How to rise in a senior position in The Netherlands?

How to rise in a senior position in The Netherlands?

Seniority at work is often associated with years of work experience in the company, a high status or rank, and a high salary scale. In the Netherlands, it is quite a challenge for many internationals to rise in a senior position even though they may already have years of work experiences in their own country or other places. I think that the same case works for internationals or expats working in other countries such as the United States of America, Canada, or Australia. It takes some time to navigate the Dutch working system due to language and cultural barriers. But once you know how the system works, you may be surprised how fast your work can bring you to a senior position. In my previous blog Achieve work life balance: Embrace Dutch work habits, I mentioned that being a senior at work in the Netherlands does not immediately equal to the number of years you work, but also dependent on the capabilities that you have. So, it is possible to rise in a senior position with having 2-3 years of work experience given that you have the right capabilities to perform the job.

In this blog I will tell you the learning and experiences I got being in a Dutch academic system. Many internationals had difficulty surviving in Dutch academic system. There are so many barriers you have to pass in order to establish yourself. Contracts are mostly on definite period (e.g. 1-2 years). After third time renewing the contract, it’s the time your employer will be obliged to offer you either a permanent contract or advise you to find a position elsewhere. PhD, Postdoc, and lecturer positions are often contractual. Only when you enter the Assistant professor level that your contract has higher possibility of becoming permanent. My case was a bit of a different situation because I started working in an applied university (a level lower than a research university). In the beginning, I got hired for 6 months even though I was already four months pregnant. My supervisor extended my contract for another one year, even though it means I will consume the other half a year for maternity leave. After that, my contract was extended again and then my supervisor immediately gave me a permanent contract, without fully complying yet with the requirement of having a permanent contract – getting a university teaching qualification. After that year, I also got my promotion and was promised to have another one. Things happened this fast because I possess a PhD, which is an advantage compared to a regular lecturer. But still, the turn of events are fast. While people are still securing their permanent contract in the past two years, I already had my permanent contract, half a year of leave, and a promotion at the same time. Let me share you my realization in my academic journey.

Things to do to quickly ascend in senior position:

1. Be proactive.

Being proactive in a meeting or a conversation is just one step to reach your desired position. A simple message such as “Happy birthday” or “Congratulations!” for an achievement made by a colleague does not take so much effort but can bring connection and impact. Also being present in a meeting, which others say may take time, is a sign of visibility in the organization. What’s more is if you participate in that meeting, you are establishing your position in the group. Being present and visible makes your colleague and your boss notice you. The use of social media, such as Linkedin and Twitter, also helps establish visibility in your work. Try it for yourself and you will see how little effort you spend, and yet bring quite impact in your career.

The use of work-related social media such as Linkedin and Twitter helps improve your visibilty at work (photo credit: 2. Learn to navigate the system.

Navigating the system – the ins and outs and the vertical and horizontal ladders of the organization, is very important. Being blindsided of your own tasks, without knowing what other people of the same functions are doing, not knowing the opportunities out there, or not having the helicopter view of the future will keep you in your position for a long period of time. Therefore, take time to learn and to navigate the system. You may spend a few hours on this, but I say it is worth it because it will open your eyes on future possibilities or paths. Let’s take for example my work. I got hired for a scale 10 middle step as a lecturer in an applied university after my PhD. At first, the scale and salary position that was given to me suit my situation because I don’t have teaching experience. My background is more of research having a PhD in a research university. After navigating the system, I realized that in my university, there are three lines of work – teaching, research, management or any combination. I decided to do both teaching and research after a year of teaching only. Since I started doing research, I however realize quickly that my research work requires a higher position (not scale 10!) since I already have the PhD (scale 12 or senior position). In addition, my teaching tasks should not be in scale 10 anymore after developing courses, getting my teaching qualification at the end of 2 years of work, and supervising many students. I have also inspected the agreements between university of applied sciences and together, I collected all these evidences to make a well-argued case for a salary and position upgrade when discussing it to my manager. In a short period of time, they agreed to get me promoted. But since I am still at the wing of teaching, I cannot obtain the scale 12 immediately. Therefore, the step I am taking is to switch to doing more research instead of teaching to obtain a more senior position.

When you are also feeling stuck in your position, be flexible to move organizations. Moving to a new organization is also one of the quickest way to move up in a scale and position. Of course your track records need to support the position you are applying too.

3. Earn the respect of your colleagues and bosses.

Respect is not a privilege and instead something that you have to work hard for. Earning respect is linked to being pro-active and visible, delivering tasks on time and at good quality, and being able to show tangible outputs in your line of work (developed courses, qualifications, publications, grant proposals). As what I observed, respect is easily gained when you achieve tangible outputs. Avoid being authoritative in position, such as the Asian or Southern cultures. Be sure to respect your colleagues in all levels. For example, a good relationship with support staff such as people from the secretariat can be more enjoyable and make your work easier.

Tangible outputs make people at work earn the respect of their colleagues (Photo credit: 4. Reinvent yourself by choosing your own path.

One thing that will make you successful in your line of work is choosing your own path, guided by knowing the system. Choosing your own path means doing what you want, while being in the umbrella of the system. For instance, my research manager told me to follow whatever I want to research and that he will fully supports me. So, I tried to do research topics on field that I am knowledgeable at and apply the theories of my research group. Choosing my own path gives me sort of freedom, enjoyment, and ease at my work since I already had establish connections in the field. At the same time, I felt like I move very quickly from being implementer, to more on building my expertise from a broader perspective (instead of just being a specialist). Having a vision of the future is very important. Think of where you want to be in 2, 5, and 10 years from now. When you reinvent yourself, you develop business opportunities for your company or institute. You are also now in the lead to provide job to other people. Before, you are just doing a job for other people. In short, being senior is also more responsibility but doing the work in your own liking makes the workload less heavy.

5. Invest on getting certifications and qualifications.

Getting certifications and qualifications enable you to become expert in various field. It also enables you to establish connections or networks in the field that you are building. Remember that your network is your net worth. The people you meet while building your certifications and qualifications might help bring you to where you want to be in the future. You never know!

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