A guide to securing EU employment

How to Launch an EU Career

Since our accession to the European Economic Community in 1973, numerous Irish people have forged successful careers in European affairs. Today, Ireland can be proud that it is well represented at all levels of the European Union’s institutions and agencies. The various EU bodies offer unique international careers which can make a real difference to the lives of the over 500 million EU citizens. I myself worked in European politics in Brussels for three years and found it to be a fascinating and rewarding experience. In order to maintain and develop Irish influence in the EU, it is important that Irish people continue to pursue these roles. This article will provide a brief overview of some of the opportunities available, where to find them and how to go about applying for them.

Career opportunities in the EU

Careers in the EU are extremely varied, spanning the fields of languages, law, public administration, social sciences and many more. There are many different EU institutions and agencies, employing up to 50,000 people, working in diverse areas. A great way to get your foot in the door is to complete a traineeship or stage with one of the main institutions such as the European Commission or the European Parliament. These traineeships are usually paid, last between three and six months and provide participants with hands-on work experience and an insight into the workings of the EU system, which can prove invaluable to future career prospects. There are different types of traineeships; the European Commission, for example, offers a general administrative traineeship as well as translation training. In addition, many EU agencies and private organisations working in specific areas of EU affairs offer excellent internships or training programmes.

Of course, one can’t be a trainee forever and opportunities for permanent positions in the EU are also numerous and varied. Permanent staff for EU institutions are recruited via open competitions or concours through the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). Many officials begin their careers as Administrators (AD), who play an important role in drafting and implementing EU legislation, or as Assistants (AST), who are involved in the daily running of the institutions. The work done by these officials varies depending on the department (or ‘Directorate-General’) they are assigned to. Others pursue language-related roles in translation or interpreting and some officials with specialist skills in key areas are recruited under ‘Specialist Profiles’.

Where to find these opportunities

Due to the large number of job opportunities available, it can be difficult to know where to look for them. However, there are several sources of helpful information that potential candidates can turn to. For example, as part of its EU Jobs campaign, the Department of the Taoiseach has set up a webpage dedicated to “supporting Irish citizens interested in pursuing a career in the EU institutions”. This webpage includes job vacancy listings and advice on how to prepare your applications. In addition, online ‘jobsites’ that list vacancies in European affairs include EuroBrussels.com and Euractiv.com.

European Movement Ireland, an independent NGO working to develop the connection between Ireland and Europe, also publishes a weekly list of jobs and traineeship opportunities as part of its ‘Grad Jobs in Europe’ campaign. You can sign up to receive an email update when this list is published on EM Ireland’s website. In addition, once a year, EM Ireland produces The Green Book, a booklet containing a comprehensive guide to launching a career in the EU. The booklet includes a list of the various EU bodies which offer traineeships and their application deadlines, advice on how to prepare your applications, and general tips on how to succeed in an EU career. An abridged copy of the The Green Book is available to download for free on EM Ireland’s website.

How to apply

As mentioned above, there are a number of sources of helpful tips on how to prepare your applications for jobs and traineeships which provide much more comprehensive advice than I have space for here. Nevertheless, here are some key points to keep in mind:

Firstly, each institution or agency is different so make sure to research each one thoroughly and tailor your application to their needs. Recruiters receive large numbers of applications so they will notice generic ones and will be unlikely to consider them. Think about the area you might like to work in in the future (and that matches up best with your experience and skills) and apply to the relevant institutions or agencies. You can also state your preference to be assigned to a specific Directorate-General within an institution.

Secondly, most jobs and traineeships have certain language requirements. For example, to be eligible for the European Commission traineeship, you must have a certified C1/C2 level of one of the three working languages of the Commission (English, French or German), excluding your mother tongue. For native English speakers, this means you must be able to prove a C1/C2 level of French or German. That being said, English is the most commonly used language within the EU bubble and it is an advantage to be a native speaker.

Thirdly, it is important to note regarding traineeships in the EU institutions that you can’t do more than one. If you have worked for more than six weeks in an EU institution or agency or with a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), you are ineligible to do a traineeship. This is to give opportunities to as many people as possible. So make your traineeship count.

Finally, make sure to show your enthusiasm for the role! Perhaps this goes without saying, but if your passion and enthusiasm for the job and for European affairs in general comes through in your application, it might just give you that extra something to get ahead of the competition.

I wish you the best of luck in your future career!

  • Salmondnet

    Umm. Useful as this may be as PR for the EU and information for those looking for work therein, does this advert really count as a blog post?

  • Brian Kann

    Interesting article to see here – thanks!

    I myself spent about 4 years after leaving University applying for various EU jobs, and although I must have went for about 4 EPSO processes the only one I ever got was a one-year legal traineeship at the ECB which resulted from a normal CV procedure and interview where I was able to make my own mark on it. I actually found the whole EPSO process extremely frustrating and discouraging; it’s an IQ designed purely to wittle down the sheer volume of people applying and I can imagine Irish/UK applicants struggling with it more than continental Europeans, unless you pay a lot for training on how to do them which a number of consultancy firms in Brussels actually offer.

    Some other obvious hurdles to overcome:

    – continental Europeans tend to be vastly more qualified as they stay in higher-level education longer to obtain Masters as a minimum. In many countries, like Germany, this is actually free: take the UK system, where doing this would now cost 50k in fees alone.
    – even if you do master a few languages (which is very commendable; C2 is only really being possible from living in a country for a fair period of time), continentals tend to master a lot more for various cultural, social and linguistic reasons. More and more, their English will almost match your own as well especially if they have had a privileged education.
    – culturally, the whole “concour” process is probably more familiar to continental Europeans, as many public service jobs in their countries have similar recruitment processes and they are more than used to them.

    It can be done, but prepare to sacrifice a lot and keep trying and your head up. Especially the salaries at the end of it if you can make it! It’s great that the Irish government are taking measures to help people: often at the ECB, being “pushed” in by a national bank was how most people got their way in there. Giving people advice and encouragement for the other institutions, and taking an active role in ensuring Irish interests there, is a great thing.

    I eventually gave up on it but now enjoy what I do working as a European lawyer and using my languages for an international company in Germany. Definitely, the experiences I had were extremely helpful and who knows what will happen one day!