How much is that Danish professor in the window?
2013-05-29 14:17:35Source:THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.Author:
Steen Mengel was walking down a busy street a few weeks ago when he stumbled onto a sign reading 'an available academic is sitting here.' An arrow pointed to people sitting in the window of a storefront.
The 47-year-old real-estate developer didn't have a job to offer anybody, but he was intrigued. 'The idea, though, I like,' he said, as he stood a few feet from the big picture windows framing the scene. 'It catches people's attention.'
Catching people's attention is exactly what more than a dozen job hopefuls in Denmark's capital are looking to do, even though they seem to be ripping a page from Amsterdam's famous red-light district to achieve their goal. After pounding the pavement for two years in some cases, highly trained professionals -- ranging from lawyers to former CEOs to tax experts -- are standing in line to get a seat in the 'exhibit.'
'I'm willing to try anything,' said Hannibal Camel Holt, an unemployed political scientist, as he took his place in the window one afternoon. Armed with a laptop computer and wearing a dark blue button-down shirt, Mr. Holt has been 'kicking doors in and chasing leads,' as he puts it, on and off for four years, striking out despite qualifications that include speaking six languages. For him, sitting-in represented a necessary, albeit awkward step.
'I feel like a monkey . . . in a cage as people walk by and just stare at me,' the former tax ministry employee said as he sat behind a desk and occasionally glanced at passersby. After he had recently missed out on a job that had attracted 265 applicants, he realized that 'there comes a point when your CV is, like, dead.' A resume, in other words, doesn't necessarily do the trick.
Before resorting to sitting in the window, Mr. Holt had worked with the program's organizers to compose a video and create a Facebook profile that pedestrians could access by using a smartphone to zap a Quick Response bar code displayed on a banner next to the job seeker.
Mr. Holt was slated for several shifts in coming weeks sitting in the window, joining 14 others planning to do the same between late April and early May. To pass the time, he planned to hunt for jobs online, update his curriculum vitae and freshen up his social profile.
Denmark has been insulated from Europe's deepest economic problems because of its low public debt, but municipal finances are tight and wages have been under extreme pressure in recent years amid concerns about exports and low productivity. Unemployment remains relatively low, but for higher-rank employees it is a tough slog.
DJOEF, the professional trade union behind the windows gambit, estimates that 41% of Danes with new master's degrees are still searching for work one year after graduating. The organization thinks the root of the problem lies in a surplus of white-collar talent and a reluctance among small companies to hire in-house lawyers and other professionals. So the union is encouraging job seekers to take the initiative more aggressively.
Alexander Peitersen, managing director of Reputation, was one of the architects of the program and offered his agency's windows as the display case for the unemployed. He has used the windows for a variety of campaigns -- including a 12-hour karaoke competition two years ago staged to launch a new Microsoft Corp. Xbox product. He figured the venue would work well for a job hunter's 'exhibition' since there are many business professionals nearby.
'Companies can get 50 applications every week and all of them start to look the same,' Mr. Peitersen said, while sitting in an office not far from the job seekers sitting in windows.
Mr. Peitersen, running an office with 36 creative staffers, said he has learned to appreciate go-getters, especially in a place like Denmark, where a social safety net and generous unemployment benefits shield many young people from the harsh realities of business.
'I was sitting at my desk one day and my phone rang,' Mr. Peitersen recalls. 'Some guy on the other line said, 'Hey, I'm at the Barresso [coffee bar] and I'm ordering coffee now, what's your favorite?' ' Mr. Peitersen took the bait, ordering a double latte and eventually taking on the caller as an unpaid intern.
The windows stunt appears to be working. Organizers have extended a two-week run to accommodate demand from job seekers.
Lene Damgaard Jorgensen and Christel Werenskiold were the first two people to take seats in the program on April 25. As she prepared to take part, Ms. Jorgensen, a former economist seeking work in 'change management,' fielded questions about the obvious connection to Amsterdam's red-light district, where prostitutes sit in windows and are ogled by passersby.
'They asked me 'what are you going to wear?' ' Ms. Jorgensen said, who was wearing a floral skirt, a black shirt and a jean jacket with a pink scarf wrapped around her neck. 'I honestly didn't think anything of it.'
She got a job in a week.
Ms. Werenskiold, a former CEO in a school district who has a master's degree in public administration, was laid off in 2011 after spending two decades in the workforce without ever having a problem finding work. But out of a job in a tough economy, she got on a plane to Honduras for 10 months on a religious mission. 'I came back to a crisis and it seems to have gotten a lot worse,' she said.
With hard times in mind, she put a dancing shoe in the window along with a CD of gospel music for good luck and to tell onlookers something about herself.
Within one week, she had been approached by seven headhunters and her LinkedIn profile had attracted 539 hits, quadrupling the traffic she experienced the week before the campaign. Her Facebook page was littered with comments like 'well done,' 'good luck,' 'great initiative' and 'I wish my union had the same kind of creativity.'