>That long and challenging quest for a job in Brussels


As many others, I started some time ago the race for another job. The recession didn’t make it easy especially at the beginning. Brussels, although capital of Europe and home of many European headquarters, remains a small city (e.g. Bucharest is twice as bigger and has twice as more inhabitants) where jobs are scarce and the competition is cruel. From my job-searching experience the common setbacks for an expatriate in finding a new employment are:
  • You don’t speak Dutch. Ouch! If you don’t speak Dutch than you’re chances to find an employment in the private sector in Brussels are already diminished by 50%. All the multinational companies present on the Belgian market will demand you to speak Dutch. So, even if you find the perfect job description, even you have all the skills, competences and knowledge job-wised, if they also ask Dutch, don’t even bother to apply. You’re wasting your time. Between a candidate with less experience and less skills but with some Dutch and another candidate with an extensive profile and no Dutch, the company will choose the one who is able to speak Dutch. Not fair, but true.
  • You don’t have enough experience. According to an HR Professional from Secretary Plus, the current job market is flooded by extremely qualified communications profiles in demand for a job. These people, with 5-7 year experience, speaking several languages, had lost their jobs and are ready to take any other job available in the field, even if it is below their qualifications. Therefore, although you may perfectly be able to meet the requirements of the job you are applying for, the extensively qualified profile will be usually preferred. From the company’s point a view, this is a wise choice in a short run, as it would spear the company to invest time in training and forming the new employee. On the other hand, in the long run, the over-qualified person will get bored of the job, than frustrated with the lower pay and will look somewhere else for a better deal. Obviously, the company which hired him in the first place, will have to organise again a recruitment process, allocate new budget, team will have to readapt to the new comer and so on.
  • You have too much experience. If some companies estimate that you still need some extra experience, HR agencies may estimate that your profile is too versatile for what they can offer in terms of positions. After contacting Ranstad office in DeBrouckere square, I received an email telling me that it was “good to know me” but my profile was simply too good for their jobs.
  • The pre-selection is made by Human Resources agencies which don’t fully understand the client’s needs or the profile needed for the job. Unfortunately, some HR agencies may consider that you are overqualified for the job, therefore your profile will not be short-listed. And this is extremely frustrating, especially when you know what you want, you found what you want, you are perfect for the job, but others just believe that you are too good for it. I have recently applied for a “Communication assistant” position via Manpower. When I called them up to see the status of my application, they informed me that my profile hadn’t been short-listed. I asked them which qualifications/skills/experience I was lacking and they simply told me that I had a “manager” profile and that I was overqualified for the job. I explained over the phone and via several subsequent emails why I was good for the job and why I really wanted “that” job, but I did not receive any favorable feedback whatsoever. The irony is that later on I found the same job application on LinkedIn and I could apply directly to the employer. And guess what, I was selected for an interview by the employer.
  • Some Interim/ HR companies provide redundant service. Another way to possibly find a job is to subscribe directly to the HR agencies. This means going to the actual HR office with your CV, presenting yourself and asking if they have any job offers that fit your profile. The advantage is that you present yourself as a real person and not as just another CV. In theory it is quite simple and straight-forward, but in practice it is a completely different story. Once in front of the HR agency’s reception desk, you can either be told to go back home and subscribe via their website (which you have already done, by the way), either to call person X or Y for an appointment, after previously sending your CV by email. You explain that you have already subscribed on their website and that the agency has already received your CV by email, therefore you would like to speak to somebody. At this request, the person from the reception will ask your printed CV. But you only have it in digital format on your USB key that they can not access. Therefore you need to go to a print shop. When you return with the printed copy of your CV, you are told that actually it is best to send your CV by email and to call up the agency on the next day to fix an appointment. Optimistic, you go home and do as told. On next day, when phoning up the agency you are told that they do not set appointments unless you applied for a certain job and you are invited for an interview.
  • You need a work permit. In Belgium, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens need a work permit untill 2011. This actually means that they cannot apply for a work permit by themselves and that only the company that wants to employ them can do it. The application for a work permit is simple and consists in filling out some form and waiting for about 1 to 2 weeks for the work permit. Unfortunately many companies misinterpret the work permit procedure and perceive it as a long full of red-tape process. The result is that in the end these companies refuse even to take into account applications from Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

