Get Your Biering’s: Networking with Danes
Signe Biering Nielsen
Everyone knows it. Danes live and work in surprisingly tight-knit social and professional bubbles, and that is a challenge for internationals.
Among family friends
Why are Danes like that? Because they grow up and go to kindergarten, school and university in the same place and with the same people, whilst observing long-standing traditions: Christmas lunch, Friday outings, cycling in lycra, football etc.
This group is termed ‘family friends’ and is drawn on for all things, both work-related and personal. Trust is high, and so is unfortunately the division along gender lines – not to mention the barrier to enter for outsiders.
The circle of trust
An interesting thing is that we Danes would never hire anyone from this group – or even recommend them for a job. And we wouldn’t consider giving them, say, a contract to supply furniture for our company.
This would be considered self-serving nepotism. As well as risky – as you could rightly be blamed if the friend turns out to be incompetent. And in public service, you would lose your job and risk prosecution.
But you would always turn to the ‘family friends’ for advice on who to employ or who to buy furniture from. And when starting a new job, you would instantly connect with any colleague who is a friend of a friend. They are certainly trustworthy!
Hiring from within
The effect of this way of building trust is that 70 percent of all jobs in Denmark are never advertised. They are filled with people ‘in the network’. This is – again – not considered to be nepotism as the people chosen for the jobs are (considered) competent.
It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to see that from a diversity perspective this is a bit of a challenge. So, what to do? Well, up to you, quite literally. You have to enter the professional network of Danes by pushing yourself in there. You will seldom get invited.
But if you hang around a lot, people feel comfortable with you – and then they will listen when you tell them what you bring to the table.
Cracking the code
Once you are in, you are in. You may even be invited for Christmas lunch.
So, hang around. The tennis club, football, book club, and on LinkedIn, Insta, TikTok. Show what you have to offer – whether it’s insight, humour or new angles.
Show stamina and ask for advice on who to meet or ask for friendship. Danes may be very reluctant to offer you friendship – but if you ask nicely, they seldom say no!
About Signe Biering Nielsen
After 20 years in the Danish diplomatic service, including stints in India, China and Israel as deputy ambassador, Signe Biering Nielsen is turning her diplomatic binoculars onto the (in her view) intriguing Danes. She is an executive advisor and coach with a focus on internationals in Denmark. See LinkedIn and Instagram for more details.
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