Virtually all international students around me are currently trying to find a job which allows them to stay in the Netherlands or another different European country. We will hopefully (knocking on wood – so German to do) graduate in February, so the next two months are crucial for their job hunt. They have sent – and are still sending out – tons of application letters to numerous of companies applying for junior positions or internships, hoping for a few replies and, ultimately, a job offer.

During the last month I followed classes in Cultural Diversity Management. The topics we discussed felt so relatable to the struggles my international friends are currently facing that it almost feels I’d be holding back information if I didn’t share with you what I’ve learned. These would be my advices for any international student looking for a job after graduation.

Know what you’re worth

Yes, employers put a lot of requirements in job descriptions. And when you read these vacancies, you can easily get stressed because you feel you are not good enough. You may feel that you won’t make any chance for the job because you may not speak fluent Dutch despite it is required. Consequently, you apply for a position on a lower level. Never think like that! Because there is a big risk attached to this:

The risk of being underemployed

… or, in other words, the risk of being overqualified for a job. Several studies (sorry that I’m getting academic here) have shown that migrants are more likely to be found in positions under their job level than locals. Well, you might say, at least I have a job then! That’s true, but consider the costs as well: You might not be able to recover the gap that opens when starting on a lower position. And do you want to be stuck in a job which after half a year you don’t find interesting or challenging anymore? How likely are you to stay in a job, a company or a country where you don’t feel recognized (both personally and financially) for your potential?

That is why my first advice is: Don’t sell yourself under value. It is better to aim high and miss than aim low and hit. You don’t know who else will apply for that job and whether that person meets all requirements including that impossible degree in Aerodynamics or fluency in ancient Greek.

What about internships then?

I’m not a big fan of internships to be honest – at least not always. I agree that they are a great and – considering the often too theoretical approach of university studies – necessary way to gather job experience. If you have never done an internship during your entire university career and you haven’t worked in your field of expertise at all yet, then an internship will be a valuable experience for you.

But right now, I see my classmates applying for certainly underpaid internships, and it makes me sad. These people are bright, motivated and definitely not under-experienced. Most of us worked after our bachelor to save enough money to afford 1 to 2 years of studying abroad (and to make up our minds what we actually want to do with our lives). We have taken, or are taking, additional online courses to boost our practical skills. Some of us even were president of the Erasmus Student Network of their country. These people should not be looking for another internship. These people should be looking for real jobs and get their career started.

If you really feel that an internship is the right choice for you, then please take this advice: Unfortunately, there are some black sheep out there which are only looking for cheap employees to do the shitty jobs. These internships will only delay your job hunt and cost you money. Instead, look for companies which treat internships as a gateway to a full-time position. If you are motivated and eager to learn, these companies will invest in you to make you grow and stay.

Questions any international should ask before starting a new job

Yes, you have been invited or even already offered a position you like a lot. In case of an internship, find out what the possibilities are to stay at the company and what they expect you to do for that.  If it is a full-time position, you should as well get some things clear:

  • What is expected of me to get a promotion (at some point)? Based on which criteria will my work be judged?
  • How is the company culture and what do I need to do to get accepted by my colleagues?

Excel at soft skills

These questions seem so trivial, but they are an important key to success. When you start a new position, you feel that you need to prove yourself – especially because you are a foreigner. You will work your ass off, work overtime, and won’t rely on others to do work for you. You expect to be judged based on the quality of your work. However, in many western companies you’ll get assessed based on how you do your work rather than what you deliver. It’s the soft skills that matter: How well do you communicate? How well do you perform in a team? How assertive are you? We could discuss now whether these skills are related to your job, but that is not the point. The point is that if you know how you’ll be evaluated, you can make sure to excel at these.

Make yourself visible

Migrant workers tend to be less active during team meetings and networking events because they are insecure and afraid of being identified as “the outsider” because of their cultural background. This can be their biggest pitfall. Unfortunately, often a promotion does not depend on your performance, but on the visibility of your performance. Does your supervisor know that you are delivering good work? Do your colleagues recognize your contribution to the project? Does the right person at HR know you’re aiming for a higher position? I know for myself already that this might turn out to be my biggest pitfall: I prefer people to convince with the good work I do rather than having to sell myself. But now that I know I can at least try to be a bit less modest – and so should you.

“Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch.”

This may sound a bit harsh, but I find it quite naive to believe that it is easy to find a job and especially feel at home in a country whose language you don’t speak. Nowadays, at enough multinationals it is luckily normal to communicate in English, so you might not need the local language to do your job well. But these jobs are still scarce, so why would an employer hire somebody who doesn’t speak the language while there are enough other locals out there? They might not have your qualifications, but they can at least communicate in the same language. And besides the plus on your CV, speaking the local language helps you to mingle with your colleagues and make friends outside work. Additionally, language proficiency is related to intercultural competence: If you are able to speak a language, you can better understand the tiny cultural differences that make your life abroad difficult. Stop finding excuses and sign up for that language course!

Any job hunt is a struggle – and it is especially stressful when you’re not at home. But if you know the rules of the game, it makes your life a lot easier. If you don’t sell yourself under value, know what is expected from you, and put an effort into learning the language, you may prevent some bad surprises. These are at least my tips for international students looking for a job, but I’m curious to hear yours!

A highwaygirl signature