Career success story: Adela de Pratto

Originally from Sweden, with a French-Romanian father and a Swedish mother, she grew up in Italy. She moved around many times before coming to Denmark: first to Germany and then she spent some time in London. Meet Adela de Pratto: a young and ambitious person with amazing language skills, who enjoys dancing salsa, is enthusiastic about every aspect of the communications’ field and personal development, and believes in the power of cultural differences.

Why Denmark?

When it comes to Aarhus, she describes it as a big small city: It’s so cosy! I think it’s easier to settle down, create a life and find yourself here, rather than in the bigger cities. Her experience with Denmark started a little bit more than 6 years ago, when she applied for a bachelor in Marketing and Management Communications at Aarhus University. Later on, she continued her education with a master degree in Corporate Communication, focusing on Global Strategic Communication.

But why Denmark? Her parents weren’t living in Italy anymore. They moved back to their home countries and she thought she would build a life in a new country, which turned out to be Denmark. Of course, the possibility of studying in English played an important role in her decision, as well as the fact that she wouldn’t have to pay for her education as a EU citizen. The Danes she had met until then had also given her the impression of being smiling and helpful.

The Success Story

One of her exciting working experience is the 5 months Communications internship at Erhverv Aarhus, the Aarhus Business Network, for the specific project of International Community[1] (where she is also currently taking an extended job training within personnel development and project coordination). During the internship, she covered different tasks and as her confidence grew, so did her responsibility in the tasks: It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have lived in Denmark, due to the team - as well as my own effort in creating a valuable role for me in the team. I am very happy about that!

Regarding her responsibilities, she started with some very specific tasks: sending out the weekly newsletter to all the internationals, and assisting in the International Citizen Service, which plays an important role in settling down in Aarhus, as it gathers the municipality and different authorities including Skat and Work in Denmark. She was part of this team, welcomed internationals and let them know International Community is there to provide the needed support. She also took part in different events, conferences and seminars, directed to companies as well as internationals in and around Aarhus.

One of her main projects was to conduct an analysis: I conducted a stakeholder communication analysis in preparation for the new website, for which I got to lead focus groups with internationals, and interviewed several companies and municipalities. I gathered information and prepared some background knowledge for my team. They are using it strategically right now in the implementation process of the new website. The process behind the project was challenging but very interesting, as it induced me to interact with different types of authorities and entities, and it helped me grow a lot on a professional and personal level.

How did she land this awesome internship?

She saw it on Aarhus University’s job bank and decided to call them: I know one of the best ways to reach out to companies and make sure that they notice you is to pick up the phone and call them directly; it will make you stand out from the crowd!

She asked 2-3 general questions, to gain their interest and show them her interest. She made sure this happened before the CompanyDATING and, instead of sending them her application by email, she brought it to the event so that she could hand it over personally. Shortly after, she wrote to them, thanking them expressing her appreciation of the meeting. She started stalking them on LinkedIn: she checked up all their profiles from time to time, to make sure they wouldn’t forget her. And the magic happened! They called her for an interview: I clicked with the team and I think that is very important in Denmark; the personalities have to match. Danish companies often look for someone who fits the team spirit. In my case, there was only one interview, but with five people from the team.She was asked how she would influence their work environment and how she could contribute to the team. Adela believes it’s really important to show that you can relate to their passion and to what they do.

The corporate language was Danish, but that wasn’t an obstacle for that position. She believes she was lucky to work in a team, where coworkers were patient enough to help her get started with her Danish: They offered a platform for me to start learning Danish. I started from the basics, but they welcomed that; they didn’t expect more. On the one hand I can say I was lucky, but on the other hand, I also think Danes in general are very willing to help. Danish started flowing when I felt confident enough to try.

And then she continues with her strong passion about intercultural awareness: As long as you show a willingness to try, and you enjoy observing cultural differences rather than viewing them as a barrier, the intercultural exchange can become a positive and enriching experience for both you and the company you are working for. 

