The basics
THE Netherlands: Career Prospects

Finding a graduate career in the Netherlands

Our guide to life after graduation for international students in the Netherlands

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The Netherlands may be small, but it’s a distinct cultural powerhouse that offers students a range of innovative starting points for life after graduation. With a high technological aptitude, developed industrial sectors and a unique trade position in regards to Europe, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t stay on after finishing your studies. Let our overview of your post-study options as an international student help make your options clear.

What’s the graduate market like?

A popular site for foreign investors, the Netherlands boasts particularly strong agricultural, engineering and creative sectors. Second only to the USA, the Netherlands is one of the world’s largest exporters of agro-food products, whilst the sector itself contributes 10% to the Dutch economy and comprises 2.8% of total GDP. Currently, over 660,000 people are employed in agriculture: good news for students of Food Science and Technology, Environmental Studies, Power and Energy Engineering and of  course, Agriculture.  Students with transferrable skills in fields such as Marketing, Management or Engineering could similarly find a position within this field.

Creative industries are also a key point of investment focus for the government. Comprising industries such as architecture, design, gaming and fashion, students in fields of Media, Graphic Design, Architecture, Game Design and Software Engineering are well-positioned to find themselves a role. Some 172,000 people are currently employed within the creative sector, with around 66% of them self-employed. 83% of these professionals work in communications and interactive design.

Engineering students can also breathe a sigh of relief in the face of their employment prospects. With key focus on Civil Engineering and needs for skilled workers to maintain and create structures, transferrable problem-solving and material-based skills are well in demand. In 2011, Dutch officials reported a shortage of Engineering graduates, with international companies Royal Dutch Shell, Philips Electronics and GasTerra all key employers of engineers across a range of disciplines. Some 390,000 people are currently employed in the engineering sector.

I am NOT an EU student...

Can I stay?

If you’d like to stay on and work in the Netherlands after you’ve finished your studies, you will need to apply for a work permit. To do so however, your employer will need to apply on your behalf, which means that you’ll already need to have secured a job to be eligible. EU students will NOT need any kind of work permit to remain in the Netherlands.

If you don’t already have a job at the time of your graduation, depending on your skill level you can apply for a sort of extension year (either a ‘zoekjaar’ or ‘orientation year’), in which you’re able to search for a job. Once you’ve secured one, you can apply for a work permit and remain in the Netherlands for as long as your employment contract specifies.

Search year (‘zoekjaar’) and orientation year

If your host university is NVAO accredited and your qualification is either at Bachelor or Masters level, you can apply for what is called a ‘zoekjaar’. This means that you will be able to remain in the country and search for a job in the year following your graduation.

You will not be able to extend your zoekjaar once the twelve months are up, and so if you’d like to stay on you’ll need to have secured employment and successfully applied for another type of permit in time. To be eligible for a work permit, the job you secure on your zoekjaar will need to meet a minimum salary requirement. This requirement is subject to change year-to-year, but for example, in 2013 was €27,336 (US$37,915).

To apply, you will need to submit a copy of your university qualification or statement of intent to graduate, an application form (you can download it from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) website), and a passport photo that is not older than six months to your nearest IND office. You will need to make an appointment to do so. You will also need to pay a €660 (US$915) application fee.

Processing times are quite lengthy, and can take up to six months in some cases. Your zoekjaar won’t begin until your graduate date, and so students are advised to apply well before the expiry date of their student visa. You should begin the application process as soon as you receive clearance to graduate.

If you are set to complete your Masters or PhD programme in the Netherlands, you will have up to three years after your graduation date to apply for an orientation year. An orientation is essentially the same thing as a zoekjaar, and has the same minimum salary requirements, but requires submission of more supporting documents in the application process and has a different application form that is downloadable from the IND website. You will also have an extra three years from the completion of your study date to officially apply for the orientation year.

Find my nearest IND office

Highly skilled migrant (‘kennismigrantregeling’)

Once you have been offered a job in the Netherlands from a registered employer, they will be able to put you forward for a work permit as a highly skilled migrant. Usually, graduates who have secured employment whilst on their zoekjaar or orientation year will make the transition to this work permit if they’d like to remain in the country.

For a Dutch employer to sponsor you, they must be able to prove that there is no Dutch, or EU national available with the same qualifications or better able to complete the job than you. This is called the Labour Market Test, and serves as a declaration of your value to the business and Dutch economy.

To be eligible, your salary will need to be of a minimum level that is subject to change from year to year. For example, in 2014 you will need to be earning a minimum of €2,968 (US$4,117) per month if you are below 30, and €4,049 (US$5,616) if you are older than 30. Applications generally take about 5 weeks to process.

Check if my employer is registered

How can I find a job?

Whilst the Dutch are generally exceptional at English, you will be distinctly disadvantaged if you can’t speak Dutch when applying for a job in the Netherlands. There is however still hope for those expats who are yet to sharpen their Dutch skills: there are certain websites such as xpat jobs and British Expats which both directly advertise English-speaking jobs and provide links to help you search for others. Remember, if you are NOT an EU student then your employer will need to be registered with the IND for you to be eligible for a work permit.

Many Dutch companies make a point of accepting speculative applications, with an advance phone call letting them know you’re interested in working for them considered common fare. Dutch culture values directness and openness, so this will not be seen as pushy: rather, you’ll appear to be taking initiative in your future and be displaying an interest in the work a company does. You should always have a few questions on hand about the company structure or position nature to ask the employer, too: this will show you’re engaged with the work they do and are assertive enough to know what you want.

Unfortunately, the search for companies that accept speculative applications is not as easy as using a search engine. You’ll need to look up a company’s profile directly, and in most cases, hope they accept applications in English. You should make a point of getting to know the sector you’re looking to enter and following the profiles of at least 10 key companies you’d be looking to work for.

There is however still a number of job search portals and resources you can scour for leads. For example, you could search jobs in the Netherlands using LinkedIn, Reed, and If you’re really stuck, you can always enlist the help of an employment agency or recruitment service. 

Can my university help?

Dutch universities are incredibly well-equipped to help fresh graduates find their way in the Netherlands. With an interest in retaining international talent, there are plenty of resources available to you to help ease the stress of starting out in a foreign job market.

For example, Delft University of Technology has a career centre that provides a downloadable guide to the zoekjaar, as well as advice services, workshops and links to sources that might help point you in the right direction. Similarly, the VU University, Amsterdam runs a career centre where students can make appointments for CV, interview and motivation letter tips, as well as advice on how best to approach your job search.

It will also be well worth your while to pick up some conversational Dutch if you’re planning to stay on. Ask your university if they run any short Dutch language courses for graduates in your position, or if they can help you enrol in a short programme that will bolster your skills. You should also be sure to get advice on how best to tackle Dutch business culture: it can be quite intimidating trying to kick-start your graduate career and navigate a new set of politeness conventions at the same time!


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About Author

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Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.