You've finally graduated or will be soon and are now faced with the terrifying question: what next? Luckily, here at College Life, we're here to help you on your journey towards finding that perfect entry-level job.
Entry-level Job: What It Is & Isn't
What to expect
Getting an entry-level job can be a nerve-wracking experience. When you're fresh out of university, despite the long list of experience you've acquired, nothing really prepares you for the confusion and disorientation of the working world. Before we break down the application process, here's some basic information about Dutch labor law.
There are two types of contracts available: temporary and indefinite contracts.
Temporary contracts are by definition, temporary. Normally, the contract articulates the fixed start and end date. As a result, temporary contracts don't have a regulated dismissal procedure. Even though they have a fixed end date, early termination is still possible. Just know that after three successive fixed-term contracts with the same employer or over 2 years, a temporary contract automatically becomes a permanent one.
A temporary contract obligatorily states:
- name and residence of your employer and yourself;
- place(s) where the work is carried out;
- your position or the nature of the work;
- time of entry into service;
- duration of the agreement if for a fixed period;
- wage and payment date;
- usual working hours per week or per day;
- trial period where applicable (max. 2 months);
- notice periods
Permanent or indefinite contracts do not have a fixed end date. As Dutch labor law is pretty protective, contract termination requires consent from the court, the employee insurance agency or the employee. TLDR: with an indefinite contract, you can't be fired immediately and can look to cancel an unjustified termination of your contract.
One-month notice period is standard for both types of contracts. In terms of trial period, contracts of less than 6 months have no trial period while contracts from 6 months to two years have a trial period of 1 month. Permanent contracts have a maximum trial period of 2 months.
Another thing to look for is a CAO (collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst) or Collective Labor Agreement. Collective Labor Agreements cover work conditions and benefits and operate on a company or industry level. It's an agreement between trade unions and 1+ employers and tends to be better than the minimum legal requirements.
Like so many others you've decided to throw yourself into the startup ring. Great! We've got a whole article explaining the nitty-gritty details of becoming an entrepreneur in the Netherlands right here.
Dutch labor market
The standard week is 38h with most jobs ranging from 36 to 40h per week. The legal maximum is 45. Weeks tend to be 5 working days with the possibility of 4-day weeks. The Dutch economy is growing and though that is most visible with the creation of more temporary jobs, this growth has affected certain sectors more than others. As of right now, the most dynamic industries are: retail, care and welfare, and dining and hospitality. Most importantly, in terms of sectors with the most jobs available, IT and finance are actively recruiting skilled labor.
What it isn't
Unlike your 3rd or 4th-year internship, an entry-level job is very concrete. Most careers are extremely removed from any sort of theoretical knowledge. Expect practical, tangential applications of the theories and strategies you've learned in class. In the case that you're looking for an entry-level job that isn't at all related to your field of study, focus on transferable skills rather than quantifiable applications of knowledge.
As the Dutch are very egalitarian, be ready for a lot of meetings. Decisions tend to be made after a consensus is reached and everyone has to make some sort of contribution. Don't expect structure: though you may be the newbie, chances are everyone around you will be too over-worked or busy to baby-step everything for you.
Most of the time new recruits learn by doing. Expect a lot of personal research and very few explicit guidelines. Not everything has to be perfect! Don't spend sleepless nights obsessing over a tiny detail, but don't resign yourself to complacency after the first week. In the end, the hardest part is adaptation: finding the best work/life balance that is both healthy and productive.
Eligibility and Requirements
If you're from the EU or EEA, you don't need a work permit or a visa to work in the Netherlands. All you need is a valid passport or ID card from your home country. You are required to have sufficient funds to support yourself during your job search. Though you probably already have, you are required to register at the town hall and have a valid BSN number. Like for an internship, an entry-level job requires Dutch Health insurance.
You can work in the Netherlands if you have a single permit. The single permit is a residency permit that allows you to work. In the case that you are being employed for less than 3 months, your employer will have to apply for a work permit for you. Work permits have a maximum length of one year. In the case that you have had a work permit for 5 consecutive years, without having moved from the Netherlands you become exempt from the work permit requirement. You are also exempt from this requirement if you've been working in another EU country with a residency permit.
Japanese citizens do not need a work permit, only a long-term residency permit. Croatian citizens are required to have a work permit for their first year of employment.
As a recent graduate, you are entitled to the Orientation Year permit, which allows you to stay in the Netherlands and look for work for up to 2 years within 3 years of graduating from a Dutch university. This permit allows you to work without needing either a residency or work permit. When it expires you are required to ask for a regular work permit except if you have been hired as a scientific researcher or 'highly-skilled worker' (EU Blue Card).
Searching for an Entry-level Job
Depending on whether you're an EU citizen or not an EU citizen but a recent graduate or a whole other host of factors, the job application process begins way before you've even written your resume. The key to navigating the murky waters of employment and entry-level job hunting is keeping deadlines in mind and due dates on check. Create an excel spreadsheet tracking the responses you’ve gotten back and what stage you're at in the application process. Set reminders on your phone for important events and due dates…Don't miss the deadlines for applying for a work permit! Make sure all your legal documents aren't set to expire soon. If you've got foreign diplomas make sure to get them recognized. Organize your entry-level job application process so that it runs smoothly down the line.
