate: It’s funny because…well, just to clarify, I’m not a coach and I don’t consider myself to be a coach. I am a consultant. And so how I went into career consulting is it started when I came to Denmark and I knew I had to reinvent myself. So I worked in the Danish startup scene, in the tech startup scene for four and a half, five years, something like this. And then I had many positions.

And the reasons why they were so short-lived was because they were either temporary contracts, they were…I was let go due to a change of strategy maybe. So there was so many different reasons for that. And one time I lost a position due to company merger actually after being promoted.

Carlie: Such bad luck, huh?

Kate: Well, that’s how it is in the startup world. The startup world is very volatile in general. And so basically it started with these little signs, essentially, where one of my colleagues from my Danish course, she was a classmate of mine and we were taking Danish together, and she was also American, highly educated. And I told her I lost a position that I had, and she’s like, “oh, don’t worry, Kate, you’ll find something else.”

And then two weeks later I found something again, and then I remember her looking at me and she’s like, “okay, Kate.” She’s like, “I really didn’t mean it, and I said that you’re going to find something soon. I didn’t think it would be that soon.” And I was like, “okay!”

Carlie: She was just trying to give you some positive reinforcement, but she really didn’t believe…!

Kate: Yeah, really. It was like, “I believe in fairies…”, but I really don’t. And so she said to me, “look, Kate, I have a PhD in chemistry. I have been looking for a job forever.” She’s even told me, she’s like, “I would kill to be in a position where I could work in sales. I would do anything at this point. And I don’t understand why you’re so good at getting positions in Denmark because for a lot of expats in Denmark, or even who are abroad who want to come to Denmark, it’s very, very tough.” And then I was like, “okay!” And I was wondering why is it so much easier for me and harder for others?

And so I was, kind of, like, just in this journey a little bit and talking to different expats, etc, and then there was other signs, like another coach…a friend of mine I was talking to who said, “you should start your own business.” And I was like…,“because you really give people hope.” And I was like, “I don’t want to do my business. I just want to get my permanent residency, meet the requirements. I want nothing to do with this, essentially.” (Excuse me.)

So I volunteered and I started doing my talks and different workshops, and I was just doing it for fun, essentially. I still do what I do love to do for fun, but it’s a little bit different than when you’re in another professional setting. So, then I started to really see the need about five years ago for what I do. And then I said, “okay, well then I’m going to start my business.” And that was in 2020. And then a week later, COVID hit!

Carlie: Timing.

Kate: It was bad timing, what could you do? And then I started doing things online and I really saw that even when COVID was around, there was still a huge demand and need for what I do. And I saw the results from back in the day before doing my company and now being a consultant.

And now mainly what I focus on is giving my workshops for free for internationals who are already in Denmark. I do one-on-one with people who are abroad, but also in Denmark as well, and do one-on-one training. But the goal is to work with municipalities, work with unemployment, public institutions, work with unions, unemployment insurance companies here in Denmark, and to help so that then I can offer my workshops for free to internationals and I make those type of collaborations. So that’s what I do and that’s my story! So yeah.

Carlie: In your experience, you mentioned that you came to Denmark for love, what commonly brings other expats or foreigners to the country?

Kate: I would say the biggest one is if they’re recruited by companies. And that’s still…even if you’re recruited in Denmark, it’s very, very hard to even do that unless you have the right field. If you’re in IT or in engineering, you have more likely a chance to be recruited outside of Denmark to come in. And those who have spouses are the ones that are normally having the hardest time in getting a job. There are international students here for sure, but due to politics in Denmark, the English programs have been lowered here.

So there’s not as many English programs as there used to be two years ago. So there is still a need for international students, and I would say that would still be the number two group, so to say. And then there are expats who are married to a native Danish person like myself.

Carlie: That need to find a job, yeah.

Kate: Exactly, exactly.

Carlie: What’s a common misconception about the Danish job market? To be honest, I didn’t actually know that Denmark had a strong startup culture, for example.

Kate: That’s a very interesting but yet complicated question at the same time. And I’ll tell you why: because I get a lot of people who when they think about Denmark, if they’re living outside of Denmark, they pool Denmark as Europe, and then they think, “oh, I can get a job anywhere in Europe.” And then they think, “oh, there’s Denmark.”

