Have you been struggling with your job search in Belgium? I know how you feel. Don't give up! After 5 months of actively looking for work, I finally got hired for a full-time job! I applied to 200 jobs that I found online that matched my profile and only landed 2 (unsuccessful) interviews from those—that's 1%. How I finally landed a job was with the help of a recruitment agency.
In the first part of this post, you will find some tips that I have gathered from personal experience and other expats who have found jobs in Belgium. The second part is about what websites to use on your job hunt and names of a few companies that hire people who do not speak Dutch or French.
Realistically, it can take a few months before you find a job that doesn't require Dutch/French. Here are your best bets:
- Get a job in an international company (multinationals, EMEA & regional headquarters)
- Work in a startup or in the IT sector
- Work in an Irish pub or an Indian restaurant
- Factory/logistics jobs
- Jobs at the ports
- Cleaning jobs
TIPS TO LAND A JOB IN BELGIUM
1. Location, location, location!
If you live in Antwerp and you're not yet fluent in Dutch, expand your search to other cities as well. Brussels is your best bet to finding an English-speaking job. You can also find jobs in Mechelen, Leuven, Ghent...and Antwerp (if you look hard enough!).
As you might already know, there are 3 official languages in Belgium. Dutch is spoken in the Flanders region to the north of Belgium, French is spoken in Wallonia to the south, and German is spoken in the south east. In Brussels, the official languages are French and Dutch (but the language on the streets is French). 90% of the job listings you will find will require either Dutch or French (or both)!
If you can only speak English for the time being, you should apply at international companies. If you plan on staying in Belgium for a long period, do consider studying at least one of the official languages to triple your chances of landing a good job.
Not knowing the official languages of Belgium might not be as much of a disadvantage as you think: some people get hired precisely because they speak a foreign language.
3. Polish your CV & cover letter
Make sure your CV is up to Belgian standards and list all of the languages that you can speak (and the level of proficiency). Some people land a job because they can speak in a language that is not English/Dutch/French. If you are permitted to work in Belgium, also indicate this in your CV. I had an experience with a recruiter who assumed I could not legally work in Belgium just because I'm a foreigner.
When you apply for a job, always include a cover letter as well. I have been told that some recruiters in Belgium automatically put applications w/o cover letters in the 'reject' pile.
4. Create/update your LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn is the largest social network for professionals and a vital tool for job seekers. If you put enough effort on building up your profile, recruiters will be the one actually contacting you! Do make sure you have updated your location to Belgium. Use the right keywords to describe yourself and your work experience, ask your former colleagues/classmates to give you recommendations & endorsements, share relevant stories on your timeline, and connect with as many people as possible (recruiters, employees from your dream company, your former work colleagues).
5. Public employment agencies in Belgium
You should register with the public employment agency in your region. If you ask nicely (and speak the correct language), you will receive guidance on getting a job.
- VDAB is the employment service for the Dutch-speaking Flanders region. My personal experience with VDAB is not good. Usually, they will help you find blue collar jobs if you have finished at least level A2 classes. Since I was looking for a job as an accountant, they said they could not help me since the language requirement for accountants is B2. I do think they are willing to help those who are looking for blue collar jobs. I did make a VDAB account on their website, and I was contacted by a recruiter (but that led to not much).
- ACTIRIS is the employment service of the Brussels-Capital Region.
- Le FOREM is the employment service for Wallonia, the French-speaking region in the south of Belgium.
- ADG is the employment service for the German-speaking community.
6. Create a profile on job search engines
If you make your Indeed or Monster profile interesting enough, recruiters will be the ones contacting you. As mentioned above, you can also be contacted by recruiters if you make an online account with one of the 4 public employment agencies in Belgium (since I live in Antwerp, I signed up with VDAB). I have listed the most useful job search engines further down in this post.
