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Career success story: Maren Willenbuecher

Passionate about ballet dancing, yoga and horse back-riding, which has been her hobby for almost 10 years, Maren is a powerful person with an international mindset. She is in love with online marketing and Asia, and her story shows how much she benefited from all the different cultural experiences she has gained. Originally from Germany, having the curiosity to explore China, she is now enjoying the Danish culture both personally and professionally, and strives to get positive results in every action she initiates. 

Life before Denmark

Maren is 26 years old, originally from Hannover, in the north of Germany and she loves Asia. She considers this is the market of the future and she enjoys discovering new cultures, especially when Asia is so much different than Germany or Europe in general. 

When she finished the high school, she went to China to be a private German teacher in a family for one year while she also took a Chinese language course. Afterwards, she returned to Germany and started her bachelor degree in Business Administration at University of Münster; a city which is very much similar to Aarhus. Eager for more adventures and international experience, she went for the second time in China, to take an internship as part of her bachelor degree: It was for a start-up company that was selling furniture online. The head office was in München, but they also had an office in Shanghai and that’s where I did my internship in online marketing.  

When she decided to pursue her education with a master degree, she chose and applied for Aarhus. She got accepted and this is how she came to Denmark in September 2013, almost one year ago. She is currently studying Marketing at Aarhus University.

Finding that student job

Couple of months later after her arrival in Aarhus, she managed to find a relevant student job. She’s working as a student assistant at Bestseller within the E-commerce department. The brands are like little companies, she describes, because they have their own marketing and E-commerce department. However, the department I am working in, it’s more like business development function - it’s for all brands!

Where did she find the position?

I went to the AU Job bank. I was looking for a job because Denmark is quite expensive and I thought it would also be nice to have some practical experience besides my studies. She says she’s been looking for several times but didn’t really find anything because most of the jobs required Danish language. She started her job search late October-November and she was hired in December. What luck! The reality is that she never gave up.

She found out about AU Job Bank because she liked AU Career Facebook page. She visited InterResource website, went to ComapnyDATING (an event organized by AU Career) and other interesting events from FACCA. In other words, Mares has been a proactive student since the first weeks she arrived in Denmark, taking baby steps in building a path to her career.

Writing the CV according to the Danish standards pays off 

She explains how challenging it was to write her CV and the cover letter so that they fit the Danish requirements: I had only my German CV, so I had to ‘pimp’ it the Danish way. I had a friend who participated in the event CV and Cover Letter organised by InterResource, so she helped me with the application, giving me insights learnt from the event. For the cover letter, I also did some Google research in order to find out what’s important for Danish employers to read in the cover letter. In Denmark, the difference is that you have to write down what you aspire for, what your visions are. 

Maren admits that the most time consuming was writing her CV. She was also helped by Casper, an employee from AU Career, BSSHe was in the buddy programme so when I told him about the job I want to apply for and the fact that I really want to get it, he was very responsive and willing to help me. So she sent him her CV and he gave her some feedback on it. I took a few days to adjust my CV according to the Danish standards.

Sharing experiences from the interview

She got an answer one week later after sending her application and she was invited for an interview in Tranjberg. I had an interview with my current boss and another person from E-commerce department. She was asked questions about her CV and:

  • What she did before she came to Denmark;
  • Why she chose Aarhus;
  • Why she wanted that job;
  • What she did at Otto (read further to find out about her previous experience);
  • What she thinks it could be the biggest challenge for that particular job;
  • How she could help them in the daily business;
  • What she wants to learn.

At the beginning I was pretty nervous, she confesses, because they were dressed like managers, two guys sitting in front of me. Then, I realised it was quite informal. This is what I like about Denmark: the fact that is very informal and they don’t care about hierarchy. So even though someone is your boss, you can still talk to him in a very normal and informal way. That’s how I experienced the interview too. They really made an effort to make me feel as comfortable as possible.

After the interview, she had a test in Excel where they showed her a sheet that was supposed to be arranged in tables. She admits she had some difficulties, but even if they care to have some hard skills (for example, Excel), they also look very much how one can fit into the team and at the personality. Three days after the interview, she received an email with positive news.

