Coping with the pitfalls of a lengthy job search

27 November 2012, by

Every time I attend a job fair for internationals, I am stunned by the large numbers of visitors these events attract. As unemployment continues to rise, it appears there are also many internationals searching for work right now, among them recent graduates, or newly relocated spouses, or those simply looking for new opportunities.

My job, for a while now, has basically been looking for a job. And it’s not a smooth search. As a matter of fact, it can be quite tough, and it does at times wear me out, because finding a job in the Netherlands is taking longer than I had hoped.

Receiving rejections is discouraging, of course, but receiving no response at all to an application is even worse, not uncommon when some recruitment agencies or companies, who at times receive hundreds of applications for a position, only reply to shortlisted candidates.

Meanwhile, I have been trying to put together ways to cope with the downfalls of looking for a job. If you find yourself in a similar situation, they might prove helpful.

Don’t take it personally
I actually hear this from my loved ones when my self confidence is at a low point after a failed application. The times are not the best right now, economically speaking, and the competition is high on the labour market.

Not getting the job you wanted and applied for is often a result of your profile not matching the job profile completely or in its most important points, and not an outcome of your lacking personal qualities or motivation.

Not to make excuses, though. It’s important to realistically understand what happened, learn from it, and maintain optimism.

Take a break and think it through
Constantly looking for openings and chances to network can be exhausting, just like any overly intense work can. At times you just need to step out of the search and take some time to think about the bigger picture.

Maybe it would be of use to acquire some new skills, or look a bit outside your qualifications zone or salary expectations. Maybe you can get some more ideas from other expats who are going or have been through something similar. Basically relax and refresh from time to time, instead of allowing the stress to build up.

Maintain a routine
I personally dislike the word, but yes, make a routine, a flexible schedule, in order to avoid becoming undisciplined with the time on your hands and wasting it.

I don’t advocate waking up early in the morning if not necessary, but I do see the benefits of organising the hours you spend on the different aspects of your job hunt.

pitfalls job search netherlands

Plan some phone calls in the morning, check out the new openings in the afternoon, and take a coffee break in between. Whatever best suits your personal rhythm.

Enjoy your hobbies
Not having a full-time job leaves you with some time you can spend doing things you like, or discovering what those things are. Hobbies are a good way to relax and feel good about yourself.

For example, noticing all the exotic spices and other ingredients that can be found in multicultural Rotterdam, I began to experiment with various recipes. There’s some stress relief to be had while marinating a chicken.

Volunteering is also worthwhile, can help you gain some more experience or insight in a certain field, or at least make you feel good about how you spend your time. I wrote an article about this previously, have a look.

Let people in and emotions out
Retreating into your own world is not a good idea. Trust me, I’ve been there. Keep your loved ones close, talk about what you experience with them, and, if things become too much, ask a coach, or another professional, for some guidance.

Allow yourself to grieve or be angry when that needs to come out, because those are natural feelings when your job search hits a dead end.

Keep healthy
Do not underestimate the importance of a healthy body and clear mind. Get enough sleep, eat well, meet friends, go out for a walk...

Simply avoid dwelling into negative, unhealthy states, which I believe to be the biggest threat when dealing with downfalls during job hunting.

Good luck!

Any other tips for jobseekers you can recommend?

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Comments arranged by date (Total 15 comments)  
November 27 2012, 12:33PM

I was in the same situation and therefore instead of "doing nothing" I decided to do an intership in order to continue to work on my field. With this intership I received "a bit of money" (far away from the minimum needed but still something) but I also developed my network and my CV. This way of doing worked for me because I have found a regular job.

November 27 2012, 01:32PM

I can only repeat myself over and over again: Learn Dutch. Your chances will increase exponentially if you can have a regular conversation in Dutch, understand Dutch e-mail, and are even able to respond to it without major mistakes. I know, particularly for those of you for who it's the first foreign language, it's a tough one, but it will pay off in the end. I hear so often from our international university graduates that they are rejected by employers on the grounds of not speaking Dutch well enough - and those are highly qualified people with a management education, international experience, and mostly also practical experience, either from before their studies, or through internships. Speaking Dutch is not a benefit for an applicant; it's a basic requirement, particularly in times of crisis, and particularly in a country with so many highly skilled domestic employees who often speak multiple languages (Dutch, English, French, German) themselves. Improving your Dutch is the best use you can make of your time 'between jobs', if you want to work here.

