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Finding work in the Netherlands 1; Handing out resumes – Amsterdamned

How you feel after being told to "just hand out resumes" for the millionth time
How you feel after being told to “just hand out resumes” for the millionth time

Finding work in the Netherlands

Even according to Dutch people, it is hard to find good work right now. Let alone if you are an expat. However, it is still possible. Since I arrived here months ago, I have tried everything to find work. In my opinion, some methods work and others bear no fruit. However; I would like to clarify this advice is based on my experiences. In terms of background to put it into perspective, I am 26 and studied economics and HR, worked for five years in various customer service roles, and worked for two years in property and projects. I am a native english speaker and I can speak intermediate french and basic dutch.

Handing out resumes;

When I first arrived, the most common advice I received was to walk around the city and hand out resumes. I was told that there are still jobs out there, you just need to walk to the right areas and go into every shop. I tried this and went to Dam Square, Central, Leidseplein, Kalverstraat. I  went into every shop where a guy might be able to work; like clothing, electronics, book, outdoors, coffee shops, cafes, pubs, and so on. I would walk into each place and be very friendly and say something along the lines of; Hi, my name is Henry, I just wanted to hand in a copy of my CV in case there were any positions available at the moment. I went into shops that had help wanted signs on the door and those that didn’t have any signs up. 

In the interests of giving you the best information, I am going to be honest, and tell you what I think. If there is a Dutch person working in the shop and you don’t speak Dutch on a conversational level, I wouldn’t bother handing in your resume. Most Dutch people were really friendly to me, but they did say you need to speak Dutch. However, some people were really rude about it. I went into a certain English book shop, and the elderly woman behind the counter said that they get 1000 resumes a week, and that there was no way someone could possible work in the English book shop if they didn’t speak fluent Dutch … which I thought was interesting. She further added that there was no point taking my CV if I don’t speak Dutch because it would be “a waste of paper”.

Even Captain JLP is frustrated about the situation
Even Captain JLP is frustrated about the situation


An Irish guy at a pub in the Red Light District started shaking his head and not saying anything when I started talking. He then waved his hands dismissively at me to get me out of the shop, he did not even say one word to me.

These are extreme examples and I realise that not everyone is this rude, but you get the point. Basically, it makes sense. We are in the Netherlands and if you want to work in customer service, you should be able to speak Dutch. It makes sense. I just thought that at some of the tourist places it wouldn’t be an issue, but from what I can gather it is an issue there too. Also, it seems that there are a lot of other people doing this as well, and you run the risk of putting in time and effort to just become another CV in the pile. I did this for days and days and covered every shop I could find in Amsterdam that might take an English speaker. I started doing this two months ago. To date I have not received one call or email about any of the CVs I handed out.

In my opinion, I feel like this method does not work. There is definitely a sense of accomplishment by walking around and physically handing a CV to someone, but there are a lot of other people doing it and it is rare that there will be a vacancy. I would discourage walking into a shop that does not have a ‘help wanted’ sign up, as they will probably be irritated. I definitely found that people were a lot more willing to listen to you and give you a chance if there was a sign on the door. However, in the positions I found, they still required someone who spoke Dutch. I found a lot of tourist places as well, however they said that there had been a lot of CVs handed in already, and I did not hear from them.

Definitely worth a try but it isn't too fruitful
Definitely worth a try but it isn’t too fruitful


All in all, I don’t think this is efficient in terms of how much time it requires, and that it is unlikely to find a place that needs to hire someone, and even more unlikely that they need someone who speaks no Dutch.

Many thanks for reading! I really appreciate it. In the next article, I will talk about finding work in the Netherlands with a focus on bars, hotels and hostels directly!

Henry Stokes
Henry Stokes
Henry is a writer of fiction novels, and is passionate about issues of inequality and women's’ rights. He completed a Bachelor of Economics at the University of Sydney, graduated with First Class honours in Human Resource Managemen. Information on his novels can be found at the Henry Stokes facebook page.


