Working for the European Commission – traineeships

Applying for an internship at the European Commission

The European Commission is one of the biggest multi-national civil service organisations in the world. With EU nationals representing all 27 Member States (ok, so still 28 but with Brexit this number will change). For anyone who studied EU politics, economy, or languages then you could well find yourself backing into a Brussels corner. And where else to exercise all of that knowledge?! Here are a few practical pointers on applying for an internship at the EU Commission and what to expect.

  • There are x2 intakes of interns per year. One in March and the other in October,
  • Applications for the internships close 6 months in advance and most traineeships last for 5 months – unless you can wangle your way to an extension or a temporary contract,
  • The application process is long (and with the aim of filtering out as many people in the early stages as possible)
  • Paid positions averaging about €1200 per month (which should be just about enough to live off in the Brussels bubble).

There are 2 kinds of traineeship, administrative and translation. If you are applying for an admin post (and by admin I don’t mean purely photocopying letters – although I’ll get to that bit later on) then you’ll need a good command of at least one of the administrative languages English, French or German plus another EU language. However, if you are a native English, French or German speaker then you’ll need to speak another of the 3 admin languages. For example:

Hungarian applicant: German + Hungarian to qualify

French applicant: French + English or German to qualify

For a translation traineeship you would need a good command of 2 administrative languages and another EU language for good measure. Essentially the more obscure the EU language the more likely you are to get to the final stages of the sift.

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Louise – Brussels by night

 

What to expect?

You will need to create an account on the online application portal and begin completing the application form. NB: if you start doing this on the last day of the applications you will never complete it in time or to the best of your ability. It’s your first taste of European bureaucracy at its finest and it really is like writing War and Peace. Each answer will require a considered response and you’ll be trawling back through all of the weekend and temporary jobs you’ve had since you were old enough to work – so make sure you have the dates and names of employers to hand.

Tip: One trick I used was to keep all of the business cards of my old employers/companies and write my dates of employment on the back so that filling out the form was less of a chore.

Once this has been issued and the deadline passed, the Commission will request proof of: ID, university degree (completed), any ongoing studies, language skills, work experience and IT skills if relevant.

Following a sift, the top 2000 candidates will be selected for the notorious Blue book. This number outweighs the need for interns across the Commission but provides the departments with the best pool of applicants to pick from. Not all will be selected but those who are will have been matched up as best as possible to the needs of the department.

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Parc du Cinquantenaire – Brussels isn’t all grey and bureaucratic

What are my options?

 

So, you’re in the Blue book, you’re the chosen few and the future of the bureaucratic machinery that drives Europe. Job done…right? Wrong! You should wait a couple of weeks after hearing that you are on the virtual list before playing your cards. As a Brit, I found this next step wholly unnatural and made me want to take a good hot shower after I completed the task. And that task is: Chasing Your Application with a Phone Call. This might be a big no-no where you come from, but in Brussels more is more, and if you can get hold of a potential Director or Deputy Director in a department which interests you then it’s time to start selling yourself shamelessly.

I have Italian friends who tried this and it didn’t work, they were told it was too pushy and that jobs had already been allocated. I had German friends try this and it was successful, they were told they had the right language combination that was needed. And then there’s me, I called and I was told that they hadn’t considered me for that particular role but they heard another position had been liberated so I should call “X” in another department and ask…and I got the job.

Tip: Don’t wait too late to call for the job you want. The pick of the crop often get allocated first and you might find yourself in a job which doesn’t bring you joy. Also to bear in mind is your phone manner. As someone on the receiving end of one of these calls, there is nothing more off putting than a desperate graduate who comes across as either a charity case or a self-obsessed talking ego. Instead, think about how you would benefit the team?  What would you bring to the department that they may not already have?

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Autumn sets in, and with it a new intake of interns

 

What jobs are on offer?

The translation jobs are quite self-explanatory. They are often not as sexy as they sound – try to get Nicole Kidman in ‘The Interpreter’ out of your head for this one. You are likely to find yourself sat in a small room with 3-4 others working on a long, heavy document containing very specific, sometimes legal, terminology. There will be times when you will attend seminars with live interpretation and get more than your share of free Brussels lunches but the mundane office work can often outweigh the benefits.

The administrative jobs are varied and very manager dependent. You might find yourself working for a vivacious person who wants to get you involved as much as they possibly can, or you could find yourself working as the personal assistant to an accountant for 5 months. Time to learn how to use that photocopier properly!