December 03 2012, 11:24AM

Voluntary work is a good suggestion as it gets you out there and makes you feel useful, and it may even widen your network and help you with your job search. Personally I got frustrated with looking for a decent job and I started my own business. It's not as difficult as you think and if you're unemployed you have the time to research and test out ideas.

December 03 2012, 11:59AM

Hi Nina_Y,

I am also interested in starting my own business here in the Netherlands since finding a job has been such a long journey. I was wondering how you went about starting your own business and what procedures you had to go through. I am of Dutch nationality but was raised in the US so I speak beginners Dutch for now. If you can guide me in the right direction that would be great.

December 04 2012, 10:38AM

Good for you! The first thing I'd recommend doing is finding your local chambers of commerce office ( They have been really helpful and even have specialist consultants who are available to advise you (at an hourly rate) on very specialist questions e.g. practical (legal/financial) advice on importing products from outside the EU. My own KvK office in the Hilversum/Utrecht region organises an open day every year for people wanting to start their own business. It was really useful to get some basic info on bookkeeping regulations, taxation considerations, etc.

Once you've done all your initial research (into demand for your product/service too?) then the only thing you have to do is 1. register at the KvK (usually as an 'eenmaanzaak' / soletrader entity when you first start out) and 2. get a company tax number from the tax office (usually a variation on your own personal Sofi number).

This organisation would be of interest to most starting out in business: It actively supports ZZP'ers = Zelfstandige Zonder Personeel = solo entrepreneurs with no staff.

December 04 2012, 11:03AM

I have to agree with cybergabi, even if it is in acknowledgement of my own shortcoming in this market. In fact coming from South Africa and speaking Afrikaans, a form of 17th century Dutch more similar to Flemish than modern day Dutch, I should have the edge on other Expats. Even in this context I have not progressed far enough with learning to speak and write Dutch well enough in the past 18 months. I wonder though if a foreigner's Dutch will ever be good enough for anything other than intermediary level employment, as management requires an exceedingly good grasp of Dutch, out of reach of someone who was not educated in Dutch as language medium?

December 04 2012, 11:26AM

I've often wondered the same thing as you j_h_Hendrik. My background is software development / consultancy. I can pick up books and learn most things but I'm not very good with languages. Been here 12 years and there's no way my level of Dutch will ever be sufficient to get a job in the field I'm qualified in (unless it was an English speaking role which is not impossible).

December 10 2012, 09:24PM

Your stories are all fascinating and I think you'll all make it.

Something you may not know, but you are living in the country with relatively the most entrepreneurs in the Western world. Of Holland's workforce, 10% are entrepreneurs, often called zzpers, or sole proprietors. Not even teh USA comes close to such a capitalist mind set, with its 5% of the workforce being entrepreneurs.

So if you want to make it on your own, this is the spot to be.

It is no surprise that The Netherlands is considered one of most business friendly countries in the world, with relatively lowest cost of doing business.

You can start any business here, regardless of your Dutch proficiency. If you really feel you need to learn the language, it is easy for an English speaker to learn, especially now that every 4th or 5th word spoken here is in English.

Take it from a Dutch born businessman and linguist, who speaks 5 languages fluently plus a few more less so, who became an American and returned here after almost 15 years of absence. Some of my private students, when I was teaching years ago, where ready to get around in Dutch in a job here already after less than 2 months. The harder part is learning to identify and understand the different culture, but even that can be done.

This country offers so many great opportunities to make a living and enjoy its unusual character while doing it. Where else will you find such a compact, efficient environment, with so much competition, so much choice, a relatively mild climate, short travel distances and excellent transportation options? Even the laws are becoming less restrictive, like the October 1, 2012 law making the creation of a corporation easy and at little cost.