7. Sign up with recruitment & interim agencies
Approximately 80% of the jobs in Belgium are mediated by interim & recruitment agencies. Companies in need of talent call an agency when they themselves do not have the time or the knowledge to recruit new employees. Interim agencies mostly deal with handling temporary jobs, while recruitment agencies cater to more experienced professionals. These agencies have a large network of employers and they help you with applying to different openings. I myself found a job with the help of one of these agencies. You will find a list of select agencies further into this post. I found that when I applied directly to companies, I always got rejected straight away, but when a recruiter presented my profile to the same company, I was finally asked to come in for an interview. These agencies may also be the first ones to know about new job openings so they can help you get ahead. If, for example, the Antwerp branch of an interim office refuses to meet you because you can't speak Dutch yet, contact their other offices in Brussels, Mechelen, etc. and they might give you a chance. You just need to have your profile saved in their database and then all their branches will have access to your profile , which would increase your chances of getting a job.
8. Use & expand your network, attend job fairs
Ask your friends, landlord, language teacher if they know of any job openings. You could also attend job fairs. A simple Google search will show you all the upcoming career events in Belgium. This is a great way to expand your network and to see what career options you have. You can also learn about upcoming job fairs in various Facebook groups. I'll talk more about those (you guessed it!) later on in this post.
9. Have your diploma officially recognized in Belgium
If you have a foreign diploma, then in some cases you might need an equivalence recognition of your diploma. NARIC is the official body that handles this endeavour. Diploma recognition can cost either 90, 180, or 300 euros depending on the level of higher education. I myself went to Atlas (the integration institution of Antwerp) and they helped me with my diploma recognition, and since I signed up for the integration course, I did not have to pay anything! Recognition can take 60-120 calendar days. I myself found a job even though I have not yet heard back from NARIC.
Besides the main public employment agencies (VDAB, Actiris, etc.), there are other institutions that provide (mostly free) guidance in finding a job in Belgium.
- Talent Interlock - specializes in nurturing international talent with customised trainings and integration programmes to get them ready to work in the Belgian professional market.
- SBS Skillbuilders
- Wild Aprico
Apply for a job in a profession that has a significant labor shortage.
Here are the main bottleneck professions in Flanders:
- Site manager (construction)
- Industrial installations technician
- Analyst developer IT
- Technician production process and methods
- Driver tractor-trailer
You can find the complete lists of bottleneck professions in the different regions via this link.
A lot of jobs in Belgium require you to have a certificate/diploma. The public employment agencies in Belgium like the VDAB can help you in following a training course of your choice. They also have online courses that you can follow (some for free). Another institution that offers training courses is Syntra.
13. Internships and volunteer work
If you are finding it hard to find a full-time job, do consider doing unpaid internships. It will broaden your network and the employment gap in your resume won't get longer. Volunteer work can also help you meet people and even help you learn one of the official languages in Belgium.
14. Focus on what's unique about you
Trying to compete with the locals for Dutch/French-speaking jobs can be very frustrating even if you can speak their language. You should sell the qualities that differentiate you from the locals, your skills and experiences the others don’t bring: international outlook, adaptability, languages.
15. Change your name
Discrimination and hiring bias are still alive in this world, and Belgium is no exception. Some people have said that changing their name actually helped them find a job. People who are married to a Belgian can get ahead by taking on their spouse's last name. Read more about this topic here.
EXACTLY WHERE TO LOOK FOR JOBS IN BELGIUM
A lot of expats find jobs via LinkedIn. For location, try your area, then Brussels, Antwerp, Mechelen, and Ghent. During my search, I used the keywords EMEA & English and my desired profession. If you speak another foreign language, also try searching that. Some companies look for those who can speak Italian, Polish, etc.
2. Job Search Engines
There are a multitude of job search sites in Belgium besides LinkedIn. Do not forget to create an account with some of them so that your profile will be visible to recruiters and they can contact you directly. These are the main job sites that I have used:
- BrusselsJobs - They may only have a few listings but they really mostly have English-speaking jobs. You can follow their FB page to keep up-to-date.
- ICTJob (IT jobs)
- Job Kitchen (Hotel, restaurant, café jobs)
- Hosco (Hospitality)
- Creative Skills (Creative sector)
- Port of Antwerp
- AWDC (Diamond industry)
3. Recruitment & interim agencies
I first e-mailed the Antwerp offices of these agencies. Very few agreed to meet me because I am only level B1 in Dutch, so I contacted their Brussels branches as well. They also post job listings on their websites, so whenever you find something interesting, do let your contact within the agency know.
