How to nail a job interview in the Netherlands
Like every country, the Netherlands has its own culture for communicating during job interviews. What is normal in the US could be considered over the top in the Netherlands, and what is common practice in India may be frowned upon here.
That is why, before you actually go to a job interview, it is important to prepare yourself thoroughly for the cultural factors.
Interviewing in the Netherlands
Although there have been many general articles written on how to answer typical job interview questions, if you are an expat it is also important to take cultural differences into consideration when you're looking for a job. Below I have listed several important interview elements that can be very different in the Netherlands compared to your home country.
› Self-confidence, overconfidence and shyness
These aspects can be valued very differently, depending on where you are from in the world. In the Netherlands it can be quite tricky to know how to behave with regards to self-confidence.
On the one hand, the Dutch appear to be very confident, to some nations even over-confident and rude. It comes from the fact that the Dutch are very honest and direct. They are taught to share their opinions from an early age.
Dutch parents frequently ask their kids, "Wat vindt je daarvan?" which translates as "What do YOU think?" Expressing one’s opinion is a national duty and stems from the fact that honesty is one of the top values in Dutch culture, coming from Calvinistic times when honest and open behavior was praised.
If you are preparing for an interview, make sure you have answers ready for any difficult questions, so you are not surprised during the meeting. Not being able to answer to a question might be seen as hiding something, and as such, regarded as dishonest - and therefore negative - behavior.
On the other hand, being overconfident - the "American" style - is also frowned upon. The other main value in Dutch culture is moderation, which originates again from Calvinistic modesty.
The paradox is that being overly modest and shy also won’t get you far in a job interview in the Netherlands either.
So be honest, open and confident about what you can do. Don’t try to oversell your weaknesses or undersell your strengths.
› Importance of a team
Dutch people, who live in a very small country surrounded by water from all sides, had to learn how to co-operate with each other.
Teamwork is very important in the Netherlands. Again, this can be viewed as a contradiction, as the Netherlands is one of the most individualistic societies in the world where "me" is often more important than "we".
Still, being able to come to a compromise and listen to each other and value each other’s work is key to Dutch professional coexistence. Make sure you have prepared some good examples of your teamwork skills. Use the STARR method when preparing for an interview.
› Experience and qualifications
In some countries, like Germany, education and qualifications are key in professional life and therefore in the recruiting process. In the US it is much more often the experience and "can-do" mentality that win over employers.
In the Netherlands, education, experience and attitude are all important, so during the interview emphasise all three.
› Taking initiative and asking questions
Taking initiative is very important in the Netherlands. Due to the low hierarchy in society, and therefore, also in the workplace, managers are not seen as the ones with all the answers but as part of a team with a leading position. You are expected to bring your own solutions and ideas.
Remember that the potential employer will think that how you act during an interview will be the way you do your job. So during the interview you should be well prepared with plenty of questions to ask.
Even if you do ask questions during the interview and you think you know all the answers, when the interviewer asks, "So do you have any futher questions?" you’ll need to come up with one or two more.
› Body language
Physical behaviour, often overlooked when preparing for an interview, can also have a strong impact on your success. Three factors to remember are:
- Handshake: In the Netherlands people are definitely less touchy then in southern cultures, so during the first interview definitely avoid body contact such as kissing on the cheeks or slapping someone on the back.
What you need to pay attention to is the handshake, it needs to be firm - for sure avoid the "dead fish" syndrome, but also do not break someone’s hand.
- Eye contact & body posture: Maintaining eye contact during an interview is also very important. Make sure you look at all people present during the job interview, even if they are less active. Do not look down or out the window when answering questions.
It is also important to observe your body posture during the interview: your shoulders need to be straight and hands should be lying on the table. Do not cross your arms! It makes a closed impression. The way you sit should be neither tight and tense, nor extremely laid back.
A good tip is to try to mirror the body language of the interviewer, it can be quite difficult to focus on that and on the content of the interview, so make sure to practice with someone before hand.
- Voice: Make sure your voice is firm. Do not whisper. In the beginning your voice may be a bit shaky due to nervousness. Try to breathe deep before the interview.
If you have time, go to the bathroom before the interview and do a power pose for two minutes. It can work miracles. Watch Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk below for more tips on body language.
› Dress code
The dress code in the Netherlands can be tricky. The Dutch definitely do not tend to overdress. If you are a man, a suit will do just fine. For a woman, a jacket and skirt or neat pants are ok too.
Make sure to look smart but do not exaggerate with make-up, jewellery and perfume. Certainly do not wear a too-short skirt or a too-deep décolleté.
Remember that the Dutch in general do not like exaggeration in any form. Also make sure that your clothing reflects your work. So you can dress more casually if you are applying for the job of a Creative Director at an advertising agency, and more formally if you are applying to be a Finance Director.
Understand your home country’s interview culture
Go through the list above and write down what the practices are in your own country. Make sure to analyse the differences and similarities.
If you notice many gaps between interviewing habits in your own country and in the Netherlands, make sure to practise with someone who understands Dutch culture before an interview.
Remember you have just one chance to make a great first impression. Good luck!