Focus on yourself
One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself is why? Why do you want to work here in the Netherlands and do you have a specific environment you want to work in? At some point, we all imagine working for Google, the UN or Vogue. While having goals is great, realistic expectations are even better. Anchor your entry-level job search in realism, look for opportunities that speak to both who you are now and who you hope to become. Don't set the bar too high for yourself, especially if this is your first professional experience. The labor market is extremely competitive and any form of experience is valuable in the right hands.
This doesn't mean you should expect nothing either. The secret to finding your golden mean is applying to the entry-level job in the domains you want, the ones you are qualified for and then some. Extend your search to fields that are tangentially related to your degree.
Where to look
Government and European Agencies
The first place to look is at the UWV WERKbedrijf or UWV for short. The UWV is a government employment service with both a website and agencies that you can visit. You can search vacancies by postal code on their website. You can also publish your CV on their website as well as registering as a job seeker in the Netherlands. Though this registration isn’t at all mandatory, it does slightly increase your chances. As it is a government agency, most of the content is in Dutch.
If you’re from a country that is an EU or EEA member, check out EURES. EURES or EURopean Employment Services is a European initiative that aims to promote mobility within the EEA. It’s a job portal network that allows you to search for vacancies as well as read about the working conditions and requirements. A collaborative effort between, UWV, Dutch employment agencies, unions, and employers, it’s a great platform to search for opportunities and post your CV.
As a recent graduate, your university should have resources to help you spruce up your CV or give you tips to ace your interview. College Life also partners with universities here in the Netherlands! Career centers and universities often have a list of companies that they partner which have entry-level job offers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for more information!
Joining your university’s alumni network is a sure way to get connections to a specific industry and build a network. If there’s a mentor program, you should join that too. Take any opportunity you can to connect and exchange with alumni who are willing to help. Your university’s alumni network probably hosts workshops and events where you can brush up on your networking skills as well as gain priceless skills. The secret is to transform information into a viable employment opportunity.
Job boards are the best and most accessible resource for finding an entry-level job. College Life is the only job board that caters specifically to international students! The most common Dutch websites are Monsterboard.nl, Werk.nl, Nationale Vacaturebank, Jobtrack, Vacaturekrant. Even if you don’t speak Dutch there is still an off chance that offers in English are posted on these websites. Websites that cater to internationals in the Netherlands such as Iamexpat and Expatica are a great time-saving resource to find offers that embrace the language barrier. Indeed, LinkedIn and Glassdoor are internationally known for their extensive catalog of entry-level job offers.
Pro tip: Glassdoor offers reviews and rating by former employees. Be sure to check these out as they can provide a good overview of that company’s culture.
Career fairs are the most direct way to gain insight into the opportunities that are available to you. You can interact directly with the companies you’re interested in and get a feel for the environment in a non-interview setting. Don’t forget to bring copies of your resume, prepare a list of questions and leave with the representative’s business card. Like all networking events, career fairs are about finding ins to companies and corporations you’re interested in. This is the perfect opportunity to brush up on your interview skills and make a lasting impression. Popular job fairs catered towards internationals are Expatica Job fairs, Iamexpat and the Bilingual People International Language Recruitment Fair.
The Application Process
Create an online presence
LinkedIn is the top networking tool for professionals and has become as important as the CV or cover letter in most companies’ recruitment process. As a soon to be professional, you should already have one. Use LinkedIn to showcase your work experience, skills and generally paint a more complete portrait of who you are as a professional. Fill in information that you can’t necessarily put on your resume like your interests. Don’t hesitate to use LinkedIn to build and articulate your network. Join groups, participate in discussions, share articles! LinkedIn is a platform you can actively use to shape the way you're perceived. Have a knack for writing, drawing or coding? Create a website where you showcase your projects and present an online portfolio. There's nothing better than a website to truly present your personality and concrete examples of your work.
Clean up your social media
What's the first image that pops up when you google your name? How many photos have you forgotten you were tagged in on Instagram? Your social media presence is now considered an extension of who you are. Go the extra mile and make sure that all unsavory content is private and inaccessible. While social media checks aren't officially a part of the hiring process, don't leave anything that you wouldn't let your mom see public. Look at who you're following. Bonus points if you happen to follow the same type of content as your recruiters.
Cover letter and resume
Chances are, your resume is pretty outdated and isn't a proper reflection of your current skills. As a recent graduate, your education should be at the top... Tailor the structure of your resume to the entry-level job you're applying to. You can divide your experiences into ones that are relevant to the post and additional ones. See if you can't reference the skills listed in the entry-level job description in some way or another. Most websites use application tracking systems. To make sure your CV passes pre-selection, include industry buzzwords and core keywords. Make sure to include relevant information and experiences no matter how unflattering they seem. If you focus on transferable skills, you can transform even the most menial student jobs into valuable experiences.