In either scenario try to make the most of the contacts you will build up and the opportunities that may follow. Think outside the box, your future may not be in the Commission but thanks to your experience and insight into the day to day work of the EU’s administrative power then this can only help you up the career ladder. Life in Brussels is really what you make of it and experiences can be varied. Reap what you sow.

You can apply to the European Commission for a traineeship here.

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Iconic symbol of Brussels, worth the picture, not worth the money

5 tips for keeping stress at bay

1. Get plenty of rest

Sleep is so underrated. And, yet, so powerful. For any insomniacs reading this, I truly feel bad for you. It must be awful to never achieve a good nights sleep and I hope that you manage to find some relaxing coping mechanisms that get you through. For the majority of the population, we do manage to get some sleep, but it’s still not enough. Living in the northern hemisphere the summer nights are long and unless you invest in some good blackout curtains then the nights are very, very long. Going to bed early, no caffeine after midday, electronic shutdown at least 2hrs before bed and making a concerted effort to BE in bed even if I’m not sleeping by 11pm latest helps massively. Stress happens, it’s a fact, but equipping yourself with energy and the best mood possible will ensure you’re able to deal with it and manage the impact it has on your life. A tired mind and body makes this a lot harder than it needs to be.

 

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Not your friends, when looking for the land of nod.

2. Drink lots of fluids

And by this I mean water, mainly. Just anytime you can spend drinking do it. Staying hydrated can stop you from unnecessary snacking, feeling fatigued and feeling stressed. At work, the stress may be rising but keep cool and keep things under control – go for a walk to the kitchen/staff area and drink up!

3. Phone a friend

Checking in with your nearest and dearest ensures you keep you feet on the ground and allows you to put things into context. That really stressful situation you’re going through might be solved by talking candidly to a friend. They might have been going through the same thing or can offer you advice. They might also tell you to get a grip and look at the issue in another way. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh, in relaxed, chilled surroundings and shake off your troubles… it really is the simple things in life!

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One of the most relaxed cafes – Hawkshead, Lake District

4. Goodbye midweek drinking, hello morning run!

Simultaneously reducing your alcohol intake and upping your physical activity can make a world of difference. It might be the last thing you want to do on a rainy morning at 6am, but getting up early and getting out for a run will boost your mood, reduce your stress levels and increase your fitness overall. It’s life’s free gym and you only have yourself to compete against. Running has changed my life. I feel fitter, happier because I’m more comfortable in my own skin and less stressed at what life throws at me. Aside from the endorphins, the running gives me an hour of space to myself to think about the day ahead and organise my thoughts. It also allows me to process any difficult situations and find solutions. Give it a go for a couple of weeks and see if you notice any difference…

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Keep drinking to the weekends or special occasions. it might de-stress at the time but the morning after won’t forgive you…

5. Make lists

My life feels like a long list. Even this blog post is a list! But, seriously, if I know I’m up against a stressful day then a list can just make everything seem less daunting and more orderly. Even the illusion that I have some level of control is better than the madness of a typical day where I’m blindly trying to balance my time with work with socialising.

I find this tip particularly helpful on a Sunday at about midday when I’m starting to feel the Monday blues creep in. I grab a pen and a cute notepad – who says practical can’t be pretty! I note down under two columns the things I need to do to ensure a sane start to the week. The first column is a list for work and the second a list which covers personal life, like items I need to post, or collect and people I need to get in touch with. In addition, I give each of these items a number 1 for “priority” or a number 2 for “important but the world won’t implode if this isn’t done today” status. I try not to begin the 2s until I’ve taken a good stab at the 1s. Usually, most work items are under 1 but I still manage to squeeze in some real-life business – it’s important too!

How do you keep stress at bay?

A helping hand

A lesson in acceptance and giving yourself a break

Since beginning work in a high-pressure environment, I have realised that so many young professionals, myself included, are breaking their backs every week to maintain the image of these perfect all-rounders who can hold down brilliant jobs, transform into domestic goddesses and maintain a vibrant social life which never impacts negatively on their figure or gives them bags under their eyes. This ‘image’, more often than not, is self imposed – and I’m as guilty as any. It’s easier said than done when fighting against this idea that all young professionals, and women in particular suffer from this, are able to attend 6am gym classes x5 weekly, furnish their penthouses immaculately with BoConcept furniture and have mastered Michelin star level cooking.

There are however ways around the madness of a busy work-life clash. A couple of tips colleagues and friends have given me along the way have ensured that life outside of the office doesn’t slip through the cracks and you can keep yourself sane.

 

Looking after yourself

There is no short cut way to truly looking after yourself other than finding a good work-life balance where you can manage your stress levels properly. There are, however, some helpful tricks that can make the morning rush less frantic and allow you some more ‘me time’ before the world comes at you.

