Overseas Jobs | Working and living in the Netherlands

toggle menu
People walking on a pavement

Cultural differences during interviews in the Netherlands

As an expat it is also important to take cultural differences into consideration when you're interviewing. Below I have listed several important interview elements that can be very different.

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.

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.


Other Hints

  • If there is anything discussed during the interview that you might be uncomfortable with (e.g. working hours, KPA’s) , lets rather discuss it after the meeting.
  • Should they want to discuss tariff with you, please redirect them to speak to your account manager about that. The Dutch avoid superlatives. Compliments are offered sparingly, and to say that something is "not bad" is to praise it. A person who never offers criticism is seen as either being simple-minded or failing to tell the truth. A foreigner need not worry too much about saying something that will hurt feelings. The Dutch will argue, but seldom take offense.
  • Dutch humour is subtle rather than slapstick.
  • The Dutch speak directly (Dutch-directness) and use a lot of eye contact. To a foreigner, they may appear abrupt, but it is just their manner of communicating.
  • Do not call the Netherlands "Holland." Holland is a region within the Netherlands.
  • Smoking is prohibited in many areas. Always ask before lighting up.

Good luck with your interview!

Ask us your question!

Related subjects

Questions you can expect

There are a few basic questions that all interviewers ask to get to know you as a person and potential employee. Knowing what to expect will help to prepare concise and on-topic answers before the time giving you the edge on successfully being selected for the project.

Do your research

Research the company thoroughly: their website, recent articles on the company, their products/services, culture, mission statement and values. Familiarise yourself with the job description, but note that sometimes we don’t have too much information to pass onto you.

The language factor

If you have just arrived in the Netherlands, and even though Dutch sort-of-kind-of sounds like Afrikaans, it might feel like everybody is talking Greek to you!