And that’s I think the biggest misconception that they’ll pool in and think, “oh, well, I got a job in Germany”, or “I got a job in the UK”, or “I got a job in Switzerland”, especially if you’re an expat who has been relocated many times. And then they think, “oh, it’s going to be very easy for me then to get a job in Denmark because I have been an expat in all these different countries.”

And that’s not the case. There are different rules when it comes to immigration and there are tougher rules, for example, to get a work permit, you need to make…now they’ve lowered the amount to 350,000 krone a year, which is the absolute minimum, but there are other requirements as well. And another thing is that a lot of internationals don’t understand that if you want to come in, you also have to apply.

So it’s not always about being recruited and to get in, you have to…for most people, you still have to apply if you want to come because recruiting doesn’t always work for you unless you have the in-demand profile. So I think that’s just the biggest conception is that if you’re an expat who goes from country to country to country for work over the years, don’t expect that Denmark is going to be like your easiest location.

If you really want to come to Denmark, you’re very likely going to have to work hard for it. And that’s also one of the reasons why I do what I do, is to increase those chances so that then you’re properly trained to learn how to job search in the Danish cultural context. Because we tend to forget as well that Germany is a different culture, the UK is a different culture, France is a different culture.

Carlie: Definitely. There’s no one European culture really is there?

Kate: Exactly. And that’s why it’s important to learn about the different cultural aspects when you’re job searching, especially within Europe, and to keep those cultures in mind. So I think that’s the biggest misconception is because it might’ve worked the same CV for the UK and Australia, it’s probably not going to work in Denmark, so just be aware of that.

Carlie: I want to dive more into the cultural nuances of working in Denmark, but first I’d like to know how appealing is an international profile of a job candidate for hiring managers in Denmark? Are they quite compelling when they see that you’re a foreigner, that you’ve worked in different countries?

Kate: I think it depends on a few factors. I think it depends on where you are in Denmark and also how big the company is and also if they are open to hire internationals and also if you have the skills that they are looking for or what they need. And so it can be a mix of all those three. So for example, Copenhagen is the capital of course, of Denmark, and they are very, very international. And so because of that, and also because Copenhagen is also the hub for, not only for startups, but within the pharmaceutical industry.

So you are more likely to land a position if you have worked within the pharma sector before or worked within research development and for example, Nova Nordis, they are more keen or more open to hire internationals, and it’s considered an asset, so to say, because you think differently, you have a different perspective, etc. But if you are outside of Copenhagen, it’s not that you can’t in Aarhus or in other places, it’s just that you need to fight more on your reasons why you can be a valuable asset to them and why being an international or a foreigner who has a different perspective on certain areas within innovation, for example, that you just simply just have to fight harder for that and to give those reasons. And that’s again why I do what I do as well, so…

Carlie: The biggie: how essential is Danish to a successful job search?

Kate: I think it depends. It always depends, and it depends on the field, etc. But if you want to come to Denmark to be a nurse or a doctor, there’s no other way that you have to learn fluent Danish. And it’s interesting enough that if you want to be a nurse or doctor in Denmark, there’s actually a different visa requirement. And that visa requirement is more that where you can actually do the training in Danish and you’re here for a while. You can’t practice being a doctor or nurse, but they’ll give you the Danish training for a few years, and then you can practice. Whereas before, if you want to be, let’s say a teacher (unless you’re a teacher in an international school), then it’s expected of you to be fluent in Danish.

So, it really just depends on the field. It also depends on the company and also depends on if that company is open to hire internationals if you’re not fluent in Danish. It’s possible. It totally is possible, because I am one of those stories where it is possible to get positions where you don’t need to be fluent in Danish, but it’s about how you convince them and how you talk to them to show the value that even if you don’t have the Danish skill asset, that you can still bring value to that company anyway. And that’s what I do and what I teach as well. So, yeah.

Carlie: Here in France, I feel like the typical expat or foreigner starter job, if you are, for example, a trailing spouse or just taking a punt and moving to the country without a job is you do a course to be able to teach English, you sign up to clean Airbnbs, something like that, kind of, non-career style sort of jobs, just to get some cash rolling in until you land the job that’s more aligned with what you really want to do. Is that sort of the same approach that foreigners have in Denmark or there other, kind of, starter jobs that are typical of expats there?

Kate: I would say cleaning, yes. That’s quite common to do after some time. I think if you’re, for example, if you’re a UX designer, because UX design is flooded, the market is flooded for UX design and it’s super, super competitive with that, and it’s very likely that you might have to do cleaning to get by or to do service or Wolt or delivery service or something like this. I would say everyone speaks fluent English here…

Carlie: So there’s no market for English teaching?

