Opinion: Danish odds are stacked against skilled foreign workers

Danish rules for employment of non-EU citizens are preventing skilled foreign workers from entering the labour market, depriving the country of talent, argues The Local guest columnist Yater Dabbo.

Opinion: Danish odds are stacked against skilled foreign workers
File photo: Anne Bæk/Ritzau Scanpix

I've got an interesting story to share with you. It's actually my own story and it starts about five years ago, when I first moved from Jordan to Denmark.

At 22, I chose Denmark over the other 194 countries in the world. My research was comprehensive: I googled the countries with the least corruption and best quality of life. Also, there aren’t many insects and I hate those vicious little monsters. 

Soon after I came to Roskilde to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in International Sales and Marketing, I fell in love with Denmark.

The dynamics of moving here from a foreign country are different to when you’re European. As a non-EU citizen, I had to pay for my education and I didn't receive the state student grant (SU), so I was pretty much on my own. I didn’t get any of the fancy government support. 

However, during my studies at the Zealand Institute of Business and Technology, I was awarded two consecutive scholarships, financed by the Danish government. Once a year, a single international student is granted this scholarship for exceptional academic and social performance. 

I remember the feeling of belonging that I felt the first time I received the news about it. “Finally, a country that recognizes me as a human and acknowledges my drive,” I thought.

Naturally, I committed to making the most of it and proving to myself and my university that the scholarships were well deserved. My determination drove me to be the top student in my class.

But it wasn’t all about the grades. I became an active part of my university, was hired as a student assistant, helped new students integrate better, ran the student bar for a period of time, became part of the business incubator, hosted an innovation week, started a student library and even gave entrepreneurship a shot. I came up with a concept that was amongst the three shortlisted ideas in the 'People & Society' sector at the 2016 Danish Entrepreneurship Contest.

Being part of society was vital for me. I joined Internationals in Roskilde, volunteered at a cafe, then became a member of Mensa Denmark where I have made many Danish friends and learned more about the Danish ways of living. 

Yater Dabbo. Photo: supplied

The first time I went back to visit my parents, I made them smørrebrod. The following year I brought them mjød, then salty liquorice. The list goes on…

As time went by, laws were changed. Currently, I have to wait for eight years before being able to apply for permanent residency, changed from five years previously. 

READ ALSO: Danish parliament rejects campaign to soften residence bill

As a Jordanian, I'm encompassed by what’s known as the pay limit scheme (beløbsordningen in Danish), a provision that enables companies to hire employees who are nationals of non-EU countries, provided they are paid a set salary. 

This means I need to have a job that pays a minimum of 417,793 kroner per year (roughly 35,000 kroner per month). To give you some perspective, an average salary of a fresh graduate with my degree is around 28,000–29,000 kroner per month. 

The salary the government expects from me is a unicorn situation – it reflects a situation that is unlikely to exist in the real world. 

Fortunately, after I interned for free with a Danish company, they saw my potential and agreed to pay me 35,000 kroner per month. I will always appreciate that. However, a year later, they couldn’t afford me anymore and I was let go.

This leaves me where I am now, on a job seeking visa that is valid until the end of February 2019 with one way of being able to stay: get a job that pays 35,000 kroner per month! 

I am not allowed to intern, work part-time, volunteer or just work for the salary that similarly qualified Danes or Europeans would earn.

I have applied for more than 60 jobs. Unfortunately, I rarely hear anything back, but I haven’t lost hope and I’m still applying. I have spoken to the job centre and various recruitment agencies and none of them were optimistic about finding a job for that salary. I am stuck.

Denmark is in need of marketing and sales managers. I am at an early stage of my career, have huge potential and I want to get more experience. Another 2-3 years of training will sharpen my skills and give me the time to perfect my Danish to fully comply with standard requirements for these and other positions.

The job market is competitive and I don’t feel that I am given a fair fighting chance. I am a recent graduate, who has to make 34,816 kroner per month and I don’t get called to any interviews. I sometimes wonder if my background influences this in some way.

What would you do if you were me? Would you give up? Would you keep going? I’m confident that there’s a place for me here, and I’m determined to find it. 

This blog article was originally posted by Yater on his LinkedIn page.


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.