Foreig­ners must get acquain­ted with Danish job in­ter­views

Foreigners, who have been in Denmark for a short or a long while, face huge challenges when they go for job interviews. Language seems to be the biggest hindrance in their interviews, but a Ph.D. project, which is soon to be publicised, shows that cultural aspects mean even more.

Marta Kirilova has observed 41 job interviews where foreigners who have lived in Denmark for a relatively short while have done their best to get a job. Results show that language is not the biggest hindrance for new immigrants:

“A number of applicants had a rather low level in Danish, and one could be led to believe that language would be a hindrance at the interviews, but it actually was not. However, cultural biases rooted in the employers were”, says Marta Kirilova and adds that as an example, the employers expressed certain concerns questioning if an applicant with a foreign background would fit in at the work place – and if the colleagues would “walk all over them” because they would show greater humility than the Danes.

According to Marta Kirilova, the cultural aspect also plays a part at the interview itself, and she emphasises tact and situational judgement as some of the most important factors.

“Some people are not used to a structure where it is first the employer’s time to speak and then that of the applicant. It is a clear problem when foreigners do not know when it is their “turn” to speak”, says Marta Kirilova and adds that high demands are another serious problem.

Regardless of the job, according to Marta Kirilova, it is expected at Danish job interviews that you can reflect on what you will be doing five years from now, or how previous experience can be used in the job, and that can pose difficulties for foreigners who to begin with are focused on making themselves understood in Danish. Marta Kirilova thinks employers should consider the relevance of these types of questions if they are looking for craftsmen or people for a factory production line.

Hidden hierarchy in Denmark

Marta Kirilova describes the cultural challenges inherent to the Danish hierarchy which can be difficult for a foreigner to interpret.

“Maybe a person has been used to a lot of authority at former work places, and all of a sudden he or she is greeted in a friendly manner by the boss. It does not mean that there is no hierarchy – it is simply hidden. It is a very Scandinavian thing to pretend that there is no hierarchy, but in reality, it is not like that at all. There are certain rules – which can be hard to spot – but which cannot be broken”, she clarifies.

She advices foreigners with no job interview experience to get acquainted with the genre “job interviews in Denmark” so they can learn when it is their time to speak, how to reflect, etc. “At the same time, I will also say that it can be hard to be prepared because you do not want to seem fake or overly rehearsed. Then you will not come off as very believable”, she says and also advices that one should never give too personal accounts of the past.

In Marta Kirilova’s opinion, it will seem unprofessional to Danish employers if you talk too much about what you have done at home or in your home country because the employer will have a hard time relating.

Those who came out successful from the interviews were those with an open and positive attitude – especially when it came to the Danish language where they admitted that they might have some problems language-wise - but tried to talk about them and solve them. As per culture, the most successful candidates were those who the hiring committee thought were closest to the Danish culture and Danish norms at the work place.

She underlines the fact that it is not only the immigrants who will need to adapt at the Danish job interviews.

“There is a clear “us” and “them” during those types of interviews, and it is expected that immigrants should be able to do a lot of things to cope. The analysis, however, shows that both parties need to adapt, and it is very important that the interview is actually a dialogue. All parties involved have an equal responsibility for the interview”, she says.

As mentioned previously, 41 immigrants participated in the study, and they applied for 9 different positions in Copenhagen – both academic and non-academic. Marta Kirilova started gathering her material back in 2009.

You can get advice on how to succeed in Danish job interviews and Danish Companies here: Made to Succeed at Work in Denmark.