Kate: No. I get a lot of people who was like, “I’m an English teacher, can I teach in English?” I’m like, “you can, but…”

Carlie: They might speak better than you!

Kate: But it’s a different process as well, because if you want to teach at a school, you have to be able to be approved by the Danish government and you have to speak (or not speak) but you have to be approved for two subjects and it can’t be just English. And that’s quite common that that other person doesn’t have another qualification to teach another subject area. So that’s quite common. And then you’re like, “well, you have to go back to school, otherwise English is not going to cut it.” And also a lot of Danes, even my husband, he corrects my English all the time, and he’s a native Danish speaker.

Carlie: My French boyfriend does the same thing and it’s incredibly embarrassing. The other day he even said, “you need any more help with your English? Just let me know.” Thanks, man, that’s great!

Kate: Yeah.

Carlie: Let’s talk about some of these cultural nuances in the workplace in Denmark. I know here in France for example, it’s actually illegal to eat your lunch at your desk and workplaces have to give you a designated, like, canteen or cafeteria or kitchen, a space away from your computer to eat your lunch. What sort of things can you tell me about a Danish workplace?

Kate: Oh wow. First of all, I never knew that about France at all. I learned something today. But to go on that story and that example I heard about someone who took their lunch to their workplace…it’s not illegal to do, you can’t do that, but Danes would look at you funny and they would like, “well, why aren’t you in the communal space with us?” Because for them it’s about teamwork. And I would say that would be one of the big workplace nuances is that teamwork is very, very essential, or a big value for most companies here in Denmark.

And that it’s expected for all of you to eat together in a cafeteria and to socialize and talk. Not all the time, of course, there are exceptions where they understand maybe you have a meeting, maybe you can’t all eat at the same time. And if you’re a bigger company, everyone has different times at different schedules, so you’re not all going to eat at the same time. If you’re a smaller company, you usually do and you’re between these times. But I would say that’s one thing that’s expected.

But I would say the biggest nuance would be this philosophy called Janteloven or Law of Jante. And Janteloven or Law of Jante is this philosophy that is very inherent in Danish culture where you’re not allowed to boast, you’re not allowed to brag, you can’t be full of yourself. You have to be humble. It’s about being humble. And I’ll give you a story that in one of my workplaces that I worked at for about a year and a half, I remember as an American, I really want to be patted on the back, and I wanted to be acknowledged.

Carlie: Positive reinforcement, yeah!

Kate: Positive reinforcement, exactly. I wanted to be positively reinforced. It’s really, really hard to get positive reinforcement from Danes unless they really feel that you earned it. And I was breaking company revenue records, because I was the only salesperson at the time. So I really worked hard to achieve these goals. And at some point, I remember the CEO who told me a few months earlier that Jentaloven doesn’t apply in this company. I remember he pulled me inside and said, “Kate, this is a bit much, can you tone it down a bit?”

And I was a little bit surprised by that because I was like, well, I just was really trying to get that positive reinforcement at the time, and I really didn’t think that I was overstepping boundaries. So I think…that’s why I tell a lot of internationals, when you’re in the workplace, just do your job. And if you’re looking for positive reinforcement in your workplace or in the workplace that you want to be at in Denmark, maybe Denmark’s not the right place for you, or you just need to learn that it might be tough to get the positive reinforcement.

Carlie: But does that mean you can’t be ambitious?

Kate: I think you can be ambitious. I just think it’s more subtle. Or you need to be subtle with that, and that you just have to do the job and you can do as much, but then you also have to think, okay, if you want to achieve, let’s say, new a leadership position, just make sure that you communicate to your leaders and be very clear on that, that you want…this is where you want to go. Or maybe even in the interview process, talk about growth opportunities.

And one of the questions that you get into job interview is “where do you see yourself in the next five years?” And make that clear in the job interview from the very beginning so that then they know…it doesn’t work all the time, because of course, it depends on the leadership and depends on the culture of the company itself. But that’s what I would just always talk to your leader and be straightforward and direct with them about where you want to be in your career so you can get there and that they can help you get where you want to be.

Carlie: What about management and leadership styles? Because I’ve worked for a French company here that’s been very traditional, and now I work for a startup, which is a very flat kind of structure, and you can message the CEO or CTO directly. There’s no need to go through a personal assistant or to have any heirs and graces about approaching them. What’s it like in Denmark?

