Overall Recruitment Practices in Belgium
After a lot of research on Belgian recruitment procedures, the evaluation of surveys and CV’s of Belgian professionals including an personal interview with a Business Unit Manager who worked in Belgium in the recruitment area, we found out that Belgium is a diverse business culture with a lot of important cultural values, especially in the working area. The Belgian’s are very conservative people and take notice of everything, which perfectly reflects their work culture. A majority of 60% agrees that one must be careful with what they share on social media, because this can potentially have an impact on recruitment.
The dress code for men and women should be appropriate as “people in Belgium are expected to wear smart dress”. Men should wear a dark suit with trousers or a full suit with neck tie. Women should wear a dress or a dark suit with trousers. Head coverage and revealing clothing should be avoided. Tattoos and piercings are an absolute no go for both men and women and should always be covered. Furthermore, applicants are expected to apply for professional work in English and the local languages, French or Dutch. Most commonly, the application documents are requested electronically through a recruitment office which already makes a pre-selection of possible job candidates for the company. One of the survey respondents commented: “As for now, we make a lot of use of recruitment and selection offices. In time we would like to manage this ourselves through web applications, where electronic applications will be applicable. It could be different for our production workers.”
Country Introduction of Belgium
Belgium, located in the heart of Western Europe, consist of three different regions called: Brussels-Capita, Flanders and Wallonia and hosts more international companies than Washington D.C. Apart from being known for having one of the best quality of life standards in Europe, Belgium is also known for being a highly diverse culture. Belgium is in the top 5 of richest countries in the world. Due to its cultural diversity and its activeness in the service sector Belgium is an attractive but also challenging domicile for driven job seekers.
Belgian business communication
Belgium has three official spoken languages. If you want to find a workplace it is very helpful to have knowledge of French, Dutch, and German. A respondents of the online survey commented this topic like following: “Minimum knowledge of one of the local languages is often required. As an HR professional, I often see people applying without proper preparation, this is also vital however.” Despite that, language is not the only difference between Flanders and Wallonia. They can be divided into both different cultural parts. In Flanders, where people tend to go less after the hierarchical tradition than in Wallonia, it is essential to involve others in the decision making progress and to not put oneself above everyone else. On the other hand, in Wallonia hierarchical differences are much more common within business life. Therefore, the employees expect to be directed because “the highest ranked person always makes the final decision.” In Wallonia the term flat organization structure is not common and hierarchical behavior should be respected and not underestimated. A good relationship should be established with the top managers of the company because they will always be the final decision maker. Belgians are known to be difficult to convince so being precise, realistic, to the point and providing important information to establish a good understanding of the matter are all key factors to get a job.
In Belgium a person is valued by looking at his occupational skill and qualifications. But never show off, it is essential to stay modest and realistic when presenting your career history as showing off one’s success is not accepted in Belgian society.
Employability on the Belgian Market
The Belgian application procedure
Belgium provides lots of possibilities for job seekers from abroad. It is an important location for many multinationals because of the following reasons:
- the three different languages,
- the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
- the European commission in Belgium.
A good medium to look for a job is the internet, many local or international companies are in contact with staffing agencies. These staffing agencies function as intermediaries and post their vacancies online. Most of these agencies are divided into the different language areas, and specialize in specific branches. This will help narrow the search. The internet is also a good medium to get in contact with local groups and organizations since networking is very important in Belgium. Having a big network can open many doors with regards to job offerings.
It is also possible to apply for speculative positions. Calling the HR department of a company to get useful information and to give a good impression is important. Since competition is high in Belgium within certain sectors, one should take the initiative and ask for open positions. In addition to this, research should be conducted on whom to address in the application, which language the application should be in and other aspects that may be important and could show one’s interest.
When an interesting vacancy is found, one should organize the necessary admission documents. A CV and a cover letter are the usual hand-ins. During the interview appointment attachments should be handed in as hardcopy. It is of high importance to check the correct language beforehand, Walloons dislike being addressed in Dutch and the other way around.
Letter of application guidelines
Social skills, experience and motivation are the most important factors that employers take into consideration when looking for the right candidate for their open position. The letter of application and the CV are essential to gain the employer’s attention. In the cover letter the company should find an overview about the applicant’s personality, enthusiasm and his social competencies. In addition the CV contains information about the candidate his previous experiences. Companies receive many applications daily, therefor one’s application letter should not be longer than 1 page (a4). Belgium has a conservative business culture, the application letter should be constructed like a European business letter. Paper quality is not important, but more appropriate paper may look more professional. A typed letter of application is preferred regardless in which region you apply.
The first part of the page is used for salutations of the recipient. The name and contact address of the sender should be at the bottom of the page. The applicant has to mention in the first paragraph where the job posting was found and which job position exactly he is seeking. The other paragraphs can be used to give an overview about the motivation for this position, one’s extracurricular activities and personality traits.
The CV is one of the most important documents of application. A Belgian CV is standardly in tabularized form and chronologically ordered starting with the most recent event. Like the application letter the CV has to be no longer than 1 or 2 pages, depending on the candidate’s prior work experience and printed on white paper on a4 format.
The order of the different sections is as following:
- Personal Information
- Work experience
- Personal Interests
The section ‘personal information’ contains all information that is relevant. E.g. name, contact address, including email address, as well as telephone number and gender. Marital status, number of children, information about parents and social media contact data are not necessary and usually not included.
The ‘Education’ section lists all attended education chronologically with name, dates and location. Special courses, internships, exchange programs and projects which can express certain attained skills are also helpful to mention in this section.
The ‘Work Experience’ section is the most important part of a CV. Also here all names, dates and locations of recent employers have to be included in chronological order.
