‘Building a successful Danish business pushed me forward’

In the return of our My Danish Career series, we spoke with Sharon Hatting, who found her niche as a freelance hairdresser – a relatively unknown phenomenon in the Scandinavian country.

'Building a successful Danish business pushed me forward'
Photo: Melanie Haynes

Sharon Hatting moved to Copenhagen from the UK in 2013 with her Danish partner and five year old daughter, without speaking Danish or knowing anyone here apart from her partner’s family. They had spent two years planning the move and, whilst she was excited about the changes, it was daunting at first.

Four years later, Hatting has a successful freelance hairdressing business and recently started to rent a space in an exciting salon, Hair by Dunja, in the trendy Vesterbro area of the city.

Hatting is an experienced hairdresser and make up artist who had spent time building up a freelance hairdressing business in the UK after working in a large hair salon for five years. Her career had been marked by hard work, something she says was key in helping her settle in to Danish life and launch her business here.

“I arrived with no Danish language skills and immediately enrolled in one of the large language schools in Copenhagen. I wanted to learn the language to a high level so took two years to finish my studies. During the second year of studying Danish I started to establish myself as a freelance, mobile hairdresser,” she said.

“This was a concept that was relatively unknown in Denmark so not only did I have limited networks, I was also having to sell a new way of hairdressing. I looked around at where I could begin to network and gain customers. The obvious places were my daughter’s Danish school, my language school and Facebook.

“When I had a new client I asked them, if they were happy with my services, to pass my name onto other people they knew.

“It takes a lot of courage to start to build these networks from scratch and put yourself out there but I stuck with it, no matter how challenging it felt at times. I started to see people recommending me on Facebook and this led to more new customers.”

As time went on, Hatting worked part time in a small local hair salon and continued to build her freelance business.

Photo: Melanie Haynes

“Working in the salon pushed me to speak Danish with customers and I realised that, although I had passed my Danish exams, I was still learning all the time. Working in a language which isn't your own is a constant challenge but I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

READ ALSO: 13 signs that you'll never master Danish

“I love living and working in Copenhagen but it has taken me time to adapt. Learning the language went a long way to making me feel at home here. As with many expats I found the work-life balance here to be a refreshing change from the UK. I worked hard at my job and building my business but it is expected that people want to spend time with their families and have time to recharge.”

Like many self-employed business owners in Denmark, Hatting was able to access free business support, in her case through the business centre in Islands Brygge, which she was introduced to through a careers day organised by her language school. With a tax regime which was new to her, Hatting also sought advice from Danish tax authority Skat, whom she found very helpful.

In September 2017, Hatting started renting a stall or chair in a salon, Hair by Dunja, close to the new Carlsberg Byen in Vesterbro.

“This is a great opportunity for me to reach more people. I have built a strong network of customers, many of whom are delighted to come to me in my new location,” she said.

“I really believe that you can only improve and get better at what you do by pushing your boundaries and learning new things. It isn’t always easy and it takes time to really establish yourself in a new country. But I think we, as expats, need to be a little patient with ourselves and take things in our stride. Language, networks and really finding your way takes time but self belief is a powerful thing,” she said.

“I try not to put limitations on myself. Danish was the first language I had ever really tried to learn, if you ignore a few years of school level French, and I managed it. I conquered my fears and it all paid off in the end. It would be a lie to say it has all been easy but having the focus of building a successful business has pushed me forward.”

“Some weeks feel harder than others. But by taking a day for myself and spending quality time with my family, I see the beauty of the city and think how lucky I am to live here. For me that is what it is all for.” 

READ ALSO: 'I was fired from my first Danish job after nine days'

For members


Ten ways to improve your chances of finding a job in Denmark

Job searching in Denmark can be a daunting and lengthy process with many hurdles to overcome. The Local spoke to Kay Xander Mellish, author of 'How to Work in Denmark', for her tips on submitting a successful CV and application.

Ten ways to improve your chances of finding a job in Denmark

CVs in Denmark often have certain aspects of layout, presentation and content in common. By writing a CV that sticks to some of these recognisable customs, you may improve your chances of catching the eye of a potential employer.