Kate: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s flat. It’s very flat. It’s very, very rare where it’s top from the bottom up. And that would also be the leadership style as well, where a CEO…well, maybe this is an extreme example, but a CEO would normally not look down on a janitor or they wouldn’t…or even if it’s like someone in management who’s just a manager, and if they’re the CEO, then they wouldn’t see them as someone being lower than them.

They would just talk and they would go to the bar after work together, or they would go to a Friday bar and just talk about ideas. And also in Denmark, it’s okay to speak up and tell your boss that they’re wrong, maybe in a more gentle way. But it’s okay to say that the boss is not always right.

Carlie: Oh, that’s refreshing.

Kate: Yeah.

Carlie: When I worked in London, I was told once after a meeting that I was being a bit too Australian, because I was being direct in what I thought about a project and what I thought we could do better. They were like, “oh, next time just be a bit more gentle and maybe…”

Kate: Well, there’s a difference I think between being combative and being direct. You don’t want to make enemies in Denmark and you don’t want to make conflicts because Danes are also…they don’t like conflict. It’s okay to be direct and say straight up, “we need to make these changes”, but you don’t want to do it in a way where it can create a conflict or a competition in any way. You don’t want to do that.

Carlie: So we spoke about engineering, IT sector. Are there any other jobs in your experience where expats tend to thrive in Denmark

Kate: Within the field…that’s a really, really hard question. It really depends on when the demand of the market is for a specific field. In Denmark, we have something called the positive list. And the positive list just means that it’s a list set up by the Danish government that is updated every six months, 1st of January and July 1st, and it’s a list saying, “these are the areas that we need people right now, and we will process your visa faster.”

Carlie: Oh, interesting.

Kate: So yeah, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot when it comes to…it’s not like a visa on its own, it’s just saying that we’ll process your visa faster for the work permit if you’re within these fields. It’s really different…and it’s interesting because it really depends on when the market is…because the thing about Denmark is that the market fluctuates a lot. For example, when I started going into sales, it was just booming. There were getting more and more internationals going into sales.

And I do see still internationals in sales now, especially if you are fluent in German, you can probably get something pretty quickly here within customer success, customer support, in these areas. I’ve also seen French, actually, it’s not often. And also Italian. I’ve also had a client who went into sales within the Italian market for a big company, and I helped him land a position in Denmark. But yeah, I would also say data.

If you want to be a data analyst or data science, of course, I know it’s within IT. And also within pharmaceutical. Any field, if you have a background within pharmaceutical, you’ll also thrive very well in Denmark as well. So I would say those areas are quite key. They’re not exactly specific fields, but yeah, they’re quite varied, I guess, in that way. So, yeah.

Carlie: And I guess one area that’s probably not as advantageous as people might think initially is, for example, English speaking support.

Kate: That too. Exactly. I was very, very fortunate because I went into sales and I didn’t really speak Danish, but I was able to convince my reasoning why, and I was able to get in and went into…it was quite broad in that time. So I think it’s different now than it is then. And I know it’s quite hard for most people.

I was just very, well, I was very fortunate in that regard. But I would say that as of now, what I consider flooded in the Danish labor market when it comes to what field you’re in, and what’s very competitive is UX design, graphic design, marketing. Marketing is just flooded here. And the reason why was that there were a lot of internationals who were studying at the academies going into these fields. And then when they were cut, then it was a bit over flooded in that sense, and so it was really hard for internationals to get into the labor market.

Part of the reason why the Danish government cut back was that their claims were that a lot of internationals were taking these English educations and going back to their home country and that they weren’t trying. I never saw that. I know that they were really trying, but it was really hard for them to get into the labor market. And then the other reason…it was, I said, yeah, it was just over flooded and it was just super competitive. And it’s still like that today, even.

Carlie: Kate, what would be your top piece of advice for a Danish job applications for foreigners?

Kate: Oh, my top one? There’s just so many. But if I can give one: really make sure you have a strong LinkedIn profile. A lot of internationals don’t understand the power of LinkedIn. That’s how we met, Carlie!

Carlie: It is how we met!

