Europe

A Grand New Adventure – Working in Denmark

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Posted on / by Alex Berger
Alex Berger Smiling

July 21st, 2011 found me tearfully saying goodbye to my Parents.  I’d just sent three hulking bags through security and had a knot in my stomach that left me sympathizing with Atlas – at that moment we both felt as though we held the world upon our shoulders.  I was about to launch a grand new adventure, one that had a very unknown ending.  A few long hours later I arrived in Denmark and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I arrived in Denmark I only had one contact through a friend of a friend of a friend. In previous posts I’ve talked about how he saved my butt and deserves no small amount of credit for me making it through those first few months (Thanks Søren!). Those stories and so many more are archived here on VirtualWayfarer. They mark grand adventures, realizations, and a slow series of basic decisions – yes, or no – that led me forward. The conclusion of my Master’s marked the end of one grand chapter, just as it gave birth to what came next: the decision that I wasn’t done with Denmark yet, and that I needed to stay. The last year and a half was another chapter.  One that came with incredible challenges, wonderful growth, and the attainment of a number of life goals. Now, with today’s announcement, that chapter winds to a close and another, equally exciting one begins.
The Beach Visit

The News

What’s the big announcement?  Well, have no fear. I’m not pregnant. Nor did I manage to go diving with great whites and get eaten.  In fact, for this news I’m not even leaving Denmark…or perhaps I should say, that IS the news.

On February 2nd, 2015 I accepted a full-time, open ended, salaried position working at a Copenhagen based company as Product Marketing Manager.  I’ve spent the last month getting to know my colleagues, diving into the depths of the ad tech industry, and integrating into a Danish workplace.  To say I’m loving the fit would be an understatement.  The company I’ve joined is a great example of Danish innovation.  They were founded 12 years ago by a group of Danes who have now grown the company internationally. At last count we had somewhere over 500 employees, though the Danish office I’m joining is much more intimate with about 25 of us, including most of the senior management and founders, based in central Copenhagen.

The company fills a fascinating niche, one which I thought I already knew a lot about but am quickly learning that I knew but a fraction of what there is to learn.  Which, given my addiction to knowledge and information, is perfect.  The niche that the company serves is as technology provider and middleman connecting and facilitating digital marketing inventory purchases. This places the company as a facilitator that connects Advertisers and Agencies on one side with some of the world’s biggest Publishers on the other.  For those a bit more familiar with the industry terminology, the company is a full-stack DSP which is also operating a robust PMP offering.

In my role as Product Marketing Manager I sit at the intersection of these three industry segments and am responsible for learning all aspects of our product, working with our product managers, digesting all the knowledge, wisdom, and product value and then conveying that on our company blog, website, social platforms and in our marketing material. I join one existing Product Marketing Manager and work directly with our CMO in addition to a global team of fantastic marketing, graphics, designers and events folks.

This is an exciting opportunity for continuing my professional career and builds upon a recent three month-fixed term position in employer presence/branding, HR, and recruiting which I concluded for an American Biotech firm’s Danish operations back in December.

Who is it?  For that you’ll have to pull me up on LinkedIn.  I’ll be keeping things on VirtualWayfarer and my travel persona independent from my professional work persona.  The views I express here have and will continue to be mine and mine alone.
Alex in Copenhagen - Headshot

Why Denmark?

What was it about Copenhagen (and Denmark) that was so darn good I was willing to opt out of launching a full-time travel blogging career or re-locating somewhere else in the world? First and foremost it is the city of Copenhagen.  It is, and continues to be, my favorite capital city in the world. It is the perfect combination of capital – with all of the art, industry, culture, vibrant night life and global connectivity that you could want while still being relatively small.  With less than 1.6 million residents in the greater Copenhagen area it is easy to get around, has incredibly friendly locals, a young and hip population with an openness and safety that reminds me of small town America.  The winters are dark and suck…but are still better than winters in most northern cities with the weather being significantly more mild than the American mid-west and northeast. The summers on the other hand are spectacular. The people brighten and blossom in-step with the spring flowers and the number of events and just general outdoor camaraderie and happiness is difficult to describe.

The population of Copenhagen is in general not only ridiculously fit and good looking, they are also highly intelligent and well educated. It is a college town and the center of a majority of the most innovative and exciting things going on in a large chunk of Denmark/Southern Sweden.  At any given point, Copenhagen’s Universities have roughly 100,000 students in attendance.  No small number considering the city’s population floats at around 600,000 in the city core with the remaining million or so residing spread across Copenhagen’s greater urban area.

