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.

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.

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?

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.

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

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.


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.


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…