How to design your cover letter
Even though less than 50% of hiring managers take a look at it, the cover letter can be an incredibly convincing argument in your favor. Apply the same strategy as the one you use for your resume: be relevant, use industry lingo and tailor it to your audience. A thoughtful and original cover letter can really change the game. Start by researching the company and looking at their social media presence. If you know the audience you're talking to, you'll be able to not only to speak to them but like them. There's no better way to show you're a perfect fit than by nailing the company's tone and voice. Capitalize on your skills and experiences without forgetting to quantify them. By transforming vague statements into data filled claims, you show the impact you’ve had in your previous positions in a more concrete way.
Getting through the Interview
The interview is one of the most important steps in the process. It’s the moment when the hiring manager puts a face and a character to your resume and cover letter. Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as it seems! A good interview can move you from the okay pile to seeming like the perfect fit. Like with your cover letter or resume, try to personalize the process and tailor your answers and behavior to the company as much as possible.
Naturally, the first step is research, research, research! You’ve already stalked their social media and know their website by heart, what else is there left to do? If you’ve mastered the art of networking, find a way to connect with your would be peers to gain more insight into the company environment, its goals and current orientation. Make sure to check their social media and look at the way they present themselves online. Don’t only look at the company you’re applying to but also its direct competitors. Use this information to show that you are in tune with the business environment and know their current focus. Most importantly, align your questions with the people you’re talking to! Prepare general questions for HR and more specific ones for the department/office that is offering your position. Go the extra mile and research your interviewer. By finding genuine common interests and bringing them up during your interview, you'll make it a more natural and free-flowing process.
Questions to expect
Here are some questions you should be ready to hear:
- Tell me about yourself/present yourself
- Tell me about a challenge you've faced
- Why are you the best candidate for this job?
- Why are you applying for this position/what are you looking for?
Practice your interview as much as possible. Ask friends or family for tips and constructive criticism. Don’t memorize anything! You want to come across as confident and friendly, not as some sort of robot. Try to give yourself response ideas and frameworks instead of fully constructed responses.
So you’ve done your research, prepped the interview, know your resume, the job description and their About Us page by heart, now what? Even with that much preparation, some questions can’t be predicted. When faced with a novel question, remember that the interview is just there to associate a person with a candidate, in other words to see the personality behind the CV. With that in mind, try to relate every question back to how you’re a good fit. Highlight your skills and use examples of successful projects that aren’t on your CV. Get inspired by all the research you’ve done and show your enthusiasm for the industry and that particular offer.
Some companies recruit with originality in mind. Their goal is to collect the fastest thinkers and most creative doers and nowhere is this more visible than in the unexpected if not weird questions asked during their interviews. You should be prepared to answer questions like:
-Who’s the smartest person you know and why?
-Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?
-Define hard work
The key here is to put yourself in your interviewer's shoes. What do you think someone at that company is looking for? What type of work ethic and values would they need. Don't be inauthentic but don't just blurt out an answer right away either. Like for regular questions, focus on your skills and how they relate back to the company. Be self-assured without boasting.
Make an impression
No matter how well-prepared you are, nothing is worth a good first impression. First of all, make sure to arrive 15-20 min in advance and determine your travel time beforehand. It never hurts to have an uber ready just in case there's extra traffic. If it’s a video call or phone interview, ensure that everything is working and that you won’t have any technical difficulties. Give yourself time to calm down. Turn your phone off and make sure there won’t be any distractions or interruptions.
Dress yourself according to the company or industry dress code. This information is probably available online and through their website. Generally, startups tend to be casual to business casual, most companies are smart business casual and government institutions, financial corporations and law firms usually require traditional business attire. In general, your best bet is business casual.
Don’t be cocky, be confident. Presenting a fake persona won’t get you the job, but demonstrating your knowledge, passion and skills will. Express yourself clearly and eloquently, make eye contact and don’t seem stressed. Take time to answer the questions you're asked instead of rushing through them. Just remember to be thoughtful, polite and enthusiastic and don’t worry about the rest.
After your interview, don’t forget to send a short thank you email to the person or people who interviewed you. It’s a small courtesy where you can remind them of your interest in the position as well as ending the hiring process on a positive note. You can also send a follow up message on LinkedIn and transform it into a networking opportunity. Don’t let the time it’s taking to hear an answer back discouraged you . Some businesses have a 2-3 step hiring processes. If you don’t get the position, consider it a learning experience! You can only get better at acing applying for jobs over time. See if you can’t use it as a networking opportunity and get insider knowledge about the industry.
Last minute advice
You’ve got an offer, congratulations! Here comes the not so fun part: signing the contract and negotiating your salary. While salary negotiations aren’t required, keep in mind that the pay you settle for will be the one you’re stuck with for the next year or so. The key to a successful salary negotiation is information. If you collect data on the industry and position standard, you’ll have more arguments on your side. Always be polite, if the position doesn’t correspond fully to your interests and the compensation isn’t worth it, turn it down. Don’t turn down jobs you need only the ones you know you don’t want. Who knows, you might get a better offer.
Dutch business culture is very relaxed, though this shouldn't be confused with informality. Decisions are made in meetings and companies tend to be very horizontal. This means that you will be expected to contribute, voice your ideas and be active in the decision making process. The Dutch prefer directness and clarity over wasting time.