  • You are discriminated on the basis of your nationality. Some organisations mention in their job offers posted online that they do not accept applications from nationals who do not have a valid work permit. It was the case of British Council in Brussels which although welcomes applications from all nationalities, it does not provide a work permit. Currently British Council in Brussels states only that “all applicants must be entitled to work in Belgium”.
Gabriela Doicaru

Author: Gabriela D. Spencer

I support you to Balance your overall Well-being, be it physical, emotional, relational or social through Life Coaching and Laughter Yoga. My aim is to ‘support you to help yourself’ as you are the only expert of your life. My interests include positive psychology, body-mind balancing techniques, stress management, well-being and connecting with one’s inner child. I am a Multi-potential and an ISFP (according to the latest tests, but who knows). I write and express myself whenever my mind is bursting with thoughts and emotions. Read me mostly in Romanian and sometimes in English.

6 thoughts

  1. >Hello Gabriela,Hope you're fine! Thanks for the interesting post. I just want to share my opinion regarding your first point: the necessity to speak Dutch.I don't agree with you! The fact is that, in almost all job applications, it is asked to speak Dutch BUT, in practice, very few employers really need it. I think it is more a "must have" in the application check list such as "the applicant must be stress resistant" and other bullshit of that kind.Also, this requirement allows the employer to easily turn down applicants with a simple and measurable reason : "you don't speak Dutch". This is handy and safe, you don't need to argue about feeling, skin color, etc.So, my advice would be to apply even if Dutch is requested. Dutch was requested for all my positions so far… and guess what? I can't speak Dutch!Of course, this is not valid for job that are linked to Flemish institutions or if there's a very good reason to speak Dutch in this job (applicant will take care of Dutch-speaking clients…).Other than that, I share your views about the difficult art to find a job in Brussels (or elsewhere)Good luck if you're still stuck in this quest!Marc


  2. >Many thanks, Marc! I always appreciate a piece of advice from you! I used to share your point of view until I was invited to a few interviews and then rejected on the basis of my lack of Dutch (as if it was not obvious in my CV that I wasn't speaking Dutch). Anyway, I shall keep trying, even if they require perfect knowledge of Dutch. 🙂 Gabriela


  3. >Hey Gabi, congrats for the blog post, it's great and tells a lot! I actually got very frustrated on the job advertisement by the British Council and I wrote them an e-mail explaining that they do discriminate and are not an "equal opportunity employer" and also explain them shortly the work permit procedure for Romanians and Bulgarians. I got an e-mail 2 days after saying that they thank me for my interest in the job and that Romanians and Bulgarians are entitled to apply and that, if selected for the job, the British Council will fill in the application for the work permit. Some HR people need to do their homework better before posting job advertisements,


  4. >And gain, for the zillion time, I got this reply "we cannot, unfortunately, retain your application, as your CV lacks the required linguistic knowledge of Dutch". So, yeah, another waste of time. Marc, probably you were just lucky with regard to Dutch. 🙂


  5. >Once ING had a post on Monster saying they hire in HR people that are native Romanian and also speak English, French and Spanish. Since I completely fit for that position, I applied. 1 week later they replied: "Thank u for ur interest, but u don't speak Dutch". I was like "£$%^&**@ and wrote to them "the add didn't mention that and besides, I am Romanian, exactly what u need". They said "yes, but we want a romanian that lived at least 5-7 years in Belgium and is bilingual" so I got angry and blastered them all over the place for posting false adds and wasting ppl's time..never heard of them afterwards 🙂


  6. >@Alina D: It is unbelievable! They want you to speak Romanian, English, French, Spanish + Dutch! That means 5 languages already, provided that there are so many Belgian nationals that don't even speak two of Belgium's national languages, not to mention English or Spanish. I am bewildered with this kind of attitude. I wonder how much are they willing to pay for this kind of person? Would the added value represented by these languages be rewarded? I doubt this. As much as I like ING brand, I can say that I am disappointed by this story.


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