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Apart from sector and regional differences, career opportunities in the Netherlands also vary depending on the type of company you are employed in.

Foreign workers tend to be employed mostly by academia and multinationals. Find out more about working in SMEs, multinationals, academia and government on this page

Due to the high levels of education, technology and entrepreneurship, the Dutch knowledge-driven economy has a great demand for highly skilled young professionals.

Globally, the Netherlands ranks 4th in the World Bank’s Knowledge Economic Index. Research shows that foreign knowledge workers are concentrated in big urban agglomerations and are more likely to work in foreign or internationally based firms.

Source: World Bank – Knowledge Assessment Methodology.

NGO sector


Work in SMEs

Dutch small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are companies with between 10 and 250 employees, and a yearly revenue of between €2 and €50 million. Although, as a sector, they are less well known than big international firms, these companies employ about 70% of private sector employees in the Netherlands.

Almost 40% of all SMEs are involved in international activities such as trade, research or manufacturing and, therefore, most likely open towards international employees. One in eight companies already employ international staff.

A 2013 study found that companies that hire international staff are better at maintaining and expanding their networks, improving production methods and they are, on the whole, more productive.

Due to an ageing population there will be an increasing shortage of skilled employees in virtually all sectors of the Dutch economy, but especially in its small and medium enterprises. It is estimated that in 2020 this sector will have generated a quarter of a million vacancies, mainly in the construction, engineering and transport sector.

The strongest demand for skilled labour is foreseen for the health care sector, which is already facing serious staff shortages. If you want to work in a small or medium sized company, the Netherlands is a good place to start orienting yourself.

Work in multinationals

The Netherlands is the country of origin of several big multinationals including Unilever, Philips and Royal Dutch Shell.

Thanks to competitive corporate tax rates within the OECD area, the Netherlands is also home to countless other multinationals. In addition to the expertise of oil and gas company Shell, the Netherlands is also a relatively strong player in green energy technologies, exemplified by, but not limited to, windmills.

Philips, Océ and ASML are all very strong in different types of technological markets. In the financial sector you have ABN-AMRO, ING and Rabobank, the first bank in the world to receive a triple A rating by Standard & Poor’s.

Whether you want to work in natural resources, human capital, technology or finance, the chances are that the Netherlands is a fruitful place for you to start looking.

The conventional way to enter a multinational is to apply for a traineeship.

Go to an extensive overview of job websites

Work in academia

From an international perspective, Dutch academia is a strong sector. The ten big traditional universities and the three technical universities (Eindhoven, Delft and Twente) are all mainly publicly funded and combine a strong focus on fundamental research with applied research, valorisation and teaching.

The Dutch academic culture is described as open, accessible and cosmopolitan. Most institutions require foreign employees to learn the Dutch language within two years. Generally speaking, the most common route to a career in Dutch academia is through a PhD.

Almost half of all Dutch PhDs and about a third of all academic researchers without teaching duties come from abroad. As do about about 20% of the professors. Although English has been gaining ground as teaching language, especially in graduate studies, Dutch is still the norm for most bachelor degree programmes.

Pursuing a PhD means spending a minimum of four years conducting original research and writing a dissertation. Throughout this time, PhD candidates work in close collaboration with their supervisor. A PhD is not regarded as a study, but as serious research and PhD candidates in the Netherlands are almost always in paid employment, with a fixed monthly salary and the same rights as other employees.

Read more about doing your PhD in the Netherlands on studyinholland.nl.

For specific PhD positions visit www.academictransfer.com.

Source: Study in Holland website, Academictransfer.com.

Work in government and non-profit

Except for most commercial roles, virtually all private sector jobs can also be found in the public sector.

For example, the most sought after qualification for working in government at the national level (de Rijksoverheid) is that of ICT specialist. You can also work for governmental organisations at the provincial level (provinciale overheid) or the local level (gemeentelijke overheid).

Generally, as a civil servant you must be able to speak, read and write Dutch very well, at least at the professional working level. Finally, for most public sector jobs at the national level you need at least some basic knowledge about politics, particularly Dutch national politics, as you will indirectly be working for a cabinet minister.


NGO sector

Traditionally, the Netherlands has a strong non-governmental organisations (NGO) sector. With 0.7% of its GDP allocated to official development assistance, the Netherlands ranks 6th in the world.

Thanks to this relatively high percentage, Dutch and international NGOs based in the Netherlands are very active in developing countries in the areas of Security and the Rule of Law, Water, Food Security and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

The biggest NGOs in the Netherlands are Oxfam Novib, Hivos and Cordaid. Speaking one or more languages spoken in big development countries, like Swahili would definitely be a plus in this sector.

Source: Rijksoverheid.nl, werkenvoornederland.nl, OECD.org (ODA statistics).