Do not despair. You can score your dream job, even if you speak Danish with an accent!
But there are still some things you need to be aware of, if you want to maximize your chances of landing the job. Read what linguist Marta Kirilova has discovered about job interviews with Danish as a second language.
Analyze of piles of interviews
The linguist Marta Kirilova has analyzed piles of interviews, and she knows what happens when new Danes go to job interviews. Many fear being rejected because of their peculiar pronunciation or their foreign accent. But that will not necessarily be the case.
It is, however, a good idea to practice some useful language ‘chunks’ and maybe even prepare for some personal questions in a professional context. But above all: Be particularly well prepared. If you hesitate and seem to search for the words, it can cost you an otherwise interesting job offer. Marta will get into why and how below.
If the foreign accent is not the problem, then what is?
Marta Kirilova: “I began my research by looking at the linguistic aspects. But then I found that the accent and pronunciation are not the decisive factors. If you speak quickly and can make yourself understood, the pronunciation is less important.
So it is not so much about speaking ‘perfectly’, but about ‘acting smoothly’. It is about the way you conduct yourself. An accent is not in itself an obstacle. It is a far greater problem, if you hesitate or have to search for words. It is very much about coming across as a credible person.
Applicants who can demonstrate that they are ‘similar’ to the employer, have an advantage: Maybe you love to barbecue or have a son who plays football, or perhaps your are enthusiastic about the same expert within your field. Both the professional and personal aspects are important. Because both research and experience has shown that the employer will offer the job to a person with whom they have ‘chemistry’.”
The job interview: Is the risk of rejection any different when Danish is your second language?
Marta Kirilova: “There is a certain risk, because we humans automatically make a link between language and skills. Unfortunately, if you pause and search for the words, it will signal insecurity.
It can make you appear hesitant, making the interviewer think:
‘You speak in a hesitating way. Perhaps you hesitate in your work too.’
But that is not true. Just because you speak Danish as a second language does not mean that you are incompetent. There is a widespread perception that language and skills go hand in hand. That might be relevant for jobs as a writer or a newscaster, where language in itself represents a set of skills. But it should not be applied in the same way, if you are applying for a job as a doctor or an engineer.”
How can you prepare before the interview?
Marta Kirilova: “A slightly odd thing I’ve discovered is that you cannot avoid talking about leisure activities and your personal life. Many job seekers with Danish as a second language are surprised that they are asked about their leisure activities in a job interview. They try to avoid talking about things like that.
But in Denmark, it is important to appear as what we call ‘a whole person’. That probably takes a bit of getting used to. Something you can do yourself is to practice talking about those kinds of topics, even though you may perhaps feel that it really has nothing to do with the work. Because it is in those situations you may be lucky enough to create a bond.
“Ah, you have a son who plays handball?” That sort of thing. This is exactly the kind of thing that can make a surprisingly big difference, in a positive way.”
What is worth knowing about ‘cultural fluency’?
Marta Kirilova: “‘Cultural fluency’ is a way of showing the employer that you ‘belong’ in the cultural community. But it is something created jointly during the conversation.
An employer can also exclude the candidate from the community – for example by being prejudiced. But that said, there is much to suggest that the applicants who are eventually offered a job, mastered a style or a tone very close to something that Danes can recognize and feel comfortable with: In other words, a form of ‘cultural fluency’, where you signal that you are en equal. You are dynamic, creative, reflective – maybe even a bit ironic.
If you can laugh a little in the conversation and show that you are a versatile individual, it is a definite advantage. As soon as you exhibit servility, it backfires, because the employer automatically thinks: ‘She is from a culture where people are very submissive. I don’t think she will be able to perform here.’
A kind of cultural similarity is required which, unfortunately, seems to indicate a desire for assimilation into the Danish culture. One of the problems of talking about ‘cultural fluency’ is that it places all the responsibility on the applicants. We must remember that employers also have a social responsibility for making integration succeed.”
What’s new in research about job interviews with Danish as a second language?
Marta Kirilova: “I have recently discovered some linguistic patterns and shortcuts to coping well in job interviews. It has surfaced that applicants who are just starting their Danish lessons can well match more experienced learners.
Especially if they are good at producing what we call ‘chunks’ and placing them in the right places. Many ‘chunks’ have no real significance, but they are great for creating a connection between conversation partners.
Examples of such ‘chunks’ can be:
- Det er rigtig svært
- Helt sikkert
- Ja, præcis
- Den er god
- Nåh – dejligt!
- Det er spændende
- Traditioner – det er dejligt
- Det er helt i orden
But it’s not just about being positive. It is also fine to make negative statements, as long as you do it in a relaxed and natural manner in the form of ‘chunks’ placed in the right places in the conversation:
- Helt vildt forfærdeligt
- Vildt irriterende hele tiden
Meet one of our students – one of the best things was speaking Danish at a job interview.