It’s early February. A white blanket of snow has fallen over the Netherlands. This is the perfect time to talk over a cup of tea with the first person to be in the spotlight in our new section “Meet The Dino”: Danique van Koppenhagen! We’re talking about her personal (debating) history but also on how debating can be framed in job interviews and applied in the workplace. Read on to find out more!
Profile Danique van Koppenhagen
Alma mater: Utrecht University (LLM European Law and MSc Economics)
Current position: Teamlead Detecting Financial Crime – Specials at ABN AMRO Bank N.V.
Debate achievements (among others): Two-time Dutch national champion, Best ESL speaker EUDC 2012, 3rd best ESL speaker WUDC 2012, DCA WUDC 2015
Hi Danique! Good to see you again. How are you?
Good! I am now tidying up and furnishing my new home and take the time to walk through the snow in between.
How did you come into contact with debating?
In the first year of my studies at University College Utrecht (UCU), I lived on campus in a student flat. A third-year student who lived there was a debater. He told me: “you have a sharp tongue”. It also helped that the university would pay for your trip to Cambridge if you were good enough.
What were the highlights of your debating career?
Phew, a lot! I have many fond memories from every country where I have been with Tomas (Beerthuis), my regular debating partner, to big things we did, for example at WUDC 2012. I am most proud of how debating has helped me to get to know and analyze myself better: why do I react the way I react? It’s less about the titles for me; that’s cool too but, personally, I care more about the opportunity to look at the world and yourself with an open mind within a new framework.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from debating?
When I started debating I was 17 and just living on my own. I was suddenly thrown into such a debating match. In the first year, I went to Oxford. There, we were completely trashed and I just thought that I wanted to be able to do that too. For me, it was an eye-opener about how you can look at the world differently.
You say that you work as a team lead at Detecting Financial Crime at ABN AMRO. How has debating helped you in these roles? Do you apply the lesson you mentioned above to work?
When I read documents or prepare for meetings, I can express myself clearly. Articulating yourself clearly under pressure, especially in difficult situations where I have to help my team, is a very useful skill. I also use elements that you learn through debating, such as stakeholder analysis, in my team. I keep going through the same tune in my head to see where the impacts lie and how we should think about systems. It is truly a unique way of thinking in the workplace.
Do you ever miss debating? That you want to do the National Championships again, perhaps?
We joke about it. In 2016 we competed again and also won the tournament. Debating has now become a closed chapter of my life. I had a lot of fun but I notice that I am older than the average debater. I now read the newspaper to relax, not to determine which cases I can make in the next debate.
What do you do now to fill the gap?
Over the years, work, naturally, becomes a bigger part of your time. So, I look more for relaxation in a different way. I don’t really want to do something that requires a lot of thought. I find the intellectual challenge in my work and the social aspect, apart from corona, never really left. I still see the same friends. When I was sent to London for work last year, I sought out friends whom I met through debating.
Of course, we are all debaters but also just people. What is a lesson you would like to pass on to those reading this article?
Don’t underestimate how well things like organizing a debate tournament on your CV can make a difference to entry-level jobs. For my first interviews after graduation, I got quite a lot of my STAR examples from that, rather than from my side jobs. A debate tournament always creates conflicts and cooperation with people who work or think differently than you. Although they are small groups of people, you certainly have examples of how you work in a team. Especially for starter jobs, they often look for people who can talk about themselves in a team.
I did a traineeship and applied for a job in London. Even then, I was able to give examples from the organization of tournaments, international jobs, and sponsorships. The overall picture then fell in the right direction. That value is worth more than winning a tournament. Within the debating world, it is very cool and exciting (you should certainly be proud of it and put it on your CV) but it is more about the things around it. What do you do when someone suddenly says something very insulting in a debate? Then you are talking about conflict resolution and these are good examples. You find this enough within the debating world. Use those examples to prepare well for your job interviews.
Do you have anything else you would like to share with us?
We’ve talked about a framework of thinking when you read things before. Many people also have difficulties with properly listening. In debates, you have to listen carefully to bring about an effective rebuttal. You also know which questions to ask to dig deeper into the matter. So, if you come out of the debate world and go to work, instead of listening and rebutting, make the healthy switch to listening and asking questions. Look for the underlying assumption or belief. That gives you appreciation as a colleague. You have to look for a compromise or the collective outcome and not show up with “three reasons why you’re wrong”. Mention this in your job interviews and apply it to your daily work!
Mike is an alumnus of the Tilburg Debating Society Cicero and has served as the secretary of the Nederlandse Debatbond (2019-2021). He was vice-chair of Cicero (2015-2016) and in that function oversaw the newly set-up international branch. He also organized the Dutch Debating Winter School, a debating training week that attracted participants of over 20 nationalities.