You don't know what you don't know April 2015

8 Apr 2015 | Mandie Rose van der Meer

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 By Mandie Rose van der Meer


You don’t know what you don’t know (#YDKWYDK)

An ACCESS column for expats in the early stages of their Dutch journey


If you're new in the Netherlands - however you define 'new' - there are a host of things you have yet to learn or be exposed to. Here are a few tips for you, answers to questions you didn't even know you needed to ask. This month's focus: job recruitment.



An American friend of mine was looking for a new job in Holland at the same time I was. Our experiences revealed our assumptions. Finding a job in the Dutch market does not work as we expected. What we learned is that there are at least three ways that the Dutch egalitarian worldview will affect your recruitment process: 1- what you wear; 2- who you talk to; 3- how you sell yourself.


What you wear

One day my friend – let’s call her Gina – asked me what I wear at interviews. I go for navy blue or grey, nothing too flashy. Gina was given advice back in the States some years ago: wear a black suit with a red dress shirt. It’s powerful and you will stand out as a woman who means business. This tactic is a big NO in the Dutch context. I reminded Gina that the Dutch don’t wear black. And they don’t wear red. And they don’t wear black and red to an interview.


My advice for Gina wasn’t based on my adoration (or lack thereof) for Dutch fashion; rather, that wearing so-called power colours would only hurt her chances for the job. Exhibiting power might be something we needed in competitive New York City or Washington, DC. But here in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and other Dutch cities, standing out too much is known to get one’s head cut off. (Okay, not literally, but there is a Dutch saying to this effect: “Je kop niet boven het maaiveld uitsteken.”)


Remember that equality in social, political and economic spheres is king in the Netherlands. Egalitarianism has deep-seeded routes here. Trying to stand out or be noticed above the rest could backfire. It’s representative of putting yourself above others. A power suit, therefore, could be perceived as over-the-top, arrogant, or even threatening.


Who you talk to

My most recent job interviews at Dutch companies, one small, the other a large corporation, both required group interviews with several employees, from director to office manager. In the end, the decision depended on what the colleagues thought about the candidates. It was not an executive decision from upper management in either case. (Whereas my last job interview in New York City involved exactly the opposite; I didn’t meet my colleagues until my first day at work.)


The director wants to have a good feeling about you, and so do the colleagues. And since equality is valued so strongly in Dutch organisations, it’s likely you will be asked to meet the team so they make a collective decision. This kind of carousel model of interviewing may seem time-consuming or a little intimidating, but try appreciating this process for its fairness and see it as a relief. If you get the job, you already know that you’ll be working with colleagues who value your opinion.


How you sell yourself

The last lesson is the most challenging since it has to do with your demeanour and enthusiasm. What the Dutch company will greatly value are your skills and experience, and your modesty when talking about them. Too much talking can be considered overconfident and egotistical. Too much excitement can be considered false and phoney. My Dutch husband, who’s done his fair share of recruiting, offers this gem: “You feel like you need to sell yourself but an interview is about having a great conversation, as equals.”


Have a great conversation. Ask many questions. Ask about management styles, hours the team puts in, how your work is evaluated and by whom, what lunch time is like. Interviewing with several potential colleagues is an opportunity to tell your own stories, and to hear theirs. You’ll get different perspectives, and you’ll exhibit your enthusiasm intrinsically by asking thoughtful questions. You will have achieved the valued modesty while demonstrating interest.


Simply put, when job hunting in the Netherlands, keep this in mind: Having an equal say in decisions is key to getting along. Respecting others’ equality is key to getting ahead.



For professional tips on career coaching and job hunting in the Dutch context, look to these experienced ACCESS Trainers who know what you don’t know: /about-access/how-we-do-it/access-training-network.aspx


For more stories of expats’ personal experiences with job hunting in the Netherlands, check out chapter 3 of the book “Ready, Steady, Go Dutch,” available for purchase at English bookshops in Holland, or via the website:


Mandie Rose van der Meer is an American writer, editor, instructor and ACCESS volunteer. She lives in Noordwijk with her Dutch husband. Reactions welcome at


Note: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of ACCESS.

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