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

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 16, 2017 01:10 PM

Read more dos and don’ts in Part I 


1. Do learn about the Dutch humour and how to use it at work

Dutch people have a great sense of humour, which can sometimes be quite direct. Having fun in the workplace is important in most Dutch companies. Do your job, but be sure to join in in the fun as well. Through the humour, you learn a lot about the culture of a company. The coffee machine is an important social gathering place, and a good place to catch up and make a joke. Tip: you can never go wrong with a joke about the weather.

2. Do relate to your supervisor as if he or she is your equal

Dutch companies usually don’t have a lot of hierarchy. The distance between you and your boss will be small. I once introduced my manager as my ‘boss’. And he replied: ‘A dog has a boss, I am your colleague.’ You can call your supervisor by his or her first name.

3. Do act as a responsible and flexible professional

In Dutch companies you are expected to control your own time schedule and planning. Be flexible about your working hours. When there’s a tight deadline, you might be asked to work late. Then you can compensate later on. The result of your work is more important than the hours you clock in. Dutch people take their work very seriously, and feel responsible for it. They will work very hard to get the expected result.

4. Do be critical and outspoken about the Dutch too - they expect and appreciate it 

When you have something negative to say about Dutch culture, you can share this with a Dutch colleague, if you do it respectfully. Share your opinion from your own experience, and ask if your interpretation of the culture is correct and what you could do to deal with it. Dutch people are very open to explaining their culture.

5. Do be open to compromise during any form of negotiation

Dutch companies have a very strong ‘consultation culture’. You might be in a meeting for hours to get to a compromise that everyone agrees on. The process of talking about it together and getting everyone on board, is at least as important as the solution that you come up with. Participate in this process. Dutch people might take a bit more time than you expect to come to a decision this way, because they want to make sure that they make the right choice.

6. Do participate in company rituals

Rituals such as birthday ‘coffee and cake', the 'borrel' (company get-together with drinks) and Christmas festivities are a very important social component of Dutch companies. If you don’t join for these celebrations, you might be seen as an outsider. It is a great occasion to catch up with people that you don’t see very often. And the perfect chance to make new connections within the company.


1. Don’t bluff or brag

Bluffing is not done, neither is bragging. At the start, be modest and keep a low profile. It is better to start off acting small and to grow, than to act big and not come through on the expectations you’ve raised. Dutch people appreciate sincerity.

2. Don’t overdress

See what other people are wearing, and when in doubt, ask your Dutch colleagues for advice. Don’t stand out too much. In Dutch companies you will be appreciated for your personality and capabilities. Not your looks or style.

3. Don't be 'bossy' to subordinates

Be very polite and respectful when working with subordinates or support staff. Don’t tell them to do something, but ask if they would please help you and explain why you need their help. Also don’t forget to greet them, when you see them in the hallway. In Dutch companies, everyone is considered to be equal.

4. Don't shower Dutch people with compliments; it makes them feel uneasy

Of course everyone likes a compliment, but give them in moderation and only if you really mean it. When you give too many compliments, it might make the other person wonder if you’re sucking up to them. Compliments make Dutch people feel like they stand out from the crowd, and that makes them shy.

Read more dos and don’ts in Part I 

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 16, 2017 01:10 PM