The world is watching Amsterdam

Amsterdam has long had a reputation for its knowledge economy, but in recent years, the city’s emergence as a European tech hub has grabbed global headlines. The capital is also a hotbed for creativity and entrepreneurship and the place where many great innovations and ideas find their start. 

Lisa Trapman, managing director for the Netherlands and Germany at recruitment specialist Aquent, agrees. “There are a lot of things that begin in Amsterdam, and then the rest of the world takes note,” she says. And for her company, coming here was a no-brainer. “It was, and still is, a design hotspot. It’s a place where designers want to be. I regularly meet people who’ve worked all over, but they choose to stay in – or come back to – Amsterdam because of the work-life balance, because it’s so accessible.”

From a college dorm room to the Dutch capital

In the tradition of successful American companies that were born in a college dorm room – Facebook, Dell and WordPress among them – Aquent began at Harvard in 1986 when three students started a desktop publishing business. That project morphed into a temporary staffing firm specialised in the creative, digital and marketing fields and was renamed Aquent in 1999. Today, it has offices in dozens of countries and works with Fortune 500 companies such as Adidas and Philips, along with creative agencies and startups

The allure of digital infrastructure

Aquent opened its Amsterdam office in 2000 and has been thriving here ever since. Though the excellent quality of life was (and is) a major draw, Trapman also cites the city’s digital infrastructure as a key reason for being here. After all, the Netherlands has one of the fastest internet connections in the world. 

“That’s essential not only for the clients we would like to service, but also for our own business,” says Trapman. “We’re entirely cloud-based. That makes the world a really small place if you’re trying to find the best user experience person in the market. You don’t have to look simply at Amsterdam or even the Netherlands, you can shout that out around the globe.”

Flexible, fresh and focused: the benefits of freelancers

“Freelancers give organisations the flexibility to add or relieve capacity as needed,” she continues. “But perhaps more importantly, they’ve seen other companies, they can share best practices and bring fresh eyes to a situation. That’s not to say the people internally are incapable of doing that, but it’s rarely their main focus. The best freelancer is someone who can come in, lay out a road map with the permanent team and enable that team to see it through.”

When asked whether startups can afford to recruit through a staffing firm, Trapman points to another unique feature of the Amsterdam job market. “We have a lot of highly skilled people who are available for two or three days a week, and sometimes, that’s all you need as a startup.”

Helping newcomers find their way in Amsterdam

Most newcomers to Amsterdam arrive with similar questions, says Trapman, and local expertise is invaluable for ensuring a smooth transition. She stresses the importance of organisations like amsterdam inbusiness, the city’s official foreign investment agency, which partners with specialists in tax, real estate, immigration, employment and other relevant sectors, and can arrange free introductions.

“Without being too overwhelming, we initially spend about an hour with a new client talking about the talent market, benchmarks for salaries and rates, and what their team in Amsterdam could look like. But whatever the client’s specific needs, my overall advice is just take a deep breath, it’s not as scary as you think. Essentially, the Dutch want to see you succeed and I think it’s great to have that mentality in your corner.”

Read more creative sector testimonials from around Amsterdam.