Cultural diversity on the jobmarket in the Netherlands

Networking is a very effective strategy if you want to find new job opportunities, especially if you want to change direction after your current research project or job. However, this can be hard if you are from abroad and your local network is limited, as is often the case with internationally oriented PhD candidates. Some understanding of traditional vacancy advertising and the Dutch job-application process can be helpful. Read on if the above applies to you!

An increasing number of employers become convinced of the innovative and creative effect of a culturally diverse workforce. Many employers have difficulty finding applicants from a different culture because they often recruit via traditional channels. To get an idea of these channels, buy a saturday edition of a quality national newspaper (e.g. Volkskrant or NRC), and read Intermediair and Volkskrant Banen. Academic positions are advertised at Academic Transfer.

However, the Dutch are also top-internet users, so there are many websites on vacancies and job orientation pro capita. Do not forget the massive use of social media, so search your network for people with a job you like and ask their advice.

Once you find a vacancy to your liking, a letter (by email) with your CV (curriculum vitae, listing your education and work experience and other relevant achievements in max. 2 pages) is usually the way to express your interest in the vacancy. The letter should have no grammar- or spelling errors and should be written specifically for the job and organization you apply for. Include relevant work experience and motivation, but keep it concrete and to the point. “I like new challenges” says nothing about why you apply for this job.

You may next be invited for an interview. This interview will often be with a HR or recruitment specialist who will not become your direct colleague, but who will decide whether you will continue your application procedure further into the organization. Take this interview seriously, but don’t fret if you don’t feel a click with the recruiter. The interview may surprise you because of cultural differences. E.g. the style of Dutch communication is often quite direct. Realize that this is never intended personally, but just a way to find out whether you are up to the job, professionally. This also means it helps you getting the job if you provide all relevant information about your qualities, which may include revealing personal information, e.g. about your family situation or hobbies. Despite this directness and openness, you may on the other hand not get an honest answer regarding the reasons for a rejection.

Job applicants are often asked about their strengths and weaknesses. You can prepare by thinking about your unique mix of personal and cultural characteristics. Being different makes you strong. Identify these strengths and you distinguish yourself positively from other applicants. Don’t be shy about your ambitions or you won’t get what you want, but keep it realistic as well or you won’t be taken seriously.   In the first phase of an interview you may experience being kept at a distance. In Dutch culture respect is something to be earned. If you first get to know someone you will probably be treated neutrally or perhaps even disrespectfully.

If the application procedure includes an assessment, you might ask for value friendly personality and intelligence tests that allow for cultural diversity and focus less on language.

Your chances of success in negotiating salary and employment conditions increase if you take initiative. Investigate the common payment in the field and if you think the offer below average ask for a better offer based on convincing arguments. Payment depends on knowledge and experience, so make clear what you’ve got. However, do not exaggerate and take secondary employment conditions into account.

You got the job? Great! Now concentrate on making it a success. Master the contents of your work and initiate your personal and professional development. After a couple of years you’ll have a good chance at a second step in your career. Courses, coaching, and mentoring can be a great help and certainly do not indicate  ineffectiveness and lack of capability. On the contrary: offering and accepting help enhances your functionality and therefore allows you to grow faster. Show your ambitions to your employer and he will approach you sooner than someone who is unclear about his wishes. You can do this formally or informally: many organizations have networks where you can discuss your wishes and gather support for your ambitions. Do not just work hard, but take time to reflect on the effectivity of your approach and enjoy what you like about your situation.

Let me know if this information has been any help to you in the comments! Of course, you can also contact me if you would like me to help you reflect on your functionality, your approach of your job and the job search process!

[This post is based on Jij bent aan Zet. See also Werf& Internationaal]

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3 antwoorden
  1. Anna
    Anna zegt:

    Interesting and quite helpful thoughts Claartje! It’s always good to be prepared for possible difficulties or simply differences you can encounter when working in an unfamiliar environment. The truth is that the Dutch jobmarket is indeed one of the most open and tolerant ones toward cultural diversity. This does not mean that Dutch people leave their own cultural identity at home in their proffesional life (how could they after all?), so some of the features you mention -like being so direct in their communication- can be misunderstood if you are not prepared for it. Cultural diversity can certainly enrich professional relations in so many ways, but we need also a common code that will enable us to reach an understanding. What I’m saying is that while “being different makes you strong,” in other aspects it can also make you weaker because you find yourself in a different cultural context where you must somehow (re-)define yourself and to some degree to adjuct yourself to this new framework. And all this will be happening probably without the valuable presence and support of the closest people in your life, whom you’ve left behind. In practise, this is usually more complex and psychologically more difficult than it appears. But of course it is also a very challenging stage where you learn a lot about yourself and others. One of the things one can do to make it easier is to get to know basic aspects of the new cultural environment in advance and then to enroll in it dynamically as soon as possible. The more you hesitate to engage yourself in a new culture, the more difficult it becomes to make a start. This is what my own experience in the Netherlands taught me. Fortunatelly, I was lucky enough to make some good friends among my Dutch collegues who really tried to make me feel welcome. I hope they know how much they’ve helped me and how grateful I am for their friendship… 🙂

    • vansijl
      vansijl zegt:

      You are absolutely right, Anna. Thanks for pointing out the more personal, “behind the scenes” aspects of jumping into a different cultural environment. When I wrote “being different makes you stronger” I didn’t mean to imply it’s in any way easy to be different. I think it’s exactly because changing your cultural environment puts you out of your comfort zone that you can learn so much and grow so much. But it is challenging indeed: especially going at it alone, without your closest and dearest supporters present, can make it a rough experience. I know you had a hard time when you first came to the Netherlands, so I really appreciate your input from personal experience.
      One of the things I’d really like to change in academia is that colleagues appreciate each other more as complete persons, i.e. have an eye for e.g personal or psychological difficulties that often remain behind the public scene. I am convinced this would lead to happier researchers as well as more creative research output.


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