Saturday, August 6, 2011

Remembering the Acorns

Overall the job climate sucks everywhere these days, but that's more true in some fields than it is in others. I've been simultaneously applying for writing positions (not a one of which has bothered to so much as send an autoreply, grrr) and lab positions, mostly to no avail--so far. I've had a few interviews in the past and few more coming up. I'm sure there are hundreds of sites out there in the world about how to land a job in the Netherlands, so don't take the following as gospel. The fact that I've been reasonably successful getting interviews, but far less successful getting offers (I think it was that funk that I'd been in--we'll see next week!) should be an indicator that I don't have all the answers worked out just yet.

But what I have worked out is simultaneously good and very bad news. The very bad news is, most hiring people get a small blizzard of applications for every listing, even when the economy was good. Now that it sucks all over, that's more true than most, so that means your CV and "letter of motivation" (what they call a cover letter, here) has to be VERY VERY good. The good news is that what constitutes a VERY VERY good CV/letter has little to do with your actual qualifications, though that assumes that you actually are competent and not a jerk.

There are a few things that you have to do before you even start looking for a job in the Netherlands. One of them is familiarizing yourself with search terms in both Dutch and English. Job listings could be placed under either word, especially those from multinational companies (which are most likely to hire expats with shaky Dutch). The second is to move to Amsterdam--okay, so it's not something you have to do, but it goes without saying that the coast has a lot more opportunities than the German border.

I've spent most of my career in academia, so most of the job listings that I am interested in are not on the Dutch Monsterboard. I mainly use Academic Transfer to find listings (AT has the added bonus of being one of the Dutch websites that translates well). I've also signed up with several recruiting agencies, but have yet to make use of them--because they often don't list the companies posting the job, it's impossible to write a detailed letter specific to the position. The BCF jobs website is another that I've found somewhat useful, but again, it pays to pay attention to whether the listing is done through a recruitment agency or directly through the company. For me, recruitment agnecues have been nothing but a waste of my time--with the exception of the one person I had a good talk with at the career fair, I have never gotten a good response from any recruiter. So go ahead, try them, but don't say I didn't warn you.

I've found that rather than filling letter with buzzwords like "fast learner" and "hard working", it's more useful to mention the time you got drafted into planning the company skydiving trip--and extra bonus points if you can work in a terror of heights. Of course, such an example would be useless if you were applying to do data-entry work (been there, done that) and didn't have to learn new things constantly, and so you'd have to come up with a new example. You may have figured out the point by now: you cannot get away with writing a blanket letter filled with vague promises of being awesome. You have to show how awesome you are by writing a letter filled with the awesomeness that the company is looking for--and yes, that means writing a new letter for every application...and then, if you are lucky enough to get an interview request, to remember what you wrote.

As for the CV/resume part...well, I've read more than I need to by way of craptastic resumes. The best advice I've ever gotten about CV-writing is from Kerry Taylor--although she blogs mostly about personal finance and money matters, her resume and CV advice is right on and I really can't say it better myself. I have a standard CV that I send to lab and lab-related positions, but for writing positions and other sorts of work, anything goes, really. The question is, "What does the hiring person want to read?"

It's a full-time job, looking for work. I wonder if squirrels don't feel the same way about interview requests, snuffling about in the forest floor, and randomly coming upon an acorn that they'd buried oh-so-long ago...

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