  1. Yeah I’ve had the exact same in Den Haag… and I speak pretty good dutch – Just not quite fluent. You’d think that in a country where their universities are renowned for their international courses, it’d be a little easier to find a job. I’ve tried everything. Handing out CV’s, applying through agencies and online ads. I’ve had a couple of temporary jobs, but that’s about it. I’ve been looking for a couple of months now and really struggling.

    Today I have also read an article saying that The Hague is the 14th most expensive city to live in, in the world. Ranking it more expensive than any Swedish city, which are known to have high living costs (My girlfriend is also Swedish and would happily confirm this)… However in Sweden there are more jobs, education is free, they have a better welfare system and free health insurance thanks to their socialistic government. They pay similar tax as here in the Netherlands, except there you’d understand why.

    …Just my 2 cents.

    • Hey Aidan! Many thanks for reading! I totally know what you mean. It seems so international until it comes to getting a job! I personally think it is a cultural change post 2008. Temporary jobs have been all I can find too. I had thought of Sweden, but as you though living costs seem so much higher. However, as you mentioned, it seems easier to find work. I had heard similar things though in terms of needing to know Swedish.

  2. Try graduating with a double degree from a Dutch University and a UK University with honours. I’ve sent out approx. 50 CV’s and I still don’t have ‘sufficient qualifications’, not even for an ‘Assistant’ job!! And I also have at least 5 years experience in customer service, marketing and communications. I read recently that even though there are companies that require people from abroad, they still won’t hire you because they are afraid of public backlash and of facing all the work permits dilemma…here is the link for the article: https://www.europeanvoice.com/article/imported/economic-crisis-softens-demand-for-migration/74456.aspx?LG=1

    Anyways, don’t give up, eventually, someone’s gotta say yes, right? 🙂

    • Hey Carlis! Many thanks for reading! I’m really sorry to hear about your difficulties, especially since you studied at a Dutch university. As a fellow honours graduate, but from Australia, I thought at least I’d get some sort of office assistant job … but no. It seems as though you need fluent Dutch. But as you say, it is also a work permit issue. I think even if you speak fluent Dutch they will be hesitant about work permits. I recently got to the final round of an interview for a full time English job but that was the sticking point! Best of luck to you in your search. And yes, you are absolutely right! The best thing to do is not give up and keep trying; someone will eventually say yes! 🙂

      • Thanks Henry! And good luck with your search too 😀 It’s all a matter of keep on trying and networking, I guess 🙂 and do keep us all posted how it goes!

    • Just out of curiosity, in what did you graduate? I am also currently studying in the Netherlands, so it would be nice to know…

  3. It’s not just about being or speaking Dutch. Some of my friends, with master degees, have not succeeded to find a job within a year either.
    It might help for foreigners to look for a job other than in the service branch though…

    And The Hague is really not more expensive than Stockholm!! No way! I have lived in The Hague for a few years and have been living in Stockholm for the last two years. Stockholm is definiatly more expensive. The salaries are higher though.

    And from experience, in Sweden it is very hard to find a job if you don’t speak Swedish as well. I didn’t expact that, but they want everyone to speak Swedish. And I am an engineer, so I have no costumer contact or anything like that.

    • Hey Dutchy! Many thanks for reading! I have definitely found similar things with my Dutch friends, unless they studied the “right” degree (aka something that encourages the evil banking empire) then it is hard to find work after graduating. I have definitely found more success as I moved away from service though. I have heard similar things about Sweden, more expensive but salaries are higher. But it definitely seems like you need to speak Swedish, even if you have no customer contact! As the Dutch say; echt raar!!

  4. I got the same response from an English Book Store in The Hague which i could not figure out at all. Like my Dutch is good enough to tell them how much the book costs and do they want a bag and would they like to PIN etc but no-fluent Dutch was required??
    Not sure how you knew the guy in the Bar was Irish though if he never said one word to you!

