A career translation guide for the Netherlands
2023/11/29 | By Colleen Reichrath-Smith | Photo by Daria Nepriakhina
You are keen to find what’s next for your career in the Netherlands. Maybe you feel like an intrepid pioneer, open to the full adventure. Or maybe it all feels overwhelming. Now that it’s time to get started, you may be wondering how to take that all-important first step.
Perhaps, like many of us who have gone before you, your first efforts haven’t produced the quick results you had hoped for. That’s when your confidence can deflate and you may question what work there is for you here and how you can find it.
This was also my experience after arriving in the Netherlands in 2005. Even with experience in supporting people to do this in Canada, I remember the insecurity of not knowing how it would turn out. While current Dutch labour market shortages are in your favour, to find your next opportunity in the Netherlands you need to translate your skills and experience for employers and adapt your job search approach.
Here is your translation guide to help you navigate the process.
Know what you have done
This is not as simple as providing a list of positions, job duties, and employers. You will need to communicate your work and life experience in terms of skills and results achieved as well as translating it into what is most relevant and of interest to the person you are speaking to, the position you are applying for and, ultimately, in tune with the Dutch labour market.
Increasing your awareness of the differences between your previous jobs and how they are organised in the Netherlands is essential. Understanding the challenges that labour and business markets are facing here can be best identified by reading the local news, meeting with recruiters and employment agencies, and talking to people working in jobs and industries that are most appealing to you.
As you evolve into your life in the Netherlands, your identity will start to shift while integrating your new experiences. Having a record of what you have accomplished is very useful to maintaining the connection with your professional self and translating your experience. My record kept me motivated to take another step and find work again in my field.
Understanding the golden thread of your career story can help you to author it going forwards. Make sure you have created or updated your LinkedIn profile and are using it to share the thread of your story with a forward focus. LinkedIn can do some of the work for you by helping build your network here and help recruiters and employment agencies find you. (See Petra Fisher’s article in this issue on how to best use LinkedIn to attract recruiters, your ideal employer, and clients).
Know who you are
An awareness of your cultural background and how it connects with Dutch culture can support you in networking and searching for work effectively as well as connecting well with Dutch employers and colleagues. For example, in the Netherlands you will want to be on time, prepared to share your well-formed opinion in structured meetings, and follow through on what you say you will do. And on the subject of saying and doing, it’s important to create and communicate a professional identity. Public speaking coach Michelle French suggests you “identify your unique strengths, qualities and accomplishments and evaluate how they stand against your values”. Introducing and describing yourself in these terms will serve you well in your transition to the Netherlands as well as in your job search.
Know what you want to do
Do not feel that you need to accept the first job you are offered because you don’t speak the language (yet) or your qualifications aren’t recognised here. Approaching your work search with a focus on the future you want for yourself, clarifying the difference and contribution you want to make through your work, and using an abundance perspective can help you open up options. Understanding where you want to take your career will support you in navigating towards your next opportunity and the one that follows, or even one you make yourself.
Invest in exploring what’s possible and available in the Netherlands and translate what that means for you. To overcome a lack of familiarity with the Netherlands, describe the key skills you want to use instead of, or in addition to, providing a specific job title. For example, instead of saying “I’m a teacher” you can say “I want to use my communication, group development, project planning and training skills in my next job”. Combine this with a level of flexibility and openness to help you discover opportunity where you may not previously have recognised it.
Know how you want to do it
A full-time job is just one of your options. The Netherlands has a relatively high number of part-time opportunities and often you can negotiate the hours you want to work. The Dutch labour market has laws to increase job security for employees. When you are first entering the Dutch labour market there is more opportunity available for shorter term contracts which, when navigated well, can lead you towards a long-term contract.
Working for yourself is a great option for those new to the Netherlands and those wanting a portable career. The Netherlands in Numbers 2021 found at that time two thirds of Dutch companies were sole proprietorships or zzp’ers (zelfstandig zonder personeel). To explore this for yourself, check the Dutch government’s business website to make sure you have covered all the essentials before you start. Of course the ACCESS website has additional information and tips to help you get up and running.
Another route to find your way into the Dutch labour market, to develop your skills, and to experience and use them in a meaningful way is through volunteer work. Volunteering is usually formally structured in the Netherlands; through networking you may be able to create your own opportunity. It worked for me! You can find volunteer positions through ACCESS and your local municipality.
Know what you know
You are probably undervaluing many of your informal learning experiences when presenting your skills and experience. For example, you may have had an experience, like resolving a conflict with a colleague, in which you developed a communication skill that has helped you in your following work roles. Bringing back a conscious awareness of this skill as well as reflecting on the story you tell yourself about it will help you translate and communicate its value for your next employer in the Netherlands.
Your foreign diploma or degree may or may not be seen as an equivalent to its Dutch version. Depending on your field of work, it can be useful to have your degree evaluated and validated. This will enable you to translate what it means for Dutch employers. If your formal training or education is not offered in the Netherlands, it could become your competitive edge, though communicating its value will require additional translation.
Know what you can do
How much of what you can do are you also taking for granted? Having reached a level of ability where you use many skills without any conscious effort, for your job search you will need to bring them back to your awareness, know how you use them and communicate this well. In a country that prefers certified qualifications and degrees, having concise story examples will help potential employers (and the people you meet) understand what you can do. Maintain a personal archive with these stories and additional evidence—like a list of event speakers including you—that supports them.
Your ability to communicate is another important skill and this brings up the issue of not speaking Dutch fluently. To address this, enrol in a language course and put that on your CV, which may help it to get past ATS keyword filters. In-person language classes have the added advantage of helping you meet new people.
Sources and resources
People are your best resource. Invest time and energy in meeting people and networking as a top priority in your job search through: participating in a professional association, attending a conference or professional event, joining a club to find people with similar interests and talking to new people (even if you don’t yet speak Dutch!). To avoid sharing your entire career story and hoping they can help you connect the dots going forward, craft a short professional introduction of yourself that highlights your career purpose, the key skills you want to use, where and with who you want to use them. For example, one of mine is, “I believe that people don’t need to get stuck in their careers even when crossing borders. That’s why I teach internationals in the Netherlands the skills of navigating their careers in new directions.”
Google Job Search is a very time-efficient source. When you click on the blue header in your search results you can adjust the filters. Job platforms like Indeed, local recruitment agency postings, individual company sites, and LinkedIn are all included in your results. Create a work search strategy that makes use of both online and in person resources.
Take action and maintain the golden thread of your career
There is always one small step you can take regardless of the hurdles between you and your next job in the Netherlands. It could be researching information online, asking your network for an introduction to a contact in the country, exploring another part of your neighbourhood or community, joining a professional or networking organisation, registering for a course or checking into your volunteer options. Even talking to neighbours is a step. Keep track of each step, record new ideas and follow up on them. Over time, they will all start to work together and each one will help you stay motivated and in motion, provide what you need to translate and transition your experience and move towards the job and career future you want.
The ACCESS Trainers Network has experienced career coaches to support you in refining your networking statement, work search tools and skills and translate your skills and experience for a successful job search in the Netherlands. There is extensive information available on the ACCESS website and via the ACCESS helpdesk as well.
About the author
Colleen Reichrath-Smith is a graduate of the University of Alberta (Canada) and as a career consultant has been supporting successful career transitions since 1998. Colleen is co-author of A Career in Your Suitcase, and certified as a Holistic Narrative Career Professional. She designs and delivers workshops alongside coaching individual career transitions. Her latest professional adventure is providing career coaching hikes in the Dutch hills near Maastricht. Colleen has been an ACCESS Training Network Partner since 2016.