1. Length

“Keep it to one excellent page, or two if you’re more senior. I’d say if you’re aged 30 and under, one page will be enough. Only add the jobs that are relevant. Employers don’t want to hear about that restaurant server or babysitting job if it’s not relevant to the role,” Mellish said.

2. Format

At the top of your CV, a paragraph describing your experience, skills, education and character is a common way to lead into a CV. This text can be adapted depending on the job you’re applying for and how you want to present your skills.

“Add three adjectives about yourself that you can support with an example, rather than ten adjectives with no story. For example, say you are innovative for this reason. People don’t like hot air in Denmark,” Mellish said.

Aside from the profile text, chronological lists of qualifications, relevant employment history and other relevant experience should be kept brief enough to fit the one to two pages.

3. Show your personal side and a photo

It is expected that applicants include a section about their hobbies, even family situation on their CV in Denmark, as well as a photo, to give a sense of who they are as a person.

“Danish employers are interested in you as a human, more so than employers in other countries so include information about yourself, including your age and your hobbies.

“Choose a good quality photo that is not too serious but shows you looking friendly and approachable,” Mellish said.

4. Story telling

“Think in terms of story telling”, Mellish advised. “Pure letters and numbers don’t mean a lot to employers in Denmark, they need to know what projects you’ve done, what role you played and what kind of person you are through your CV.

“So rather than writing ‘I have these grades’, it’s better to say ‘I worked on this project, it took this long, I achieved this'”, Mellish said.

5. Hit the ground running

Mellish called this “plug and play”, where you show you will slot right into the company and get going with the role.

“When employers are reading your CV, they want to know what you can do on day one of the job. Sell your ability to solve someone’s problem. You need to give the impression you can add value straight away.

“In Denmark the average length of time in a job is two and a half years, because you can take your pension when you move, so employers don’t want someone they need to spend time training,” Mellish told The Local.

READ ALSO: Five tips for writing an effective Danish CV

6. Teamwork

“Group work is very important in Denmark, more than individual achievements. So talk about your teamwork and how you worked with a group to produce a good business result. It shouldn’t be ‘me, me, me’ – that’s a turn off,” Mellish said.

7. LinkedIn

“People in Denmark love LinkedIn so you need a fabulous LinkedIn profile with a good picture. Before anyone calls you for an interview they’ll have looked at your LinkedIn profile.

“In your profile, include the storytelling, explaining the projects you’ve worked on. If your job involves a uniform, I recommend wearing it in your LinkedIn photo so people get that impression of you right away. Your background photo should also be work-related, not rainbows or puppies. Use it to tell the story of who you are,” Mellish advised.

8. Unsolicited application

This is when you approach a company or department you would like to work for, without a job being advertised. The Danish term for it is uopfordret ansøgning. 

“Many people make contact on LinkedIn and ask to meet for a coffee, where they chat and rather than pitch for a job, they ask if the person knows anyone looking for someone like them. Danish employers welcome this and many people are hired this way,” Mellish said.

Another way to network is to join a union, Mellish advised. They often have career events but can also help read your contract when you get a job offer, or help with any problems in the workplace. 

9. Ring the recruiter

The phone number of the hiring manager will often be in the job advert. Mellish advised finding a quiet place to ring them from and spending ten to fifteen minutes asking some good business questions.

“This also helps you work out if you might want to work for this person,” Mellish said.

“Send your CV within 24 hours of the phone call and mention you spoke to them in your application,” she added.

10. Patience

“On average it can take six months to find a job in Denmark. If it’s under this, you’re lucky. If it takes a year, it’s not you, it just takes a long time because employers are looking for someone to fit into their team.

“I wrote 100 letters, I got ten responses, three interviews and one job which I had for eight years,” Mellish told The Local.

“Danish employers are not always good at getting back to you. If you don’t hear anything, just keep applying for other jobs. If you sent an application on June 1st, you could send a follow-up email on June 15th, then you’ll have to leave it and move on,” she advised. 

Kay Xander Mellish’s book ‘How to Work in Denmark’ offers both job-searching advice and tips on how to succeed in the Danish workplace.