And what about the professional network opportunities to bring other sole proprietors related to your expertise together to offer a joint product/service or line of products/services? I could tell you about dozens of businesses that are being.created that way right now, or could be created. The smart Dutch have figured out that way a way around the otherwise risky proposition of having employees. Instead they have 'partners'. And where else will you find the degree of acceptance to work flexible hours and to let employees work a lot at home during those flexible hours? No surprise, since the frugal Dutch employers see it as an opportunity for gratis extra hours of labor and the employees see it as a way to stay out of congested roads and public transportation and also enjoy their work more in a home environment, a mutual win/win.

Of course there are also annoyances here, like some laws and taxes and the rough sounds of spoken Dutch words, but the relative freedom, compared with many other countries is quite surprising. I see it got much more in the last 15 years. No wonder so many foreigners flock to Holland now. The number of expat organizations and businesses is ridiculously large for such a small place.

I hope you all make it big here, but even if you make it little, make sure have a business or job you enjoy. You can do it.

December 11 2012, 12:57AM

Thank you for your very thoughtful and supportive post. Have a great holiday!! :)

December 10 2012, 10:29PM

Even if 10% entrepreneurs seems high, it's still a fact that 90% of the Dutch labor market consists of employees, not entrepreneurs. Not everybody is cut out to have their own business - some people just want a 9-5 job without having to worry how to pay the monthly rent if business is running low. As a freelancer, you have to invest around twice as much time and energy, yet usually lack most of the benefits and perks an employee gets.
If you want to set up your own business, you might not need to speak Dutch well (although it most certainly helps if you do). If you are looking for regular employment, most jobs will require fluent Dutch (next to fluent English - which is not a given for many expats from non-English speaking countries either). And learning a new language might seem easy if you already speak 5 other languages. It's usually not if it's your first foreign language, your 40+, and have had your last grammar lessons in high school. Do not underestimate the effort it takes to get to a professional level. Most of the jobs here are office jobs, where you have to talk to Dutch clients, suppliers, or co-workers, read Dutch e-mail, and/or compose Dutch replies without terrible mistakes. If you manage that within 2 months, you're a Wunderkind, and hardly any of us are.

December 11 2012, 09:09AM

I enjoyed the positive approach from 'paperdetective'. Having owned several businesses and having been self-employed for many years where I came from, I am not unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of paying your own salary, month after month, year after year. I liken it to slowly strangling the life out of yourself whilst earning less than those 'gainfully employed' people, both financially and benefit wise, but the satisfaction factor is higher. If that is all there is, I guess that is what you have to do, but the earlier in life you do that the better. Here is another article on the same topic written last year.–to-market-yourself-as-an-expat Keep on trying, someone once said-:"It will al be OK in the end, and if it isn't, it is not the end!"

December 11 2012, 11:51AM

I wasn't meaning to imply that you can't make it. But expectations need to be realistic. I've met quite a few people here who came with oodles of experience, motivation, excitement, and a can-do attitude - but after a year of unsuccessful trials, sunk into deep depression. Hell, I've seen relationships break up over partners not being able to get a job here and therefore moving on to other (English-speaking) countries or back to their home countries. Of course you can do it. But a professional level of Dutch tremendously increases your chances on the labor market. And most people will find that it's not that easy a language to pick up. So, if you have the time, use it and improve your language skills. That's my advice.

December 11 2012, 12:14PM

Thank you cybergabi, you give sober advice, even though sometimes all we need is a pat on the back now and again. I happen to agree with you (albeit reluctantly) that mastering the language to the best of your ability is the way to go. For the record, self-employment is hard, very hard, and when you're in unfamiliar territory, even harder.... unless you are the Wunderkind previously referred to. Don't give up is the best advice anyone can give, but make an effort to learn the language at the same time.

December 11 2012, 12:40PM

Thank you everybody for the interesting discussion and tips!

December 18 2012, 03:23PM

I would aim for the international companies... Where are you looking for jobs? LinkedIn is the main site I use.

About the Author
Catalina Barzescu

Catalina is a media and journalism graduate from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and an avid write...

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