Know your skills

Your job search is most likely to pay off if you know what you can offer. Your professional and personal competencies are what will get you through the door to an employer. Know your key competencies and learn how to communicate them.

Before you start your job search, think about your competencies and how you use them. You can’t get away with just saying you are analytical, for example. Showing how you can use your competencies will make a much bigger impact. Give examples. Describe situations in which being analytical helped you in previous jobs, during your studies or even during a leisure activity if it is relevant. Have a clear idea of what your key competencies are before you start looking for a job. Once you’ve become aware of your competencies, it will be easier for you to actively write yourself into the position you’re applying for. 

Analyse the job ad

You need to show an employer exactly how you can contribute in the job you are applying for. Before you start to modify your CV or write a cover letter, you need to identify exactly what competencies you have that the employer is looking for. Start by reading the job ad closely and comparing what the employer is looking for with what you can offer. Knowing what your competencies are will make it easier for you to find openings that are relevant for you. If you don’t know what your competencies are, you can start here.

Make a list of the responsibilities the job you would like to apply for entails. Once you’ve done that, compare them with your experiences and competencies. How well do they match up?

Take time to read job ad closely. Just what kind of person is the employer looking for? Think carefully over whether that person is you. Ask yourself the following:

  • What responsibilities does the job entail?
  • How would I go about doing the job?
  • Which of my personal and professional competences or experiences would help me in the job?

If the job ad isn’t detailed enough for you to make a thorough assessment, check on LinkedIn to see what the requirements for similar positions are. A good place to start is by looking at profiles of people who work for the company or for its competitors.

The ideal employee

A job ad will typically offer a description of the employer’s ideal future employee, both in terms of professional competencies and personal attributes. Keep in mind that employers don’t expect you to meet all of their expectations. Only the rarest of candidates can tick all of the boxes in a job ad; the person who winds up getting hired will likely be the person who has clearly demonstrated how the competencies they possess match the employer’s needs.

Take this example of a job ad:

In order to succeed in the job, we expect that you:

  • have a relevant degree, preferably at the master’s level
  • are commercially oriented and possess relevant experience from a similar industry
  • can work as part of a team, taking the lead if necessary; are committed to successfully completing projects on time
  • are a born networker who is capable of quickly establishing working relationships with our external partners
  • possess strong analytical skills and can identify, interpret and present relevant data orally and in writing
  • can work independently, take initiative and follow projects to completion

After you read the posting, determine what questions you need to answer. So, in this case, the employer wants to know:

  • Are you commercially minded?
  • Do you have experience working on projects?
  • Are you analytical?

When you answer, make sure you show:

  • that you actually possess the competencies you say you have
  • how you gained those competencies

Your success stories are your competencies

One way to show what you can do is by detailing your past successes.

Start by thinking of a problem or a situation you’ve experienced at work, while volunteering or taking part in a similar activity.

  • What did you do solve the problem? What was your role? Be specific.
  • What was the outcome? Again, be specific. We already know it was a success, otherwise you wouldn’t be using it as an example.
  • What does the example say about you? A good thing to do here is to ask someone else for their opinion. 

Give examples. Always. If you tell a prospective employer you have a competency, make sure you can cite an example of how you put it to use.

If you need help telling your personal success story, try the STARK model.

  • Situation: I used to work as a project manager for a big international company, that only had a single supplier for a particular item. We needed to deliver a big order to one of our clients, but the supplier was going to have trouble getting us the item because they were restructuring at the time.
  • Task: My responsibility as project manager was to sort things out with the supplier so that we would be able to deliver to our client on time – while at the same time making sure we remained on a good footing with our supplier.
  • Action: I made a quick decision and called the supplier in for a meeting to discuss the situation and find out what we could do about it. The idea was to clarify our relationship going forward.
  • Result: We came away with an improved relationship and communication channel with the supplier, and we were able to deliver the order on time.
  • Knowledge: The example shows that I can think on my feet, look for solutions and work with others to put the solutions into effect.

What competencies are in demand right now?

The best way to get an idea of what competencies are in demand in the Danish labour market right now is to look through job ads.

The postings can give you an idea of what competencies your prior work experience and your studies give you. It also makes it easier for you to tailor your CV and cover letter when you find a job you are keen on. Keep in mind that even if you are applying unsolicited, employers will still be interested in a lot of the same competencies you find in job ads.

Tip: Set up a job agent for all of the main job boards. Look over the postings to get an idea of what competencies are in demand in the Danish labour market. Reviewing the postings will also be a useful way for you to decide what sort of job you would like to do.

Recent graduates

If you are a recent graduate, you should start by looking at the skills you picked up during your studies, or through any internships, volunteer work or any relevant jobs you had as a student. You can use the following:

  • Your degree (If you didn’t go to a Danish school, you’re probably going to need to go into some detail about what your degree entails.)
  • Major projects or written assignments you completed
  • Relevant courses, classes, modules or assignments
  • Study-abroad periods
  • Internships
  • Relevant work experience.

It’s important to describe in detail how the skills you list relate to what the employer is looking for. It should be clear what competencies the experience you mention has given you. What was the focus of a given project or written assignment? Is there a common thread running through the things you mention? Explain how you planned out your study-abroad period or what you did to get your internship and what your responsibilities were.

Example from a CV:

  • Bachelor’s in management, master’s in international studies
  • Thesis topic: human rights; experience from multiple projects relating to foreign aid and development
  • Spanish and Portuguese language skills
  • Independently organised research trip to Angola in connection with thesis
  • Graduate programme at UN Headquarters in New York; internship with the United Nations Development Programme (responsibilities included: producing brochures about child labour)
  • Study abroad in Spain; resulted in a better understanding of different societies, a more international outlook and an ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations.

The individual above is applying for jobs with humanitarian organisations, and has sought to tailor their CV by choosing to highlight internationally oriented activities and activities that relate to humanitarian work.

Relevant work experience

More often than not, students have some kind of practical experience that can help them land their first job. You may have experience from volunteering or part-time work. The important thing is that you start out by listing what responsibilities you had or what projects you worked on, the role you played and how this will benefit an employer.

The importance Danish employers place on relevant work experience can come as a surprise for foreign students. Many Danish students work in jobs that relate to their studies in some way so they can improve their chances of getting a job after they graduate. If you studied in a country that doesn’t have a similar focus on work experience, it might be a good idea to explain that to a potential employer. Otherwise, they might assume that it shows a lack of initiative on your part.  Instead display your motivation by mentioning the other activities you participated in. Remember that there are many ways to gain experience: part-time jobs, summer jobs, internships, mentoring, teaching assistant etc.

Consider the following example:

You’ve been working as a bartender at a campus bar for the past three years. Your job was to serve customers, create a pleasant atmosphere, keep the bar stocked, cash up at the end of the night and clean up. At one point, you were the bar’s most experienced employee and were made responsible for training new employees and drawing up the schedule for the other bartenders.

What did being a bartender teach you? What competencies will you be able to take to another job?

If you still need help, try answering these questions:

  • What would your classmates say are your three best qualities?
  • What would a former boss or supervisor say are your three best qualities? Your three worst?
  • What competencies do you tend to overlook when you introduce yourself to others?
  • What types of assignments do you find interesting? Did you have to work with others? What was your role? What went particularly well?
  • What do you not want to do in your next job?

Recent graduates can benefit as much from using success stories as anyone else.