But, beyond that, it really does come down to the work/life balance. Your federally mandated vacation time in Denmark is 25 days per year. Of which you’re expected to take a majority (if not all) each year. Many Danish employers offer an additional 5 bonus days on top of the 25 bringing the total to 30 days per year.  These 30 days also exclude all federal holidays – and as you can imagine there are more than a couple of these as well.  Healthcare is free, though dental and eye care is not. The quality is also excellent and nothing like the pigswill peddled by right-wing snake-oil salesmen in the US. There are also key protections and requirements for employee work spaces, including access to natural light and a requirement that all desks must be height adjusting/standing work station friendly.

Most Danish workplaces also provide a canteen service.  While some charge for this, within the private sector most limit the price to the cost of the taxes for the meal which equates to roughly $60/month. This gives you access to a lunch that is either catered or taken care of by an in-house canteen.  The quality of the food is excellent, as you’ll find senior management eating the same meal (often alongside) their employees. And when I say excellent, I do mean excellent, I’ve seen everything from pork loins to steak and perfectly cooked salmon. This means you only get a 30 minute lunch break at most companies but the tradeoff is that you’re also picking up a significant financial savings and boost to your salary. Especially when you consider that with Denmark’s tax rate every dollar spent on food post-tax costs you roughly double the point of sale price in “salary” dollars.

Many Danish workplaces also include a mid-afternoon Thursday (or Tuesday) cake and a Friday morning breakfast. I honestly have no clue what the origins are, but it’s a fun tradition and great for bonding with co-workers.

The Danish work-week is 37 hours and many corporate jobs function on a highly flexible work schedule.  This suits the Danes perfectly and, once you adjust to it, is highly addictive. While this also makes it seam like the Danes are “never” working, the reality is that the combination of flexible work schedule, Danish flat-hierarchy, and the Danish work ethic means that the Danes are surprisingly efficient and effective. Where a large portion of your day in most countries closely parallels the old movie Office Space, Danes tend to be get to work, work intently, and then take-off when they’re done. Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions, but it does highlight why the Danes, despite having such a high level of work-life balance, still manage to be extremely effective.

The Danish workplace hierarchy is also extremely flat. The line between managers and employees is much more relaxed which allows for highly effective communication and cuts down on wasted time.  Combine that with the Danish directness, and you’ve got a workplace that can take a little adjusting to but which I really like and believe in.

So, why Denmark?  That, at least, should serve as a brief insight into the logical side of why I chose to stay. For more about the Danish experience, make sure to check out my youtube series about life in Denmark – Denmark 101.

Scotland and Skye

What Does This Mean For VirtualWayfarer?

I founded this blog in 2007 before leaving on my first grand solo trip. A few months later the trip wound to a close and I began a new job as an M&A Analyst.  Since 2007 I’ve been blogging non-stop. Sometimes I release a deluge of content, during other periods things slow significantly.  However, this site has always been a platform for my thoughts, passions, and somewhere to share my creative voice. Over the 3.5 years I worked in my position in M&A you followed my adventures, listened to my advice, and encouraged me to grow my photography, videography and to continue writing.  The same was true when I re-located to Denmark to pursue my Master’s and over the last year and a half as I focused on blogging and building the foundations for my post-Master’s career.

All of which is to say – VirtualWayfarer will still be here. I’ll still be posting to it regularly, and using it as a creative platform to explore my passion for photography, videography, and travel writing. One of the beauties of securing my job here in Denmark is that I’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue traveling and time to nurture my hobbies and passions. I’m also thrilled that my transition into the Danish workforce will bring with it new insights, observations, and personal opportunities for reflection – which I will, of course, share here on VirtualWayfarer.

It does, however, very likely mean that updates will be a bit less common and come in fits and bursts.  So, make sure you’re signed up for RSS or e-mail alerts to get notified when new posts go live! And of course, keep a close eye on my youtube and instagram channels where I’m increasingly posting spur-of-the-moment content from my daily life and travels.

In short – I’m not going anywhere. You can expect the same great content and you can expect you’ll continue reading VirutalWayfarer for a long time yet-to-come. 

Have a question that this doesn’t answer? Shoot me a tweet or leave a comment and i’ll be happy to answer it.
All Abroad - Train Travel

Why Not Make VirtualWayfarer A Career?

