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Make your Presence Felt

Two years ago, Gemma came to Brussels as a stagiaire. Having stayed on at the Commission working in a variety of roles, Gemma offers tips for stagiaires eager to do the same.

 

gabriela itw photo2Name: Gemma Amran

Age: 30

Nationality: Irish

Current Role: Policy Officer (European Commission, DG Justice: Fundamental Rights Unit)

Previous Roles: Stagiaire (DG Justice: Procedural Criminal Law Unit), Legislative Officer (DG Justice: Procedural Criminal Law Unit), National Agency Desk Officer (DG Education and Culture: Coordination Unit)  - Impact Assessment and Evaluations officer (Coordination Unit, DG Home)

 

What was your background before your stage?


I first studied Business and French at University, then I went on to study the law conversion course in the UK. I had been called to the Bar in the UK, but I wasn't practising as a lawyer. I had also interned and worked for a variety of organisations. I’d done internships at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague, and the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights in Jamaica, which assists people facing the death penalty. Then I worked as a helpline adviser for two years, at an organisation called Public Concern at Work, which helps whistleblowers raise their concerns about wrongdoing in the workplace. Just before doing the stage, I was volunteering at a Law Centre in London working on employment discrimination and harassment cases.

 

What did you hope to gain from your stage at the Commission?


I have a fairly cosmopolitan background and was attracted to the international scene in Brussels. I was born in Ireland, but lived for a long time in the UK. I’m also half Malaysian and speak French. I was keen to work in an international environment like the Commission. I’m also interested in human rights and criminal justice issues, and had practical experience working in those areas which I was keen to develop further. A stage at the Commission seemed to be a good way of doing that, and, I was looking into how to get a job in the Commission afterwards. I was interested in pursuing opportunities with NGOs as well, but I realised when I got here that NGOs in Brussels tend to focus more on advocacy, whereas I wanted to do more policy work. I also felt that if I wanted to work for an NGO, I would prefer to work with them in the field.

 

What was your stage like?


It was in the Procedural Criminal Law Unit of the DG Justice, and I worked mainly on procedural rights in relation to suspected or accused persons. I went to meetings between the Commission and Council, Trilogues with the Council and Parliament, and conferences with NGOs. I also did legal research, concentrating on the rights of vulnerable suspects, such as children. I really enjoyed my stage because I was working on human rights issues. I learned about the whole EU legislative process, and at the same time got to meet and work with some inspiring lawyers and advocates.

 

How did you get your jobs at the Commission after your stage?


Firstly, I contacted HR to get information about how to become an interim agent. These are temporary jobs which can last anywhere between 1 to 9 months. Normally these vacancies come up to cover maternity leave, or if there is an exceptional need. So for example, my Unit had a very tight timetable in relation to a proposal on suspects and accused persons; they had to get a study, impact assessment and a draft proposal done in a fairly short space of time, and needed an extra pair of hands, preferably a native English speaker. And of course, I was already there. I knew the file really well having worked on it for several months, and was keen to stay on. I got on really well with my Unit as I’d worked hard and made an effort to get to know everyone. And I was proactive. So really it was a combination of things: luck, timing, and support from my senior colleagues.

I got my next job through the temping agency that I had to sign up with to be an interim agent, the Commission uses the agency Randstad. Once you are signed up, the agency sends round a list of eligible candidates to DGs looking for maternity covers. I was invited to an interview for a maternity cover at EAC. It was a very formal interview, 40 minutes long, with a 4 person panel, and pretty much the same questions you get at a lot of interviews: “what are your weaknesses,” “give an example of a time you’ve done X.”

I was coming to the end of that job when someone I knew at the Commission mentioned there was a maternity cover vacancy going in DG Home and asked me to apply. I sent my CV to the Head of Unit and was called for an interview sometime after. That interview was a bit less formal than my DG EAC interview: I was asked about my experience and competences on my CV. During my job at DG Home, an ex-colleague of mine mentioned that the Fundamental Rights unit in DG Justice had a couple of replacements for maternity cover available. I enquired further and sent my CV to the Head of Unit. I was then called for an interview and thankfully, against some pretty stiff competition, I got the job.

 

What have you gained from your experience of working at the Commission?


I have an extra 2 ½ years of professional experience, particularly in policy-making, which I didn’t have before. And I’ve accumulated further skills and confidence, all which no doubt will stand me in good stead. I think my experience at the Commission has enhanced my employability since I have acquired a lot of transferrable skills and competences. Furthermore, as an interim agent, you are expected to get up to speed on complicated files quickly, a skill which I feel like I am mastering. I’m also considering applying for a Masters in Law in the US, and I think my time in Brussels will make my application stand out. Working at the Commission has also reignited my love of the law, especially human rights. I am lucky that in my current job, I get to think through how EU policies affect the rights and dignity of persons every day. That is pretty special I think. Working here has made me reconsider the merits of being a practitioner or going down the academia route, because I’ve realised that law is so intellectually stimulating and its impact on people is huge, particularly at the EU level, where it affects 500 million people.

 

What advice do you have for stagiaires who want to get jobs in Brussels after their stage?


In my experience, I have found that being a native English speaker has been a big advantage for me, and so is the fact that I am legally qualified. However, I know people who are interimaires who are neither of those things so it's all relative. Also, all my friends from across Europe who decided to stay on in Brussels got jobs outside of the Commission: the Parliament, with NGOs, associations, consultancies, law firms, PR firms, Permanent Representations. I think the most important piece of advice I can give is make an impression during your stage, make your presence felt. Be visible and proactive. Ask people if they have any meetings, and ask to go with them; volunteer to write up reports, never say no to work (within reason!), support your colleagues and they will support you. You’re more likely to get to hear about interim jobs being advertised through people you know, socially as well as professionally, so make sure you get to know lots of people through work and social activities. As far as I am aware, interim jobs are advertised only through the temping agency, but you’ve got to make it easy for people to find you as they receive so many CVs. If you hear of a vacancy, or think there may be one coming up, don't be afraid to contact people directly. The best way of finding out about jobs is to reach out to everyone you know asking if they’re aware of any vacancies.

 

Gabriela Belmar-Valencia is a stagiaire in the European Commission in DG Justice. She is also an active member of the Politics and International Relations European Commission sub-committee.

 

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