When I moved from England to Denmark, I expected to encounter some cultural differences – it’s part of the expat experience, right? What I didn’t expect was how hard I would find my job search, for a few reasons that I’ll explain in this article. I hope that sharing my experience, observations, and advice will help other expats.
Talking about yourself
One of the first things I did was to search for “Danish CV style”. I found conflicting information about length and layout, but one tip stood out: make sure you understand the Scandinavian social code of ‘Janteloven' because you might need to change how you describe yourself.
In general, Janteloven says that the collective (We/us) is more important than the individual (I/me) and you shouldn’t think you are anything special. This means that you should be modest when talking about yourself, which is the opposite of what I’d learned in the UK. A British recruiter once told me to talk about my own achievements more than teamwork, but this wouldn’t be advisable in Denmark!
Looking for information
While looking for jobs, I noticed that most adverts don’t mention a deadline or salary range. British recruiters wait until a set date to review applications, but Danish recruiters often interview people as they apply – so you need to act fast when you find an opportunity! And British adverts usually say something like “£25,000–£35,000 depending on experience”, which is helpful. In Denmark, you have to state your expectations when you apply.
It can be hard for expats to decide what their expectations should be when they don’t know the Danish market. You can’t just put your previous salary because Danish salaries are higher than most due to the high taxes and cost of living in Denmark. You don't want to under-sell yourself, but remember that recruiters will have a budget based on the amount of experience they’re looking for. If you have more than the job requires, they might think you’re too expensive and reject your application.
Competing with other applicants
As an expat, applying for jobs in Denmark means competing with Danish applicants – who speak the language, know the culture, and don’t need a work permit. Also, many Danes have a Master’s degree because higher education is free in Denmark. In the UK, and other countries, universities are expensive and having a higher degree isn’t common.
If you haven’t worked in Denmark before, recruiters might think that you won’t understand – or fit in to – the workplace culture. There’s a flat hierarchy here, which means that everyone is treated the same (regardless of title) and has an equal say in decisions. People are trusted to work with minimal supervision and ask for help if they need it. This is different to the UK, where there’s a tiered hierarchy and micro-management is common.
Answering personal questions
When I attended my first interview in Denmark, I was surprised to be asked some personal questions. For example, “Are you married?”, “Do you have children?”, and “What do you do outside of work?”. In the UK, interviews rarely include personal questions because they would be considered inappropriate. But in Denmark, it seems that recruiters want to know who you are as well as what you do.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark: “We believe in the multi-faceted, whole human being. Sure, career and business opportunities are central to a good lifestyle. But life is also about family, friends, leisure and your very own private time – values weaved into the fabric of a life in Denmark.” I think recruiters ask personal questions to understand an applicant’s values and personality, so they can decide whether they’ll be a good fit for the team.
Our guest writer:
Carolyn Yates is a British expat and digital content writer/designer who moved to Denmark in 2022. She has worked for organisations including the BBC and British Red Cross, and she specialises in creating and managing website content. Carolyn lives in Copenhagen and can be contacted via LinkedIn.
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