Every previous experience counts and adds value

Besides Shanghai, she did another internship between her bachelor studies and master programme. This was in Hamburg, at a company called Otto, a large German retailer that deals with print formats (catalogues) and online (website). She was an intern within Concept Management department: My department was analysing lots of data and therefore developing strategies how to adjust the websites and the catalogues to make them perform better. Otto is quite famous for its printed catalogues but nowadays everything is online, so Maren had her own project: to launch online catalogues. You can visualise them on your Ipad, choose a product you like and then you get transferred to the website where you can buy it. 

She believes the biggest advantage that led to her current position was the internship at Otto because it is a partner of Bestseller. Bestseller sells its products on Otto’s website as well: It was about the combination of my profile: I already knew their biggest online partner, I did online marketing during my first internship and I also speak German. Germany is the biggest market for Bestseller.

Data analysis and E-commerce  

Her tasks at Bestseller include getting the data, putting them into reports and to reporting them to the planner. I am also helping with ad hoc analysis and write now I am developing a tool to analyse return quotes and data. This is quite a challenge for a company: when they send out and sell products and they have returns. I am developing this tool so we can track those data, and see which products have high return rates. Based on that, the managers can take decisions. 

The most important day of her week is Wednesday because that’s the day when the reports about the sales and traffic data are sent out to the brands. From these reports, they can see how well they performed during the week, how much they sold, how many returns they had. I am responsible for collecting all the data and then adjusting the data according to the special Excel sheets we have. Further on, I sent them to the planner, she has the final look and then the reports are sent out.

When asked about the outcome, she recognizes the skills she has gained in working with Excel. She is also working hard to develop the tool for return data: I have meetings with my boss and he tells me what he expects from the tool so I can adjust it. I am collaborating with the developers too, because they have much more experience and they know how to use Excel at an advanced level.

Working in a Danish environment

On Wednesdays I work in Brande; that’s more like a Danish team. I think working with Danes is very nice because it’s very informal. My boss sits next to me at the table when he is there. He has a separate office but he never uses it. He always sits in the large office with us. 

The team from her department in Brande is around 20 people. They work but they also have fun. They have a kicker in the office and sometimes if people need a break, they invite each other and play kicker. They also do activities outside of the working hours: We went to Lego Land together, as a team day and ‘good bye’ event for a colleague who left for maternity leave.

On Fridays, she works at the office in Tranjberg, where there are a lot of internationals, more internationals than Danes; people from all different countries: India, Scotland, Greece, Romania, etc. 

The company's language is English and all the meetings are in English. Most of the times in the office from Tranjberg we speak English because we are more internationals. In Brande, for example, sometimes, they speak Danish. They take good care of the fact that you are not Danish and they speak English, but it might just be easier for them to explain something quickly in Danish. 

She is really fond of working for Bestseller because she is treated as a real colleague. No matter I am only a student employee, I get all the employees’ benefits: I got invited to all the Bestseller’s parties where everything was for free. The CEO of Bestseller, Anders Holch Povlsen, attended the party as well and he was just standing at the entrance, saying Hi to everyone who was entering, talking to employees. I think that’s very nice and down to earth. Even tough you are a student assistant and he is the CEO, you could just go there and talk to him; I felt very equal. She emphasizes on the difference she can notice from Germany, where the CEOs had their own canteen so one could never see them during lunch breaks. 

An important aspect to mention is that Danish culture is relaxed but they still want employees to get their results:It’s not relaxed in the way that you can do whatever you want and have a nice life! On one hand they are relaxed but on the other hand they are organised and they put a focus on achieving the goals! 

Final recommendations for the international students 

When it comes to offer her suggestions, Maren advises you to find your core strengths.

1. Use the fact that you are an international student. One big advantage that you have as an international student is another language and that’s a plus. Also, make use of all your experiences that you already have and look for a job that matches those experiences. The probability to take you and be part of the team is higher.

2. I would also recommend having a look at the companies that are a bit outside Aarhus because some of them might offer to work from home from time to time. I can also do that. If there are days when I can’t go in Brande because of a doctor appointment, I have my laptop and I work from home. Students shouldn’t be afraid to look at companies, which are a bit far from Aarhus!

In the end, she is grateful for her luck and believes in her case it was about the right mixture of looking for jobs and networking.