Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Text: Greete Eluri
Paid or non-paid work, it all counts in Denmark. Go after internships, volunteering and part-time jobs.
Denmark can be a bit conservative when it comes to international employment as it is still relatively new. Therefore, having any kind of local experience can open new doors for you.
The importance of understanding the Danish work culture
Since last year, when I decided to change my career, I have met hundreds of international job seekers in Denmark, and there seems to be a common denominator. In essence, foreigners with international professional experience still have a hard time getting into the Danish job market. There can be many reasons for this, besides the usual - not speaking the language, not having a network and not having any experience. The problem also often is that the Danish employer wants to know that you understand the Danish work culture and traditions, in other words – that you understand how the society functions, including the work culture. How can you prove that? By having local experience. Whether it is a non-paid internship, volunteer work or a part-time student job, it does not matter.
I once had an interview, as a recent graduate, and the hiring manager was extremely impressed by my professional experience. He said: “Wow, you have so much experience.”, which I thought I did not have at the time. We talked about many of the volunteering projects and internships I did during and after my studies. They were highly valued in his eyes and confirmed to him that I take the initiative, network, and I have an interest in the Danish culture. I am sure that these experiences got me to the interview in the first place. He did not care about it was all non-paid work. It was work in Denmark, and that mattered!
"The problem also often is that the Danish employer wants to know that you understand the Danish work culture and traditions, in other words – that you understand how the society functions, including the work culture."
I have met some professionals these days who have 5+ years of experience from, for example, IBM or another well-known company, yet, they struggle to find a job. Often, my advice to them is the same – get some local experience. Find an internship for a month or two, also for you to see how does a Danish work place functions. I am sure you will have some ‘aha’ moments, and you will probably have a better understanding of the culture and Danes in general.
I have also encountered an attitude like: “Why should I do an internship/free work when I have worked for five years? It is great you have the experience, but it might be a barrier for you to start your career in Denmark. Have you thought about it? It might be one of the reasons why you have not been successful until now. Next time when you apply for a job or meet with a job consultant, you could ask for feedback – for example, “Is my foreign experience enough or should I get some Danish experience?” The more ‘barriers’ your remove yourself, so the employer does not have to wonder, the better chances you have.
Volunteering is the key
Finding a cause which is close to you, and you have a passion for could be an excellent place to start. No matter can you give 1 hour or your time or 5 hours of your time in a month, it all counts. You could check out frivilligjob.dk, which is one of the biggest volunteering jobs platforms in Denmark.
In 2015, I joined Internet Week Denmark – one of the biggest IT festivals in Aarhus. Back then, I had a couple of shifts as a guide, and it was a great way to expand my network and get the local experience. On top of that, I asked a fellow Danish volunteer out for coffee, and we have been friends ever since.
Every experience matter in Denmark paid or not. Find the ones that give you joy and activate yourself. It just might bring you one step closer.