Would you like to have 40.000 colleagues? The European Union (EU) offers a wide variety of career options, even for recent graduates and currently enrolled students. This article digs into some of those options and offers some highly welcome advice from Koen Hendrix, Communication Officer at the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), the body responsible for staff selection. (Featured Image © European Parliament)
DISCLAIMER: you must be a citizen of an EU member state to apply for a position at the EU.
As an employer, the EU is looking for highly qualified personnel. Therefore, the organisation is willing to invest in training and offers work time flexibility and internal mobility, which are attractive traits to find in a career. The EU sees this mobility as a way to optimise their human resources, shares Mr. Hendrix. By having people move around in the organisation they can share their know-how, and develop new skills. Especially for anyone keen on pursuing a career in international affairs, the EU can be an interesting opportunity.
Is Working for the EU Living the Dream?
First, you will work in an international environment, as it is the very nature of the organisation. This implies a chance to practise your languages, to deal with cultural differences, and to learn new perspectives. You can work in one of the member states (depending on whether you work for an EU-institution or one of its agencies) or even worldwide, if you work for one of the EU-delegations.
Many of today’s global issues are dealt with at the European level
Secondly, many of today’s global issues are dealt with at the European level, rather than the domestic level of the member states. If environmental issues, trade policy or migration are your area of expertise, opting for a career with the European Union is a logical choice.
It is important to keep in mind that you opt for a career in high-level politics and/or policies. If you prefer to see immediate results, this career choice may not be for you. Furthermore, policy development and monitoring at this supranational level is a process that requires patience and the ability to compromise. Working as an official for the European Union is working for a population of 500 million that is represented by at least 28 different points of view.
If you prefer to see immediate results, this career in high-level politics may not be for you
The EU is aware of the challenging aspects of working for their large and multicultural organisation, which is furthermore governed by procedures and a certain hierarchy. This aspect is even discussed during the selection procedure to find out if you properly thought about it, through the “EU Career, My Career Questionnaire” you have to fill in.
Another aspect that is looked at is your willingness to start a life in another city or country. It is necessary to consider the implications of an EU career on your personal life. To help you out once you make the move, the EU has a dedicated team to help you set up and assist you with the practical aspects of your relocation, for example the necessary paperwork and the search for a local doctor.
What are Your Options?
The European Union offers all kinds of career paths and different types of contracts. For recent graduates, the positions of permanent official or trainee are the most likely. Since the first is an established contract it is very much sought after and is awarded based on an open competition selection procedure, run by EPSO. This generalist competition attracts thousands of applicants. Within this contract type, two job profiles are aimed at university level graduates.
For recent graduates, the positions of permanent official or trainee are their best options
The first is administrator, “involved in drafting policies, implementing EU law, analysis or advisory work. The policy sectors covered include administration, law, finance, economics, communications and science.” Or you can be an assistant, which is a more technical role. For some inspiration on potential career options, Koen Hendrix suggests checking the EU’s YouTube channel with testimonials. He also explains that the EU is looking for people who “would be able to easily navigate […] the waters of a modern administration.”
Traineeships are another option, as the EU’s institutions welcome 1200 trainees each year. The selection is run by the institutions or agencies themselves. They usually last three to five months and are generally paid, with an average salary of €1000/month and the wage level depending on your function. The EU offers an overview of the possibilities and the potential salaries in this Quick Guide.
You should start your traineeship application on time, which means four to nine months before the deadline. These deadlines are different for each EU institution. A traineeship allows you to find out if working for the EU is for you, says Mr. Hendrix. For potential employees it is a great way “to see what it is like living in Brussels or Luxembourg and whether they would feel fulfilled working there.” Although it is important to stress that a traineeship offers no guarantee to further employment at the EU institutions.
Start with your traineeship application four to nine months before the deadline
Most of the selection is managed by EPSO, but there are exceptions. Temporary staff is usually directly selected and recruited by the institutions themselves. A non-exhaustive list of current opportunities can be found here and is interesting to check out regularly. Other relevant options are working for a member of the European Parliament, or as a Junior Professional in Delegation.
To work as an assistant for an MEP, you have to contact the particular MEP directly. Each political group has a different way of organising their recruitment, but once you are selected as an accredited parliamentary assistant, the same process is followed to formalise your employment at the European Parliament.
The Junior Professionals in Delegation are trainees that are employed at one of the 139 delegations of the EU. The traineeships lasts nine to eighteen months and are remunerated. Both the European Commission (EC) and the European External Action Service (EEAS) take part in this programme. Per member state two candidates are selected, and of these 56 participants half will be employed by the EC and half by the EEAS.