Kate: Yeah. And it’s funny, right? And more than two thirds…more than 67% of the Danish population have a LinkedIn profile. And I’m just so surprised that when a lot of internationals come to Denmark, they don’t realize how crucial or important that is, because most of the recruiting in here is done on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn is used more than any country in the world per person, per capita. And what I have heard (please correct me if I’m wrong, Carlie) that I’ve heard that it’s used, Denmark uses LinkedIn more than France does, for example, or another country.

Carlie: I wouldn’t be surprised.

Kate: Yeah. So really make sure, but make sure you get that LinkedIn profile going.

Carlie: Oh, it’s interesting. I was in Australia getting occasional invites to LinkedIn 10 years ago going, “oh, what is this? I don’t need this in my life.” And it wasn’t until I moved to London that I realized, oh, I really need to be on LinkedIn. When I started working in marketing, I was like, “oh, LinkedIn is used every single day by people for outreach, for sales, for marketing,” and yeah, it’s very much part of my life these days.

Kate: It’s so critical. It’s so important. Just get that sharp…and don’t just put up information and just be like, “here are the skills and here’s what I do.” No, you have to do it in…so it’s attractive for the Danish labor market. That’s also what I think…because we also tend to forget that LinkedIn is global, and it’s a social media platform, essentially, right? It’s just huge, right? So you need to get it sharp and learn how to communicate your value on that platform so you can be recruited for Danish companies and make sure that when you communicate your value, that you’re also communicating it within the Danish cultural language, not the Danish language itself, but within the communication cultural nuances as well.

Carlie: So in terms of communicating your value, I was really told when I’m listing my achievements on LinkedIn, it really needs to be about my KPIs, my achievements, how many leads have I delivered for my business? How much traction have I grown in our social media accounts? Things like that. Do Danish hiring managers want to see what you’ve actually achieved in your last job more than my tasks?

Kate: Definitely. Absolutely. So when I say…so, there’s a difference between talking about the achievements and then saying, “oh, I was number one in my class.” Let’s say, “oh, we reached number one on this social media campaign ad or competition (or…I’m just making something up)”. But it’s more about when you talk about your achievements, you can’t say so much about it at yourself. You have to mention it more in the teamwork environment and saying, “with my team, I achieved…I was able to help achieve my team doing this.”

Carlie: Just finally, Kate, what in your opinion makes Denmark such a great place to live and work?

Kate: What I love about Denmark is the Danish work-life balance. And it’s really interesting because in Danish culture, you go to work and you’re in the work zone from 8-4 or from 9-5. You have a lot of this flexibility here in Denmark to work (most of the time) and there’s a lot of trust…that it’s very, very uncommon to track your hours and no one does the paper checking your hours and things. No one really does that anymore.

But it’s also that when you’re at work, at this specific time, and then after work you’re done, and then you’re able to go home and be with your family. And because Denmark has, oh, I think it’s 35, 37 hours a week, I can’t remember, which is full-time. I have to look at it again. I think it’s 37 hours a week, but it leaves a lot of the flexibility to be able to have hobbies and to do things after work or to be with your family to do yoga, whatever.

And that is what work-life balance means, is that you work between these times, but you have the flexibility and the power and the trust, as long as they trust you, they’ll give you that flexibility and trust that you are working the full-time hours, and that you’re able to go home and be happy. And that’s why I also think work-life balance is so important is because if you didn’t have that balance from that break from work life, then they think you won’t be productive at work if you’re not able to enjoy your life at home.

Carlie: I really love that philosophy. It’s kind of similar in France, and it’s so refreshing coming from somewhere like Australia and then London where it was just so frenetic, the pace, the work pace, the…yeah.

Kate, it’s been lovely to chat, and where can people find you if they would like to learn more about what you offer for job seekers in Denmark?

Kate: Yeah, so careerdenmark.dk is a great place. Anyone is welcome to fill a free evaluation form and then I can tell you simply what areas you need to work on. Otherwise, you’re welcome to follow me on LinkedIn, my profile, on my company page. I just started Instagram, but I’m trying to be a little bit more active there. And on Facebook, you can definitely find my Career Denmark on Facebook as well where I have all my content that’s free for everyone.

Carlie: That’s it for today, careerdenmark.dk is Kate’s website, and ours is expatfocus.com, where you can find our complete podcast archive, which includes interviews with Melanie Haynes who speaks about Expat Life in Denmark, and How the Danish Healthcare System Works. Don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast app to never miss an episode of the show. We also love hearing from you in the comments, or on social media – we are @expatfocus, and I’ll catch you next time.

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