Dos and don’ts for internships at Dutch companies – Part I

Work experience is highly valued in the Dutch job market. An internship gives you practical experience in your field and makes you a more interesting candidate for future employers. But how do you excel at being an intern at a Dutch company? These dos and don’ts, based on my experiences with international students, will help you.

Posted by Carolina Barría at May 01, 2017 01:35 PM

Read more dos and don'ts in Part II


1. Do try to learn Dutch

Try to learn Dutch and do practice it even when the Dutch speak to you in English, or another familiar language. I once had a British intern who would always use the lunch breaks to try to practice Dutch with his Dutch colleagues. By the time he left, he had learned a lot about the language. But more importantly, his colleagues really appreciated his effort. They still ask me how he is. It showed me that the most important thing is to try. It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. That’s the way you learn.

2. Be a team player

In Dutch culture it is very common and important to solve things together, in a team. When you don’t involve your team in your activities, it can be interpreted as if you have your own agenda and don’t feel involved in shared goals. You can show that you’re a team player even by doing little things: help clean up after lunch, or help a colleague to solve a problem even if it’s not part of your tasks.

3. Do understand the unwritten rules of the company

Every company has its own set of unwritten rules that aren’t automatically explained to you on your first day. These could be about coming in on time, being polite, dress code or appointments. Sometimes the culture is more formal, sometimes it is more informal. Observe these rules and respect them. For example: I share my office space with an accountants firm that has quite a formal culture. Once I had an intern that had a nose piercing. The first day she observed the company culture and decided to take out the nose ring. This showed me that she was sensitive to her surroundings and willing to adjust.

4. Do work independently, be able to solve problems without relying on others

Asking questions is a natural part of your learning process. But when you immediately ask your colleagues for help, without trying to solve something yourself first, they might get annoyed. Show that you’ve tried to come up with a solution on your own first. It will be appreciated. When your Dutch manager explains your tasks at the start of the internship, he or she will ask you if you have questions. If you do, this is the moment to ask them. Whatever you do, avoid asking any question that you can simply Google.

5. Do be proactive at work and generate ideas

It is much appreciated if you show your added value. During meetings, contribute to discussions. Give your opinion, share ideas and also your reasoning behind them. This not only shows your creativity and analytical skills, but also your involvement with the company. As a manager, I really appreciate it if I don’t have to come up with everything myself. When interns have a lot of ideas and are proactive in their work, I’m more inclined to trust them with more responsibility.

6. Do be prepared for criticism and learn to deal with it calmly

In Dutch companies, when you have an idea, or give your opinion, you can expect to be asked critical questions in return. Also, Dutch people are used to giving feedback. I noticed that international students sometimes take this personally, but you should realise that it is always about your work, not about you as a person. Take it as a chance to evolve. Show that you are able to act on it and improve your skills. That’s why you’re an intern, to learn and develop yourself. Ask for feedback as well, either when you’re working with someone on a project, or when you’re preparing for your appraisal.


1. Don’t disrespect other people’s time

Never come late to an appointment and if you do, you should have a good reason. For example, when your train is delayed, immediately inform the other person that you’re running late. Update them if you know what your new arrival time will be. Showing up unannounced is usually not appreciated. Dutch people really value their own time as well as your time. If you arrive unexpectedly when they are in the middle of something else, they feel like they cannot give you the quality time you deserve.

2. Don’t make false promises

Never promise something you will not be able to do. If you say that you will do something, your Dutch colleagues or manager will take your word for it. If you say that you will do something and you don’t do it, people will start feeling like they can’t count on you. You will lose credit quite quickly.

3. Don’t make Dutch people ‘read between the lines’

The Dutch prefer sincerity in opinions or decisions. Let’s say you’re in a bad mood. Instead of letting your colleague guess what’s going on, just say that you are having a bad day. Dutch people appreciate openness. Don’t stay silent or be vague when you disagree with something. Just explain your opinion.

4. Don’t treat one colleague differently than the other

Equality is very important in the Dutch work space. When it’s your birthday and you are bringing a treat (as you are expected to do), bring one for everyone in your team or department. If you differentiate between people, it will be interpreted as if you’re favouring one person over the other and you don’t accept people for who they are. That is considered disrespectful by Dutch people.

Read more dos and don'ts in Part II

Carolina Barría is the founder of World Rotterdam. Originally from Chile, she moved to the Netherlands in 1996. She has worked for Ernst & Young and the Rotterdam City Government, developing business for clients and acting as Business Relationship Manager. 

In her extensive career, she has managed more than 30 international students. 

Posted by Carolina Barría at May 01, 2017 01:35 PM