Eyelash and eyebrow tinting. This one means that for roughly 4-6 weeks you don’t need anything other than a light sweep of foundation and lipstick before you leave home in the morning. If you’re someone who feels that they have to have more make-up on then this might not be the best tip for you, as you’ll probably make-up over eyelashes and brows in any case, but if you’re like me and unfailingly lazy when it comes to make-up then this one’s for you!

Hair care. Personally, I find that since growing my fringe out and allowing my hair to get longer, time spent on my hair has reduced. There’s no frustrating tidy up of the fringe and less need to style longer hair overall as it can be tied back on a bad hair day. Also, living in the UK where it rains a lot means that however you left your home in the morning will not translate exactly to the look you are pulling off as you walk into work. Hairspray and dry shampoo are very helpful.

Gel nails. These are good if you can commit to getting them re-done properly every 2-3 weeks, but it’s a great way to avoid chipped nails and having to re-paint in the morning – because you did them too close to bed time and they have the fabric imprint across the varnish. Bravo!

 

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A quick fix hair and make-up solution can save time and you’ll still feel great!

 

Looking after your home

We can’t all afford domestic staff, so unless you are able to pay for a cleaner to come on a weekly basis (I’m not judging anyone here, I have been SO tempted to call for help in this area, a weight is lifted and you’re giving someone employment) then you need to get your domestic chores down to a finely tuned art. There are ways of doing things around the home which are cost free and time saving. I’ll post an article on this shortly which goes into more detail on how the busy professional can score a few hat tricks at home! But for now, my top tips are as follows…

  1. Dedicate one evening a week to blitzing your flat – dust, hoover and disinfect toilets etc. I normally opt for a Friday as weekends are usually when I have people over and this saves me waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays before they come round. Also, if you life in a flat and you have to hoover in the evening your neighbours are less likely to be in and more likely to forgive a quick Friday blitz rather than a mid-week headache.
  2. Food shop online and get home delivery – you spend less money because most supermarkets will save your shopping list preferences so you don’t do that thing where you aimlessly wander the aisles chucking in a few extras, ahem. You also buy yourself a lot of time with this one.
  3. Fake flowers. Yes, the real ones are nice and they smell lovely, but it’s just something else to remember to throw away before they go mouldy. You can get some really authentic looking ones that don’t appear too trashy. Alternatively, cacti. Although these are just like flowers that die really, really slowly.
  4. Get a good dishwasher. The root of 90% of the arguments in our flat is around the subject of unwashed dishes. A good washer will avoid this and any other stress related to plates stacking up. You don’t have time, you don’t have the emotional stability by Thursday to go through another round of ‘whose turn is it’, just get it sorted.
  5. De-clutter x4 a year. It doesn’t need to be more than this if you’re serious about it each time you do it. You don’t want to be rummaging around in drawers at 6am in the dark looking for another black top – and by the way, when was the last time you saw that, has it been washed and where did you hang it? Cutting back on clothes you don’t wear, general bric-a-brac and ‘stuff’ will help you see clearer and have better access to the essentials as you fly out the door in the morning.

 

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Even the most lethal among us have to make an effort to kill cacti, a good option for those without green fingers.

 

Looking after life-admin

My mobile banking app has been the BEST thing that’s happened to me this year. Monday to Friday I’m too busy out making the money to actually manage where it goes, and as Monday to Friday coincides with banking hours then this can make keeping on top of your finances a bit tricky. The last time I went for an appointment at the bank I had to book a morning off in advance with 3 weeks notice! So, being able to transfer money, pay people back and move wages into savings accounts whilst walking to work is a massive benefit.

Opening your mail is one sure fire way to face up to all the business you’ve yet to get round to – which might be the main reason why my post piles up on tables dotted around my flat before I wonder why there are no more clear surfaces. Facing up to the post as it comes in is the best, and really only, way of dealing with it before it gets out of hand. To motivate yourself, think about it this way: that could be an outstanding bill (or, less likely but still possible, you might have money owed to you and this is a notification of such joy!), an important change to your current situation (speaking from experience I have allowed overpriced home and contents insurance to roll over for another year because I didn’t open my post in time – NEVER AGAIN!) or sometimes just a letter or a card from a friend – this would just be rude if you didn’t open this kind of mail in a timely manner!