    • Hey Klair! Many thanks for reading! I know what you mean, it does not make much sense. My Dutch was at a similar level at that point, basic conversational and able to give directions and say how much, but not fluent. And yes, fluent Dutch was required. I got the same response at several “English” shops in Amsterdam. Sorry for the misunderstanding with the bar! I meant to say he was speaking to me before, and I could tell he was Irish, but after I said I wanted to hand in my CV he didn’t say a word to me! 😉

      • I also applied for work via seasonalwerk.nl for fruit picking/tulip picking jobs and they rejected me because I had no agricultural experience so yeah I just think it is really hard right now. I registered with loads of agencies too and hear nothing back and also some agencies think I am overqualified for temporary secretarial jobs and just will not entertain me. I nearly feel like making a fake CV for those jobs and then some call centre or sales jobs want you to fluent in English, Dutch, French and Swedish, Like if I was fluent in ALL those languages I would probably work as a translator or a teacher not in a call centre!!

  5. From experience I must admit that wandering around in the city center and applying for low qualification jobs, like working in shops, coffee shops, restaurant, bars, etc. it´s really inefficient. From what I understood, the unemployment rate is high in The Netherlands among those low qualified. Even if you speak fluently dutch, they will not hire you as an expat, in favour of a dutch prospect. This makes sense for their economy and it´s quite understandable. After two months wandering around in the city and applying for jobs like this I decided it´s not the good aproach, so instead I tried finding jobs on LinkedIn or Glassdor or any other online job boards, really targeted on my education and experience background. I found a job after two weeks of intensive online application. So those two months applying in persons were really a waste of time.

    • Hey Andreea! Many thanks for reading! I totally agree with what you said, walking around looking for work is an incredibly inefficient way to do it. But I found it is the most common advice given to you when you arrive here! Haha. I agree with you though, even with fluent Dutch it makes more sense to hire a Dutch person; it makes more sense for their economy and it makes sense to ‘look after their own people’ first. I agree with a more targeted approach, it is far more efficient. But also, I believe it is a lot more efficient to search online for work in the Netherlands. I believe that the bulk of employment relations in the Netherlands is done online. Congratulations on finding work eventually though! Sounds like the more targeted hard work paid off!

  6. Really nice article Henry. I live in the Netherlands for 2.5 years and I guess I was the lucky one to find a job in Finance within 1.5 month in Rotterdam. I have a BA in Accounting and a Msc in Economics. I don’t really speak Dutch, but I can understand what I’m reading by now. In that sense I really consider myself a lucky person 🙂 I had expat friends who studied here and didn’t manage to get a job here. Internships are much easier to get. Amsterdam is offering more English speaking jobs but If you want to work for BIG 4 companies without lots of experience – you can forget about it unless you speak fluently Dutch. Good luck to all of you!

    • Hey Marisa! Many thanks for reading! Congratulations on finding work like that! I have heard good things about Rotterdam as well in terms of being a more international city. Accounting as well may have helped, as it is a more specific and qualitative skill, and something you may not need to know Dutch for. However, someone once defined luck as a combination of intelligence and hard work 😉 I am sure that by learning Accounting you have earned that job! 🙂 Interesting though that you have friends that studied here but even then couldn’t find work here! I would have thought it would have helped a lot, as I studied in Australia! Best of luck to you too!

      • Rotterdam is a great city. I would recommend it to anyone who would like to study and work here. I really liked your definition of luck, but I also think that being in the right place in right time is essential too 🙂 Best of luck for you too!