Revealing her “secret”

She called before actually sending out her application; she exposed herself and asked some open and smart questions.

1. Her first question was to find out the extent to which they were looking for someone who knew Danish. She wanted to make sure language wouldn’t be a barrier at that phase. It wasn’t. Actually, her being international turned out to be an asset.

2. She asked what their expectations were: As a job seeker, you are often rather desperate to find a position, but you never really think about what they might be expecting from you. So I wanted to find out about their expectations towards a future potential employee. They really seemed to appreciate the fact that I was curious about their side of the story.

3. The third question had something to do with the teamwork. She also elaborated on how the power distance would work, the hierarchy in decision-making and the support for an intern.

Other qualifications that helped her getting the position

She has worked as a market researcher and freelance interviewer in several companies in Aarhus and has exploited her languages: I speak Swedish, Italian and English fluently, so I’ve been able to cover different markets. I conducted research, quantitative and qualitative data collection and sometimes analysis. The work experiences have provided her with a big network, enhanced skills in interpersonal communication and customer service knowledge: I did it for many years and sometimes it may have seemed quite monotonous. However, in the long-run, it has built me up as a service-minded person, with a lot of patience towards others’ needs and expression.

Besides this, she took two different internships in Germany: first in a Touristic Centre in the borders of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and secondly for a company dealing with destination marketing and communication.

She also volunteered as a Career Agent for InterResource which helped her a lot: It gave me a lot of knowledge on how to approach the job market and made me feel less lonely as an international student, who faces the challenges of entering the Danish job market. Knowing there are some people out there who truly want to help you, who have the connections and who can support you, really meant a lot to me – I wanted to pay it forward!

More about Danish workplace culture

When asked how she’d define the Danish work culture, she says smiling: It’s a peculiar one! I find it very fascinating. There are a lot of unspoken rules. She also mentions that as an international, it can be very difficult to understand boundaries to certain things: For Danes it’s very important to create an atmosphere of so-called “hygge”. In this mentality, you are to create some sort of caring and familiar bond with your coworkers. Yet, once the working day is over, everyone has his or her private life and hurries home to the close family. So you usually don’t hang out after work. For me, it was quite challenging to find the right balance in this, as it was different from what I was used to and I was scared of invading their privacy.

Another aspect about the Danish workplace culture that she emphasizes on is questions. She underlines how important it is to use them: If you are unsure about how to behave in a specific situation, it’s just a matter of asking and you will get the answers. Your coworkers might not be aware of your differences, so you have to ask to remove your doubts!

Also, she appreciates the freedom and independence an employee can get in Denmark: Interns are considered valuable resources and their input is as welcome as the project managers’, who have been working for more years. You are often given a certain freedom to develop your own projects, so you can feel you can actually build something concrete during your stay at the company. This is very different from Italy, for instance, where you wouldn’t see an intern proposing projects to the head of the company.

What did she gain the most from this experience?

In one word it’s GROWTHshe says. Personal and professional growth, and deep intercultural competence. Now I know I am able to work also in a Danish work environment, and that adds to my confidence. During the internship, I was able to apply what I’ve been studying for years, put into practice and elevate it. On top of that, this specific internship has helped me approach companies unsolicitedly. I am more aware of how to identify their weak areas, where I can come in as a potential strength. I have learnt how to sell myself and use my international character to my advantage, as an asset to present to the companies.

Any piece of advice for the fellow students?

Stay open minded! Don’t be so focused on your specific field! You have special personal strengths as well as professional ones, and language skills. If you learn to present them in the right way, you’d be surprised how many opportunities are out there.

She strongly encourages you: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. That’s the way you grow, that’s the only way you land a job: to be willing to try something that you didn’t think you’d dare to do.

Finally: Start building your network, while you are still studying! Go everywhere, get involved in clubs and associations, volunteer, try to get to know Danes! InterResource helped me a lot with that!