Do Dutch employment agencies work for expats?

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Dutch recruitment agencies offer internationals hope of employment, but they can't procure the permits that many foreigners need to work. Laura Martz reports.

"Dutch is Not Required."

The slogan that heads Kelly Services' website for English-speaking jobseekers in the Netherlands ( may sound alluring to foreigners dreaming of quaint canals and long vacations.

But if Dutch isn't required to get a job through Kelly, a European passport or at least a work visa (which the Dutch don't hand out just like that) is.

Similarly, Undutchables, which bills itself as "the recruitment agency for internationals," notes on its website that it can't get you a work permit or a sponsoring employer. Without express permission to work in the Netherlands - generally given only to Europeans, their partners, and people with skills in very short supply - "chances are zero," says Undutchables General Manager Paula van Meggelen. "It is not allowed."

Finally, asked what her online agency, (, can do for the average foreigner with no papers, Stacey Muangman says: "Nothing. The only thing we can do is refer these people to the foreign police."

That said, if you do have the right papers, there's a good chance these agencies can help you even if you don't speak Dutch. Employers with European sales headquarters or call centres in the Netherlands often seek employees who speak English (for the office) and another European language (for the customers), says Muangman.

Likely job titles range from help desk agent, which requires about a year of work experience, to European export manager, which requires about five to seven.

"There are a lot of secretarial jobs," Muangman says.

"In December (2000) there was a big demand for ICT jobs like programmer/analyst and engineer, but now a lot of jobs are on hiring freezes."

Undutchables too has noticed a cooling in last year's frenzied demand for IT and telecoms workers, Van Meggelen says.

Muangman also says workers who speak German or French in addition to English have been sought after lately.

That doesn't mean European offices are stepping over each other to hire foreigners, though.

At, hundreds of people send in their CVs every month from all over the world. But the online agency has actually placed only about 45 since it opened in May 2000. Some openings are posted directly on the site and don't go through the agency, so the number of hires may be higher.

Van Meggelen says the three Undutchables branches average about 14 non-temp placements each per month. That's out of the 5,000 hopefuls the company says are in its database.

Australian programmer and network administrator Russell Coker got a job in the Netherlands with Cap Gemini through placement agency Comms People, which he contacted while working in London. "Most agencies that deal in well-paid positions in the computer industry are based in London," he says, so "being in Amsterdam or in London is equally easy for applying for work in the Netherlands."

A second agency, Computer Futures, also panned out, getting him a job with Zonnet, and the process didn't take much effort. "I just e-mail in my CV, and the agency faxes it to the client," he says.

If all it takes is an e-mail, signing on with an agency might well be worth the effort. But another expatriate, a brand manager for Canon who went through more traditional placement agencies, found the process less helpful.

After moving to the Netherlands and getting permission to work through her domestic partner, she signed up with three agencies, snail-mailed them her CV and went in for interviews.

She spoke excellent English but no Dutch, and the agencies - none specialised in foreigners - told her they didn't get many English-only jobs.

She kept looking on her own and soon snared an interview with Canon. Right after that, one of the agencies called.

"They said they'd lined up an interview with Canon," she says. "It turned out to be for exactly the same job." She got it, and though she wasn't sure the agency deserved credit, "there was no question in their minds; they ended up taking the fee." She came away unimpressed.

"At the time I applied, it was fairly easy to get in the door yourself," since the job market was good in the marketing field, she says. "And (an employer is) quite happy to have you come in the door, because the employer doesn't have to pay that fee.

"Plus, when you go through an agency you're spoon-fed the company, so it's not like you selected the company because of your own interest."

And even if an agency does find you a job, of course, there's no guarantee it will be a permanent solution: Coker, the IT specialist, is back on the job market, a victim of the industry's downturn.

Still, reputable agencies charge a jobseeker no fee, and many have no signup requirements - so it may be worth a shot. Just don't expect miracles if you're having trouble getting interviews on your own.

Subject: Finding work in the Netherlands

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