The next selection for Junior Professionals in Delegation kicks off in the summer of 2018
Eligible candidates should hold a university degree at Master-level, command English or French (but preferably both) and demonstrate interest in this field of work. Extracurricular activities and professional experience are considered important assets. The pre-selection is conducted by the member states, and the actual selection by the EC and EEAS. You can already mark the summer of 2018 in your calendar, since the next selection will kick off then.
Even currently enrolled students can work for the EU, as an EU Careers Student Ambassador. As a representative of EPSO, you would be responsible for promoting EU Careers at your university. In this position you would develop skills in marketing, P.R. and public speaking. A minimum of two hours a week is expected to fulfil your responsibilities. Of course, training is provided before you take up this task.
In February 2018, the selection for the academic year 2018-2019 will start. The member states draw up a list of participating universities and potential candidates, and EPSO makes the final cut after conducting interviews. However, if you are motivated to take part, do not hesitate to contact them directly at .
Getting Started with Your Career
Once you have decided what type of career you aspire, you can take part in the selection process. As said, most permanent contracts are awarded through EPSO. Between 55.000 and 80.000 candidates apply yearly, 3.000 of whom will reach the Assessment Centre phase. Only 1.000 to 1.200 of those will end on the reserve list, which the institutions use to select people for their job openings. For recent graduates the competition in spring is the most relevant, since it is a generalist competition. The entire selection process is extensive and can take five to nine months to finish.
Only 1.000 to 1.200 out of up to 80.000 candidates make it onto the final reserve list
Before you start your application be sure to check if you are eligible for the competition you want to take part it. The Notice of Competition, or vacancy description, outlines the function profile, the eligibility criteria and the entire selection procedure. Graduates need to have completed a three-year degree at university level and have to be proficient in two official EU languages, at least one at C1-level and the other at B2-level. Previous experience abroad can be relevant, since you are already familiar with the personal and professional challenges of working abroad, but it is not at all a must to be eligible.
According to Mr. Hendrix, candidates sometimes do not provide sufficient information to prove their eligibility, even when they qualify. Being thorough and exhaustive when filling in this information is thus vital. After your application has been validated, it is no longer possible to add lacking information or documentation. Submitting your application happens through an EPSO Account, the creation of which is a lengthy process. The EU offers an Online Application Manual explaining the different steps.
Candidates sometimes do not provide sufficient information to prove their eligibility, even when they qualify
When you are deemed eligible, you will be invited to take a computer test with multiple-choice questions and, if you succeed, to take part in an assessment in the Assessment Centre in Brussels or Luxemburg. The Notice of Competition describes the type of assessment that will be used: a case study, a group exercise, an oral presentation, or a structured interview.
The tests of the Assessment Centre are based on real situations and are devised by EU officials, says Mr. Hendrix. “These tests require a real understanding of what the institutions do, their roles and how they work together.” He explains that a typical exercise follows the scenario of a group of supposedly EU officials who have to agree on a common solution, or draft a text together. EPSO provides you with an example of such a group exercise. If you finish as one of the highest-scoring candidates, you are placed on the reserve list.
Motivation is another significant factor taken into account
“On top of your knowledge, motivation is another significant factor that is taken into account”, says Mr. Hendrix. It is this factor that makes the difference when the institutions conduct interviews with all the successful and well-prepared candidates on the reserve list to eventually recruit just a few. The list for the generalist selection is valid for one year, and 50% of the candidates on it are recruited within seven months. The validity of the list is extended with a year if not everyone is recruited after year one.
It is also wise to actively prepare yourself for this selection procedure, even before you start the application process. Make sure you know the different steps for the selection you are competing in. EPSO foresees a MOOC to help you out, which is a course that gives an extensive overview of the selection procedure, with tips and insights. It is a great way to start your preparation process, but is currently only available in English. Furthermore, you should check out the FAQs on the EU Career Website. Take a good look, especially at this page about your language selection on the application form and this example about the language selection by EPSO for the selection procedure.
Once your application is finished and you would be selected to take part in the computer tests and later the assessment, you can practise for them with sample tests. These tests cover a variety of expected skills. Mr Hendrix suggests training a lot for the reasoning tests, “this is the stage where we “lose” the biggest number of candidates, so it is extremely important to get a high score.”
There are no national quotas, all applicants have equal opportunities
So, if you are convinced a career with the European Union is for you, keep in mind to start well in advance, make sure to find out everything you need to know, and prepare yourself wisely. Mr. Hendrix added some last encouragement to get started: “there are no national quotas. All applicants have equal opportunities to being successful.”
Have you applied for a job at the EU, or have you worked there? Share your experiences with us in a comment!