  7. I totally Agree with this. I have had the same problem. I do speak a little dutch but not good enough to apply for a job in a dutch speaking company. what do I then got left? Costumer service, but my catch 22 is that I have no experience in that field nor am i a good sales person since many customer service jobs comes with some type of sales. I am also a woman and over 30 (which is dangerous since you apparently suddenly can become pregnant)

    • Hey Emma! Many thanks for reading! I am in a similar boat, I can speak basic conversational Dutch which my friends say is fine and compliment me on it, but when you talk to a potential employer they talk much more complicated to test you I found. All I could find was customer service jobs, but they were usually with no hourly pay on a freelance basis. Customer service is a difficult position as there is no progression, and is difficult especially if you have studied and aren’t using what you have learnt! I am not a great sales person either 😉 The other problem is that a lot of those sales jobs are purely commission based!

      • Yeah. I am the same with the dutch. I have a masters degree in publishing studies so there is 6 years at University wasted 🙁 But i hope to find something that would suit me, trying to broaden my knowledge in my free time but who knows, good luck to you anyway

  8. Great article 🙂 And I feel your frustration. Try finding a job as an architect. When I graduated from TU Delft, we were brainwashed about all the international firms in the Netherlands expanding their work abroad and the chances that architects get here. A year later and you could only find internships (which are anyway illegal, since you need to be a student and not a graduate). When I was looking for a job, I got a great e-mail from a very famous architecture office that said “Your portfolio is great and you deserve to work as an architect. To do that, try out Germany” 😀 Then I switched full-time to being a freelance writer. Much better!

    • Hey Alexia! Many thanks for reading and thank you for complimenting the article! I can imagine it would be difficult as an architect, especially given how prevalent unpaid internships are in Architecture. Haha and great idea about freelance writer! That is what I am doing nowadays while working on my novels 😉 Writing is a much better lifestyle.

      • Writing has its ups and downs, but at least you are your own boss, you get to work with your pajamas and you can nap when you feel like it (and then drink gallons of coffee to make the deadline, but that’s much like architecture :D) Looking forward to reading your next job-hunting steps!

  9. I definitely feel your frustration. Honestly I think your best bet is to start doing cold calls at big companies (Coca Cola, Nestle) and checking out those sorts of vacancies online, whether they are strictly related to your field or not, because they have a bigger hiring budget and tend to be more international than, say, the horeca. That’s worked for a few expats I know! Also you’re more likely to find something if you’re willing to commute outside of Amsterdam, something that a lot of Dutch people do too.

    • Hey Sophie! Many thanks for reading! Hadn’t tried the cold calls, potentially an avenue of investigation for future articles 😉 Targeting big companies as you say is a good idea! One thing I have done as well is target big companies who have their headquarters in Amsterdam (eg TomTom and Booking). In terms of commuting, I would have thought you would need to speak Dutch more outside of Amsterdam?

      • I thought so too, but actually there are a lot of big, multinational corporations situated in places like Rotterdam, Arhem and Hilversum … Pretty much scattered everywhere. Comforting and daunting all in one :p

      • News flash, Amsterdam is not the certain of the Netherlands 😉
        There are hundreds of multi nationals located outside of the Amsterdam area, all over the country in fact.
        My top tip, check monsterboard every day, with no filters, look for all english ads and take note of the companies and then check out their own sites for jobs that may match your own interests more.
        It’s been 5 plus years since I had to look for a job but in all the years I’ve been in the NL my lack of fluent dutch has never been a problem. Maybe the situation is different now but I can’t imagine that it’s changed that much.

  10. Nice article, Henry!

    And is this turning into a place to vent our frustration about the job market?
    Because I got plenty of that.

    The most insane rejection I got was when I applied for an internship at
    Philosophy Magazine: they send me an e-mail stating that they found someone
    whose college education better fitted the position. I was actually getting my
    bachelors degree in Philosophy at the time, so you can imagine my dismay at
    that response.

  11. Hi guys and gals,

    I understand where you are all coming from. I’m from London, ex British army, and I came over from Germany to The Netherlands to work on a short term contract as a Health and Safety Manager for an international company. After 6 months my contract ran out and I first seen the problems of not speaking Dutch.

