Friday, 31 May 2013

Getting a job in Denmark

Ok, I'm slightly later with this post than I thought I'd be. I haven't got any excuses. But I am back!

I would like to state that this blog post isn't going to be yet another post which is just littered with tips you've already heard about getting a job in Denmark. I've mentioned my top ones in this post and I'll also add more tips at the end of this post. The aim of this post is to be about what you have the potential to be in Denmark. Read on.

I start my job on Monday. I'm really looking forward to it and I'm really looking forward to becoming part of the work force again. I'm going to be working in a similar role to the role I had back in London and I am hoping I'll be able to bring something positive to the team, drawing on past experience. I now joke to my Danish friends that I'll be paying for my own Danish lessons now - this is technically true as I'll be a tax payer. Trust me, this is the ONLY time I'll be excited about paying Danish tax.

Anyway, I was sitting in language class a couple of weeks ago. It was a module 3 class and it consisted of very experienced and highly educated women. All of whom had perfect English and a module 3 level of Danish which is to say, intermediate. All of them are capable of holding a decent conversation in Danish. The lesson we were on was, I think, about job descriptions and CV writing. I think. This particular teacher is of an older generation and isn't very exciting. I tended to drift in her lessons, which was a shame. I did try not to. But I digress.

So as I said, the lesson was about work, in some form. If I recall correctly, we were playing 'spot the odd one out' within the jobs. Ridiculously easy for a module 3 class, but hey ho. One of the jobs that came up was rengøringsassistent. For those of you that don't speak any Danish, this means 'cleaning assistant'. Our teacher read it out and said "this is probably going to be the first job that you get in Denmark".

It STUNG. Did I mention the make up of our class on that day? All of us there were highly educated, professional women, who had professional backgrounds and careers that we had formed in our home countries. We ranged from IT engineers to sales and marketing managers. We had gone over this in class when describing our education. Did I mention that the level of English was very high and that we all had the ability to hold a decent conversation in Danish? And that all of the other ladies spoke at least one other European language? And yet, despite all of this, our language teacher was flippantly just telling us that cleaning was the first job we would probably get?

I object!

Now, I don't usually get drawn into these arguments. I am certainly not going to use this as an excuse and finger point the Danes as being ignorant as this was just one person, and I'm not going to judge an entire country on this person. I'm not a fan of popular sweeping generalisations. But, speaking to others, this is a misconception held by some (mainly older) Danes. It grated me. It's a problem when highly educated foreigners are not seen as such, with these sorts of assumptions made without even asking about individual backgrounds. I know, I know .. I was lucky in that I had the financial backing of my husband, and also my own savings. I know that not all foreigners who move to Denmark have this and that, ok, sometimes in order to pay the bills one will have to get a more menial job to make ends meet. But I don't think that this is where people should start, if you have a professional career with high qualifications to back this up.

However my main issue here is the fact that the sentence was "this will probably be your first job in Denmark". Why 'probably'? Why not "if you can't get into your profession and need to pay the bills, you may want to consider doing X, Y or Z". I feel there should be a little more understanding and encouragement, particularly from language schools who are surrounded by foreigners every day. It was the flippancy of the comment that annoyed me more than anything. People who work with expats everyday need to understand that we ARE educated, we HAD careers at home, we ARE experienced and we CAN contribute a lot to the country. Therefore people who work with expats should be more encouraging, don't you think? I'm the sort of person who, if told that I can't do something, will happily ignore that person and try my hardest to prove them wrong. I have proved my teacher wrong with the fact that I got that job. I never wanted to give up and it has paid off. But not everyone is like me.

What I will say to anyone reading this who is thinking about moving to Denmark who wish to further their career here, please please please do as much research as you can before applying for that visa/buying that plane ticket etc. I strongly believe that highly educated foreigners can contribute a lot to Denmark and can continue their careers here but it will not happen overnight. We are still in crisis and we will, most of the time, be competing against highly educated and experienced Danes who have an established network here. No-one has a right to a job over anyone but it is dog eat dog, and you need to be prepared for it. Here's how to research.

Any highly educated professional worth their salt will have an up to date and detailed LinkedIn profile. Make sure that you list your responsibilities and, if applicable, the results you achieved. Really sell yourself on your personal profile. There's no time for being overly modest. Really tell the world what you have achieved. Always question: why should Denmark hire me? What can I offer? Also join Denmark based groups which are based around your profession. For example, my career is in marketing. I therefore joined a Scandinavia based marketing group, and a Denmark based direct marketing group. Join in on discussions and get your name out there. My key piece of advice here is do not simply join these groups asking for a job. This is a key time to showcase your skills and expertise. Show these companies what you can offer - treat it like a stage.

Online expat groups
Join as many as you can and be active. See if you can find like minded professionals in these groups who are in your field of expertise and ask them how they found their job, do they have any advice to give, are there any specific pointers that they can give? I would advise against private messaging anyone at random - I get several people private messaging me on one forum, asking me questions which I cannot answer as they are not relevant to me. One person asked me how to make it as a masseuse in Denmark - I haven't the faintest idea as it's not my field. What I did advise is that he posted the question on the main forums where he could meet people who knew. Once you find somebody like this, then I think it's ok to private message them (but ask their permission first). Here's a few groups which are good for newcomers and would-be arrivals. A quick google will bring up similar groups - I don't think you can join too many. (this one is great as there are a lot of Danes here too)

Get a feel for the job market
Before you even consider applying for a visa, before you even consider spending money on a plane ticket, check out the job market. Look at your field and see if there are any patterns in what companies are looking for. Is there anything in your skill set that you could add before you move to Denmark? Remember that employers of any nationality like to see initiative. For example, the Danish marketing scene required a lot of people who knew about search engine optimisation (SEO for short). Although I knew the concept, I didn't know more than that. And so, this blog was born. I wanted to see if I could improve my skills (and also keep my web analytics skills sharp). So although I didn't have concrete experience in a work environment, I was and am able to show that I had the initiative to fill that gap in one way or another. Is there anything similar that you could do? Could you start a blog about your thoughts on your field and where it's going? It could get your name out there. Just a suggestion.
Jobsites on this post and more useful links here (scroll down to the comments as there are loads more suggestions).

So, in a nutshell - if you want to continue your career over here then aim for that! Do not listen to anyone who tells you that your first job will "probably" be something menial. If you are qualified and able, then you are more than capable over here, trust me. However, at the same time, it is still difficult - so please do as much research as you can. Don't move over blind.

EDIT: Very important to state that furthering your career here will very much be industry dependent. Furthering a marketing career will be easier (not necessarily easy, but easier) than furthering a law career. I don't think I need to explain why. But again, I will reiterate that it is absolutely vital to do as much research as you can before even thinking about applying for a visa. Lots of research will not guarantee you an immediate job but it is a lot better than moving over in the dark.

That's the end of that post ... feels good to get back into writing again. As always, do share your thoughts and experiences.