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Finally, relax! We all mess up, we have all gone to work looking less than our best and we’ve all been that person who is frantically trying to hide dirty laundry and plates in cupboards and under beds before guests arrive. The only pressure you should ever feel to manage any of the above aspects is from yourself. So, give yourself a break and learn to accept that you are perfect already! Everything else is just details…

Do you have any tips for making life easier in the mornings or dealing with life admin? Please share below in the comments.

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Foreign travel

Travelling for work and being ‘Jet-set’ are two completely separate things in my book. Rare is the day that I step off a flight feeling refreshed and ready to jump straight into work-mode. Over the past 7 years since graduating I have travelled a lot for work and, given the location, some trips involved red-eye flights to save the organisation money and to maximise our time working with stakeholders during business hours. This means making a personal sacrifice in terms of home time vs. work and travel time and also takes a toll on your health and, eventually, sanity. Gripes aside, travel is excellent for business and is unavoidable in our big joined-up world.

With this in mind, I have compiled a few tips for professionals who travel regularly – whilst trying to respect some of the restrictions that come with travelling for work. From the outset, I’d like to say that if you work for a private company who allow their associates and staff to travel first/business class then you’re on to a winner. You will have access to flat beds and the golden ticket for the first class lounges at most international airports. This makes everything run smoother and gets you off to a head start, arriving at your destination looking slicker and less harassed (think 1980s power dressing business women – ever the immaculate travellers). This has not always been the case for me… I have had access to business seats and lounges but now working for a public organisation means watching the pennies when undertaking international travel and on this my advice is based;

1. Hair and make-up

Bit of a shallow one to start off with, but there’s nothing like a freshen up of your hair and make-up to make you feel work ready after a long flight. I know a lot of girls, myself included, who prefer to wear make-up to work. I think it’s psychological, like putting on war paint in the morning, and gets you in the zone. Practically it’s also very good for hiding dark circles and any bags that you carry under your eyes. If however you’re travelling alone, or feel comfortable going make-up free then, good on you, do so! Sometimes it’s better to travel fresh faced and apply on landing at your destination. This means that your skin has had time to rest and you can just apply a moisturiser throughout the flight. I find it easiest, when travelling with the boss, to keep my day’s make up on my face and just before we land pay a trip to the toilet to cleanse my eye make-up and re-apply fresh. No need to touch face or lips. This just makes the face look brighter and more polished. It also sweeps away any rubbed off mascara or stray eyeshadow flecks. Less is more and the darker the shade the more tired you’ll look, so stick to lighter colours and don’t forget your favourite concealer. For hair, I prefer to leave down on the plane, as rubbing it against those paper head rest covers seems to mess it up anyway. When I’m touching up my eye make-up in the bathroom I’ll pin my hair up, or just tie it in a simple pony tail for a more sleek look. This is also great for disguising any greasy hair issues, as travelling with dry shampoo can be a pain if you haven’t checked in luggage.

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2. Alcohol and caffeine

Similar to the above note on moisturising and rehydrating your skin, it’s important not to go overboard on the complimentary drinks – no matter how hard a day you’re having. Trust me, I know the pain, seeing the drinks cart wheel by as you are left with a sparkling water when all the other passengers are getting their bloody mary/G&T fix. Sad times. But if your working day is not yet over then it’s best to stick to something that will keep you on point in the long run. You’ll have the last laugh as you hand out paracetamol and stealthily locate the important travel documents, hotel reservations and car bookings which your colleagues are sluggishly fumbling about for. This is of course a personal observation, but in general drinking on a school night stopped being a thing for me in 2010. The same can be said for caffeine. As someone who drinks up to 8 cups of tea and coffee a day I am not casting the first stone of judgement here. Heck, do whatever you’ve got to do to get the job done, just mentally prepare yourself for the caffeine crash at some point around 3pm which, with time difference thrown into the mix, could be just before that important meeting. Bull’s eye!

3. Always stay one step ahead

You’ve located the gate, found your seat, managed to stuff your over-packed bag into the overhead locker and are looking forward to pulling down that window blind and zoning out. ERROR. Before you kick off your heels and plug those ear phones in, check what the next leg of your trip is. Did you print all the hotel reservations codes? Do you have a local taxi number to get to the conference? Do you need to print off your return flight tickets? Do you have any urgent messages to reply to before you go off-line for the flight? With these ticked off you can minimise stress at the other end and enjoy the rest of the flight. For any unanswered travel questions the flight crew are usually very helpful and can point you in the direction you need to go in. If you’re going somewhere that doesn’t feature your native language then learning a few essential phrases can come in handy. Some airlines even have bi-lingual dictionary applications on the personal screens – hours of fun.