    I tried to find work but was always told to go and learn Dutch to have a better chance. Then I found a unique answer to my problem. I opened a cleaning company called Crystal Services (www.crystalservices.nl) which only provided services to expats and international companies.

    This was a great way to earn money, work in the high end market with people that had money to spend and at the same time, not having to speak Dutch.

    After a few years I sold the company an opened a new company called XXL Business Support Services. This company worked together with the first company sharing the same clients and again, not having to speak Dutch. This new company provided tailor maid services to companies and embassies who’s first language was not Dutch and had problems getting things done here in The Netherlands.

    One of my latest achievements was supporting a Dutch real estate company who had exhausted many links to local companies and I was there to help bridge communications between Dutch companies where being English was the number one help. At one stage, I was the project manager for the Chinese Embassy, sub-contracting Dutch building firms to carry out work. I would have never been employed but a Dutch company to do this work. But offering your own services creates many benefits.

    Sorry for the long story but this is really the short version. All I want to say is that we all have some qualities in life and just because you in a land which has another language does not mean it’s the end of the road. Just try to overcome and adapt the the new environment.

    I now run my 3rd business called XXL Properties – http://www.xxlproperties.com and we specialise again in expats, international companies and embassies.

    So if there is anyone out there that would like help in finding your goal, going forward when the going get tough then let me know, I would love to help.

    • Thanks for sharing Martin! Amazing story. And yes, you’re right. There are chances, you just have to persevere with what you believe in doing.

    • Hi Martin,
      That was an very inspiring story. Like the blogger here, even I handed out a lot of CVś in kalverstraat, dam square and other Amsterdam tourist areas. Being a female I was asked to come back for a restaurant where dancing on the table for everybody to watch was part of the job. I am professional with 7 years of studying and more than a year of work experience. I was very much shocked to find that I cannot work for a long time in holland. I am preparing for professional examination but the expenses to be able to appear for the exam is too much and I am finding it very difficult to make ends meet. I would very much appreciate if you could help me out in any way.I am ready to do any decent job that would help me support my examination expenses. TIA!

    • Michael Economakis, 48 years old, tall, handsome, Bachelor of Arts holder in economics/British univers., Greek citizen, Sales & Marketing Executive, intending to work in Netherlands, coming from Athens soon. intel.managmnt@gmail.com

  12. My brother, 24, had the same problems, spoke level 2 or 3 Dutch. He had already wasted time on a masters degree in business which doesn’t get you anywhere no matter what country you live in. The U.S. is littered with people who have a masters and no job living in unheated trailers or with their parents. Most degrees today are useless, excerpt maybe for the hard professions like doctor or engineer. My advice to anyone, young or middle-age, is to start your own business. It’s not easy but it’s the only way, I think in these times, to get ahead rather than being a wage-slave to some company who’s going to throw you over-board sooner or later. It worked for me.

    • True. In IT industry you can find jobs with English only. I started 2 years to learn some linux basics and I’ve got my LPIC1 certificate and found a job in 2 days. I am not kidding. Being a women in IT industry is more than enough to find a job.

  13. If you are an Engineer you don’t have these problems. Sorry to tell you guys that. But it is really easy to find a job as a Software Developer. Definitely it is more difficult if you are not an EU citizen, as the company has to apply for a working permit visa for you. Further they can only apply for it if you are highly skilled and have a certain salary. I also recommend to use LinkedIn. I found a lot of jobs there and it is also good for networking. Maybe it would be easier if you find an australian company which has an office in the netherlands or a dutch company which is also active in australia. Anyway I wish you good luck. Don’t give up

  14. I’ve lived in NL for almost seven years, I’ve worked in bars and held low grade clerical/logistics jobs; I went back to Uni here in AMS in 2012 and I’ve been looking for skilled employment ever since. All the international students I studied with have left the Netherlands after being unable to find employemnt in their chosen field.