- Adecco - I was invited to their Mechelen branch
- Actief - I was invited to their Antwerp branch
- Vivaldis - I was invited to their Brussels branch
- Square City
- Michael Page/Page Personnel - I was invited to their Brussels branch then someone from their Antwerp branch found me my current job.
- Hays - I was invited to their Antwerp branch and they worked very hard to find something for me.
- Robert Half/Accountemps - I was invited to their Brussels branch - I was invited to their Brussels branch, they called me a lot for opportunities in Brussels.
- Walters People - I was invited to their Antwerp branch, did not hear from them for 3 months.
- Robert Walters
- 26 Top International & Regional Recruiters in Belgium
- Employment Agencies & Recruitment
- List of recognized recruitment agencies in Flanders
4. Companies that hire non-Dutch/French speakers
People might say that finding an English-speaking job in Belgium is like winning the lottery. This can be true if you don't know where to look. Here are a few companies that are known for hiring non-Dutch/French speakers. If there are no listings in their careers section that match your profile, make a Spontaneous Application either via their website or via e-mail.
- EU Institutions
- Louis Vuitton
- BNY Mellon
- Sabena Aerospace
- Sopra Banking
- Exxon Mobil
- Viva's Tour
- Katoen Natie (A very popular option for foreigners in Antwerp. They usually hire through the following interim agencies: Synergie, Konvert, Manpower, and Ago —contact their offices and ask for a job with Katoen Natie)
- Diamond Industry
- CH Robinson
- Wunderman Thomspon
- Wolf Oil
- November Five
- DEME Group
- Alpha Trains
- Pro Alliance
- Griffith Foods
- Kelly’s Irish Pub
- Molly’s Irish Pub
- Kid's Rhythm 'n' Blues Kaffee
- Aahaar Indian Buffet
- Octave by Chocolate Nation
- Five Guys
5. Facebook Groups/Pages
If you haven't yet, do join expat FB groups! They have been very helpful for me, they have lots of discussions about events, visas, city hall procedures. Sometimes, people post job listings that only require English.
- Babysits | A place for babysitters and parents to connect.
- NowJobs | This app is perfect if you want to find part-time/one-time jobs in your area.
- Deliveroo | It is an app where you can order meals from restaurants in your area. You can apply to be a delivery rider.
- UberEats | Same concept as Deliveroo. You can also apply to be a delivery partner.
7. Online work
In this day and age, it is becoming more and more easy to get an online job. Here are some ideas:
- UpWork | This is a great place to find online freelancer work in a variety of fields, including: writing, translation, accounting, customer service. Do not apply to too many jobs, though. That's how I got permanently banned!
- Teaching | Thanks to the magic of Skype, you can now be a language teacher. Teaching English to Chinese & Korean students is a booming business.
- Airbnb Experiences | Are you a photographer, a great cook, a tour guide? Airbnb gives you the platform to showcase your talents and provide your service to (mainly) tourists.
A peek of my business card collection
Do note that my background can be very different from yours and therefore it might take you a shorter/longer amount of time to find a job in Belgium as a foreigner. Here's the low-down on me:
I have a bachelor's degree in accountancy from a university in Manila, Philippines. I have a license as a certified public accountant, obtained from the Philippines. I have one year experience working in Manila as an accounts payable accountant for a big multinational company's shared services center before moving to Belgium. I am fluent in English & Filipino, I learned (basic!) French in high school, and at the time I got hired for my job in Belgium, my Dutch was level B1 (though that did not really matter because the company language is English). At the time of being hired, I was a holder of an orange card (attest van immatriculatie) and since I was doing the procedure for family reunion with an EU citizen, I could legally work in Belgium.
I applied to 200 jobs that I found online that matched my profile and only landed 2 (unsuccessful) interviews from those online applications. As I live in Flanders, I tried making an appointment with VDAB so they could help me find a job as an accountant, but they refused to help me since my Dutch is only at B1 level and they could only help accountants who are at least B2. I also signed up with 10 recruitment/interim agencies located in Brussels, Antwerp, and Mechelen. I was able to get 2 more interviews with the help of two of these agencies, and this is what led me to finally landing a job as an accountant with an international company.
What about you?
Do you also have tips on how to find a job in Belgium? How has your job search been? Let me know in the comments!