In the section ‘personal interests’ one should not confound with the personal information and interest as covered in the letter of application. This section should be used to emphasize knowledge which is not included in the CV yet. For example include language skills, computer knowledge, volunteer programs and other skills which may underline one’s strengths.
The end of the CV can be used to list references. Always inform your references about possible calls from potential new employers. Adding a picture to your CV is not necessary but can be a nice plus. Always use an appropriate photograph with a neutral background and professional business clothes.
Job interviews in Belgium are usually planned far ahead. Therefore, in the case one can choose the date of the interview oneself, it is strongly recommended to choose a date which is at least one week ahead. Mondays and Wednesdays should be avoided, as it is common to go out for lunch with other colleagues from the company on those days. Always come prepared and bring in hard copies of the CV and all the other documents sent to the company beforehand.
A male is expected to come in well-dressed, in a dark suit with a neck tie and polished shoes. Women are mostly seen in business dresses or skirted suits. When entering the room, it is essential to be on time and greet all the people with a firm handshake while standing. Wait to be offered a seat by the host, since there might exist a hierarchical seating order. During the job interview maintain eye contact when talking to your counterpart, as eye contact is seen as a sign of honesty. Keep your voice low act patient and not pushy, as developing trust is the key to becoming successful in a Belgian job interview.
Generally, it is common to make use of salutations. However, in order to make the right use of it, it is essential to be aware of the different use of the salutations among the main three parts in Belgium. Therefore, it is appropriate to use titles, as Mr., Mrs. or Ms. in case the addressed person speaks English. However, in case the person is not speaking English, but Dutch, French or German, it is always appreciated to use the correct titles of the different languages, rather than the English titles. Regarding the importance of those complex salutations, it is highly recommended to avoid use of the informal titles in Dutch, French or German before they have been explicitly offered. In the following table, one can find some useful translation tools for creating a CV for a specific linguistic region.
|CV||Curriculum vitae||Curriculum vitae||Lebenslauf|
|Personal Information||État Civil||Persoonlijke gegevens||Persönliche Daten|
|Work Experience||Parcours professionnel||Werkervaring||Berufliche Erfarhrung|
|Personal Interests||Intérêst personnels||Persoonlijke belangen||Persönliche Interessen|
|Skills and interests||Connaissances et intérêst||Vaardigheden en interesses||Kenntnisse und Interessen|
Below you can find other important linguistic differences for Belgium:
|Time||24 hours clock|
Online job sites
The following lists the top five job search websites, in order of popularity:
- Monster: http://english.monster.be/
- Careerjet: http://www.careerjet.be/
- Jobat.be: http://www.jobat.be/
- JobsCareer: http://www.jobscareer.be/off/index.html
- Simplyhired: http://www.simplyhired.be/
Here follows the top five newspapers, in order of popularity of publishing job advertisements:
- Le Soir (French)
- La Libre Begique (French)
- De Standaard (Dutch)
- Gazet van Antwerpen (Dutch)
- The Bulletin (English)
Recruitment consultants (or executive search)
The top five recruitment consultancy bureaus, in order of quality, are:
- Adecco: http://www.adecco.be
- Kelly Services: http://www.kellyservices.be/
- Randstad: http://www.randstad.be/
- Manpower: http://www.manpower.be
Due to an interview that we arranged with Helene Guerin, the business unit manager of Unique Multilingual, we were able to find out what you should be aware of when trying to integrate into the Belgian workforce. With regard to the speaking part of the languages itself, Helen firstly explained, that besides English, it is of high importance to have a good knowledge of French and Dutch/Flemish. Nevertheless, if one is planning to work in the Flemish part of Belgium Helene states “you need to speak fluent Flemish without an accent in order to speak to them or to get accepted by them.” Another issue that accounts for all parts in Belgium is the way you present yourself to the outside. Everything needs to be perfect,your dress, your nails, your hands, your hair etc. It illustrates that you are in control of yourself as the Belgians believe that “someone who cannot take care of himself, will not be able to take care of a company” according to Helene. When it comes to business meetings Helene stresses “that you should not move around too much” as the person opposite of you will interpret that you are too nervous or not mentally stable when put under pressure. In general Belgian interviews come down with a lot of analysing and tests as they see the hiring of a new person as a return on investment. According to Helene you best prepare for entering the workforce in Belium is by gaining a high degree at a well known university in Belgium, because “excellent education is highly respected in Belgium.” This is why, your educational background should always be stated at the top of your CV, no matter how old you are. Helene moreover confirmed, that the most common place for business meetings or interviews is the restaurant as Belgians like to have lunch for business matters. Here you should however know that your way of eating will be closely analysed, since the way you drink your coffee or cut your meet will say something about your personality. Just to give you an idea: “If you drink your coffee without milk or sugar you might be a too tough person for the company” or “If you sit on the corner of the table it might mean that you will not get involved enough into business matters within the company” etc. To put it concisely, in order to build up a successful career in Belgium one should stick to the rules, do what is asked for by the employer, know the languages well and work hard. This might sound harsh but in Belgium the saying “giving and taking” is integrated in the every day life as you will receive a lot of benefit from the company in return.
As Belgium is known for its outstandingly high quality of life standards in Europe and its strong globalized position in the world in terms of globalization, the country becomes increasingly interesting to professional business people from all over the world. However, Belgium is not only inviting the expats with economic figures but also with its charming diverse culture. To make the big step of integrating to Belgium a big success, one should however be aware of the main cultural differences. You should try your best to learn both main languages Dutch and French and should be aware of the cultural differences in terms of business cultures within the two areas. You have the option to decide if you prefer working in the more personal French way or rather in the structured Dutch way. Nevertheless, in both areas you should be aware of the fact that you will always do your best and will not leave the house without being smart dressed. Be in control of yourself and act accurate because in the end you will be highly rewarded for your hard work. It will be worth it!