As graduation neared back in 2013 I found myself torn.  My initial plan had been to wind down my program and then to either pursue travel blogging as a full-time career or to accept the most interesting job offer that came my way (so long as it came from somewhere I was open to living – which roughly included 1/3 of the globe).  However, by the end of my program it started to become clear – I’d been completely Copenhagen’d. I wasn’t ready to leave and what ensued was a pitched battle with myself and the Danish job-market. It saw me apply for and receive a three-year Danish Green Card, which granted me at least three years to work (or seek work) in Denmark.  Simultaneously, it brought the opportunity to focus on authoring more Denmark-specific content here on VirtualWayfarer while also focusing on improving my photography, expanding my videography, and doing quite a bit more writing.  The result brought with it a lot of fantastic accomplishments and milestones, including my feature in National Geographic Nordics, my immensely popular Nordic Conversations post, syndication of my photography, and some really enjoyable press trips and magazine collaborations.

But, ultimately, the time came to decide between going full time as a travel blogger or returning to the corporate world. I’ll share with you more about the job-seeking experience as a sojourner living in Denmark and also go in-depth about why I chose to return to a 9-5 post degree instead of becoming a full time blogger in a later post.

Thanks for sharing this adventure with me!  You all are amazing!

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

10 Comments

  • Christina
    March 10, 2015

    Hey there!

    I visited Copenhagen for the first time in December, and really enjoyed it. Everyone spoke English, I’m curious – do you speak Dutch? Or is it an English-speaking company?

    Reply
  • Kevin
    March 11, 2015

    congratulations. I’m reading this on a visit to Malmö Sweden which I really like. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 11, 2015

      Thanks Kevin! Enjoy Malmo! Definitely another great town =)

      Reply
  • Evo Terra
    March 11, 2015

    Thanks for sharing your city with us, Alex. Good luck on the next leg of your adventure. I’m sure we’ll see each other again quite soon. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      March 11, 2015

      It was my pleasure! Looking forward to catching up here in person again soon!

      Reply
  • I Decided Against Travel Blogging As A Career – Here’s Why | VirtualWayfarer
  • Adeney
    April 1, 2015

    Hi Alex!
    I stumbled on your first blog post going abroad and couldn’t believe that somebody had lived out almost the exact same plan I have in mind. I spent last semester studying abroad in Lund (and loved it), and I hope to return for a Communications-related Masters program in Scandinavia and find work there. I was wondering if you could offer some advice on the job search process and getting a visa/residence permit? I’m worried that it will be difficult to compete for a job and get sponsorship with only a basic knowledge of Swedish.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 2, 2015

      Hi Adeney, thanks for the comment and congrats on making the decision to go for it! Believe it or not, I’ve never made it over to Lund though I hear amazing things! The visa/residence permit was the easy part. The first one came with my degree program, and then after graduating I applied for the Danish Green Card Scheme. It and the Pay Limit Scheme are very logical and fairly straight forward. The key component for mine was hitting the point requirement and having the money in a bank somewhere. From there it was very straight forward. They’ve re-worked the scheme slightly, but it still is fairly easy to get if you’re highly qualified. The Pay Limit scheme just requires you make more than 31,500 DKK a month (there abouts) as part of your salary which is doable if a little more challenging for a starting communication role. I can’t speak to what things look like for Sweden, though I think their visa requirements may actually be a bit easier.

      Finding a job IS a challenge. Partially because the Scandinavians are very homogeneous and while the language barrier is less of an issue because Nordics all speak such flawless English, it also means that any language advantage as a native English speaker (assuming you are), you may have is significantly reduced. They are also very finicky about how their language is spoken, which means that even if you’re fluent – you’ll find issues finding a communication role in the Nordics as a non-native. I can’t speak to the Swedes but many Danish employers also want to be and want to think of themselves as international work places, but do ultimately have a severe bias against non-Nordics. For cities like Copenhagen there is a huge surplus of communication recent graduates, so previous work experience or something that makes you stand out is essential. As is persistence. It was NOT easy, but I also had additional issues because due to previous work experience I was “over qualified” and “overly creative” for beginning roles but lacked team management experience and specialized seniority for more senior roles. You’re welcome to drop me an e-mail for more specific questions.

      Reply
      • Adeney
        June 6, 2015

        Hi Alex,
        This is coming two months late, but thank you for writing such a thorough response! It was very helpful for me, and you brought up some really good points to consider.

        All the best,
        Adeney

        Reply

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