    This is my opinion on how to get a job/reality of expat labour market here in the Netherlands (esp. Amsterdam in 2014):

    First, as in most Western countries the gap between A) skilled and B) unskilled labour is growing considerably, remember this as it will affect your options:

    A1) You already work for a large corporation overseas and get transferred here.

    A2) You have a Masters & *experience* in marketing/communications/PR (media), design, law, IT etc. you speak/write Dutch quite well AND know people in the industry – NL is quite nepotistic, esp. if you’re used to life in the UK.

    Lets face it everyone who isn’t content doing droidwork has a degree these days and if you’re heading into the international jobs market without a Masters, you’ve probably not done your research, or you have some insider knowledge/contacts/unusual experience you can put to use.

    Engineering etc. isn’t my field at all, though I would imagine cities like Rotterdam and Eindhoven (Phillips is based there) would be better for you (or Germany or one of the new Chinese Megacities…); AMS seems principally geared toward the creative industries, (which is one reason why everyone in AMS is such a damn hipster).

    A3) You’ve got guts/you’re delusional /you have rich parents and you start your own company or go free lance. Apprently this is the way forward in the Brave New World we all inhabit since the Finance Industry smashed the global economy into a brick wall in 2008, at least it is if you read The Economist

    B1) You’re happy to work in admin, sales, logistics, customer services etc. you’re happy to search for work for six months+ using agencies, you’re happy with minimal career progression. If you keep at it you will eventually get some work but it can be a slog, it helps if you speak Dutch, but not strictly necessary due to the high frequency of international companies.

    B2) You want to work in HORECA (bars, hotels etc), you speak at least some Dutch, you know somone already within the business, you’re looking for work during the high-season – don’t even bother searching for HORECA work in the off-season, no one hires.

    The reality is that it is not (echt niet) easy finding work in the Neherlands, especially if you want meaningful skilled work which is orientated toward a career and you were not born nor transferred here via a large international corporation.

    Remember, who you know really helps, relationships really seem to be a big a large part of employment culture in Amsterdam, if not through the entire country.

    Don’t give up, or if you do, go somewhere else with more opportunities, like China (lol). The longer you live in Amsterdam the more you realise its basically an open air museum, geared toward the rich with far too many rules and far too little soul anyway.

    Why am I still here? I’m a sucker for punishment and my Dutch girlfriend isn’t only super hot, but is funny smart and knows how to dance.


  15. We have a job opening?

    Housing Rental Consultant. Not going to bore you with the small details, we can talk at the office.

    Sales Based Rental Consultant, Basic salary + Commission Structure.

    Email me your CV, including a “ONE LINER” to justify why you?


  16. I don’t understand the frustration. The job market is very tight for Dutch people, umemployment is high. Then some foreigner who doesn’t even bother to learn the Dutch language properly comes along and is surprised that jobs aren’t handed out to him! Pff. The arrogance.

  17. dude we’re in 21st century! what an idea to go around the city center and hand in paper CV’s ?? save paper and time, send at least one CV’s per minute using … email and job search websites…

  18. It makes a lot if sense to be able to speak Dutch when you want to work in the Netherlands. I walked around Amsterdam not too long ago and about every second shop was looking for employees. So either way, maybe it was a better idea to learn Dutch in the last two months or try to find a job as a tourist guide or in a larger international company (but be aware, Dutch will also be very important there). Veel succes!

  19. I have been struggling to find a job here in Netherlands. My wife is currently working here and I came here on a dependent visa under which I am allowed to work. But it”s really tough to find a job. I have 10+ years of experience in software field and worked for top notch MNCs but I only get rejection emails from few and many recruiters or employers do not reply at all to emails. It”s been 3 months since I came here and I have already started feeling the heat and I am planning to go back to my country. It”s really tough… really really tough. With the kind of effort I had put for job search here, probably I would have had 5 offers in hand back in my country. I am going to try for another month and after that I am gonna pack things and say bye bye to Netherlands.


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