4. In flight distractions

What’s that you say? Finished that briefing? Tied up those loose ends? Managed to book a seat away from any associates and colleagues? Yes, green light for the hotly anticipated catch-up-on-my-film-addiction segment. You’ve always wanted to see Jurassic Park 4. If it’s a short flight or you weren’t fortunate enough to get a personal screen, or worse you did but you haven’t brought any headphones and they cost an arm and a leg to buy, then a book or a magazine is the way forward. I personally prefer to grab a magazine as if my arms start to ache from carrying too much in my handbag I can ditch the magazine far easier than the emotional separation of having to leave a book behind. It’s also a survival tactic as looking at images makes me less likely to get travel sick than reading pages and pages of text. Given the nature of my work, we rarely use our laptops whilst travelling as lack of wifi/people looking over your shoulder (come on we all do it!) prevents us from working properly. I have however installed my favourite newspaper apps on my tablet but this comes back to the travel sick point. No-one wants to be sat next to Captain Vomit for 8 hours.

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5. Awkward conversations and nights in hotels

Ok, so number 5’s title could have been snappier. But, really, these are both things that require a little consideration and preparation. You are likely to find yourself travelling with a colleague or even your manager. This means that the risk of ‘talking shop’ all throughout that long haul-flight is sky high (!) – sorry, that was bad. This is a good opportunity for you to unwind. Try asking them about other things that don’t involve work or that don’t get too personal. If you’re like me and you delight in the silence and reflective space of air travel, or indeed you just have colleagues with limited banter, then the not-so subtle presence of a magazine in your lap, or passive aggressive inserting of the headphones should solve this. It’s also worth remembering that it’s not just the flight you have to navigate, but the car journey, the hotel check-in and the awkward lift chat as you try to gauge whether they want to eat dinner with you or they would rather you just met at X o’clock tomorrow for breakfast and you retire to your rooms. If you’re in charge of booking travel this is worth bearing in mind. Some people prefer to keep space for themselves in the evening, others expect your attendance at the hotel bar into the wee hours and not doing so would be rude. Up to you how to play it, just remember that whatever goes down, you have to do it all again the next day!

 

Do you have any tips for travelling and work? Have you worked out a system of survival for long haul flights followed by boardrooms and conferences? Leave your tips in the comments below…

PA OK

Surviving in a competitive working environment can often mean that you’ll face a certain degree of hierarchical snobbery. Particularly if you have landed the very underrated position of PA. Being personal assistant to the boss has connotations of dogsbody style working but in my experience it is anything but. Play your cards right and you can successfully put your stamp on a role that will allow you access to high level stakeholders and an address book of contacts that most heads of state would love to get their hands on.

Don’t let anyone look down on the important job you do. Often the people you are working to would be melting in a disorganised mess without your cool, prepared approach.

I have worked for a country leader for just over a year now and the role has brought with it a plethora of opportunities that wouldn’t be available to even the next-in-command. Attending meetings with the Head of the European Commission, Parliament key figureheads in the UN, Presidents and famous people with political messages to spread have all contacted me to get to my boss. I have sat in on those meetings and participated in the majority of those discussions, exchanging business cards with those who are keen to engage.

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Don’t let people push you out the frame. You may not be the President, but your contribution is valuable and people are always listening.

Stakeholders may not have come to see you expressly, it’s the ear of your boss they want, but don’t underestimate the power of being present and pro-active. They will remember your face, your name, your manners when you escorted them and advised them ahead of the meeting, your willingness to facilitate the discussion and your professionalism throughout. Of course, most stakeholders are wise to this, but they still know that you hold the key to the diary, to the relationship that continues outside of the meeting room and any future engagements.

Use the network that you build up as a platform for your career. You are your own brand. Supporting someone on a daily basis who is higher up the corporate chain from you is a testament to your capability, not a limit. As proof of this, many of my colleagues, who have a varied background of education and professional specialisation, have landed top jobs thanks to the contacts they made whilst working as PAs. When I was at school we were told that there are more paths to getting the job you really want. This is true, it’s not always a linear school-university-placement-job pattern that people work to. In fact, having experience in a coordinating and supporting role speaks for itself in competency based interviews and opens doors that the standard online applicants won’t have access to.

So next time you’re compiling that briefing or speaking note, or scavenging for fresh milk for the boss’s tea, just remember that it all counts towards the bigger picture and you’re honing your skills in multi-tasking, working under pressure and (more often than not!) patience.

 

Have you worked as a personal assistant? Or, have you been able to use your role as a trampoline for the next exciting opportunity? Feel free to leave a comment…