Record numbers of international students are enrolled at Aarhus University, but it remains difficult for foreigners to find work in Denmark after finishing education.
by: Matt Whitby
photo: Claudine Zia
Let’s face it: Getting a job is tough. You have to put up with rejection, disappointment and long periods of not having money. To make matters complicated, Europe is still feeling the effects of the worst financial situation since the Great Depression.
So every student when graduating from university is going to face the complicated process of finding a career in a tight job market. It’s never easy to convince an employer to take a risk and hire you, but it’s even harder when you’re not even from the same country.
For the international students at Aarhus University, finding a job in Denmark after graduating is a challenge. The biggest barrier is usually language, but also cultural and business reasons prevent Danish companies from considering non-Danes as a resource.
This year more than thirteen percent of people studying at Aarhus University are international students. A significant majority will spend three years in Århus studying for a full degree. With so many international students taking a full education, the university is working with the Danish state to encourage them to stay on and work in Denmark.
Kristian Thorn is the director of the International Centre at AU. He is passionate about opening the Danish working culture to more international employees. He argues with the aging Danish population, the workforce needs to embrace skilled foreign workers.
“It is important for Danish society to attract and retain more international students,” he says.
The core group the university is most keen to retain are the students taking a Masters degree. Of the international students, Kristian explains, there are 2.400 taking a Masters degree and are most likely to want to find a job in Denmark.
“This is the group we think will step out,” he says. “They are here for their entire studies and have a chance to get to know Denmark and integrate. They may want to consider staying here after they finish their studies.”
InterResource provides the right links
With international students having a hard time getting work in Danish companies, the university decided to collaborate with the other educational institutions in Århus and set up InterResource as a link between the students and Danish business’.
InterResource project manager Jane Meldgaard Johansen is keen to show Danish companies the benefits of taking on an international employee as well as helping international students adapt to the Danish working culture.
“We try to encourage international students to learn to speak Danish, to learn about Danish culture and to write a CV Danish style”, she says.
The career centre at Aarhus School of Business, who owns the project, is connected to approximately thirty companies such as Grundfos and Vestas who export outside the Danish market.
The large companies generally have a global mindset with English as a corporate language, but there are many small and medium sized companies who do business outside of Denmark. These are the companies InterResource is encouraging to employee international students.
Independence is the key
As well as helping connect foreigners with Danish companies, InterResource is helping to educate international students to adapt to the Danish working culture.
Jane explains that Danish companies often want to know if they take on an international student, whether they will be able to work independently.
“In Denmark we have a very open working culture and your boss is not always asking you every minute what you are doing. Sometimes you will need to figure things out for yourself, and so we try to teach this during our courses,” she says.
“Even companies who do business with the rest of the world maintain a Danish working culture.”
Some Danish companies around Århus have agreed that they want a potential international employee to be an independent worker.
Bo Terp is the Corporate Communication Manager for international fashion retailer Bestseller. He believes the flat hierarchy at Bestseller is a Nordic working culture.
“You are supposed to be able to work in groups with your own responsibilities. This is an independent structure and you must be individualistic,” he says.
Recent Bestseller recruit Liz Jones, is from the USA. She has recently landed a new job as a buying planner. Liz explains the working culture in Denmark is very different to what she was used to in America.
“There is definitely a flat hierarchy, the door to the boss is open at any time,” she says.
International students can add culture
Although the Danish working style can be challenging for international students such as Liz, it can be a good thing to be different, as many employers mentioned they were looking to recruit more foreign workers to diversify the company culture.
Liz says after she was hired by Bestseller, she was told the company was looking to employ different nationalities.
Morten Rørbæk Brøndum is the public relations manager for Systematic, an information management company based here in Århus. He says they would look at giving jobs to international students with the right competencies.
“International workers add something to our culture,” he explains. “We have a lot of interns right now from foreign countries, we have people from Portugal, Spain and Lithuania working for us, and of course we would like to employ them in the future.”
“We have customers in thirty four countries around the world and we think that employing someone with another background than Danish will be able to add a new perspective to our company.”
It still won’t be easy
This means good news for international students looking for work in Denmark. Although a job still won’t be easy to come by in Århus.
Liz Jones says she was looking for a job whilst she was writing her masters thesis.
“I was looking for five or six months,” she says. “You are really limited because you have to look for companies who are willing to speak English.”
“I’m not going to lie; it was difficult to get this job.”
Jane Meldgaard Johansen is a firm believer that getting a job will be tough and require a lot of effort – but it won’t be impossible.
“Our key phrases are ‘be proactive’ and ‘you need to work for this’,” she says.
“Many students expect finding a job in Denmark is going to be easy, but I know it is hard work, it’s not just a walk in the park.”
So if you’re an international student at AU and you want to find a job in Denmark after you graduate, there are a couple of critical things to know. Firstly, there are jobs out there for you. Many Danish companies are looking to diversify their workforce and they want international students.
Secondly, there are people out there to help you find your job. InterResource serves as a link between international students and Danish business; they know how to connect you to Danish companies.
Thirdly, get used to being an independent worker, the bosses want you to think for yourself and take on your own responsibility.
The last thing to know is- work for it! A job isn’t going to appear in front of you, go and find it for yourself. Be proactive and get out there. There are opportunities for international students in Denmark.