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Master the game – find an EU career

It's easy to get the ball of your European career rolling - as long as you remember some hints. It's easy to get the ball of your European career rolling - as long as you remember some hints. (c) inyucho/ (CC BY 2.0)


For many trainees in Brussels, the remaining days of their traineeships can already be counted with two hands. It's high time to get some advice on how to find a career. We have spoken to a Brussels insider about it.

It is application time in Brussels. Tons of toner are printed and billions of bytes send around in the area between Rue de la Loi and Place Luxembourg. And for many trainees in the EU institutions, staying in the circus is the most appealing job perspective. That is why the EPSO personnel selection competition enjoys great popularity among young job seekers. But insiders warn: "You won't succeed in this competition if you do not do some training", says Massimo Mauro, a cybersecurity specialist at the Council of the European Union and insider of the Euro bubble for almost thirty years. "EPSO is like a video game. It is unrelated to reality and the skills tested there are hardly relevant". A host of advisory books and training courses provide people with the necessary preparation to master this artificial challenge.


How to train for EPSO

The first stage of the competition is a computer-based test. Candidates will be asked to answer a multiple-choice test and demonstrate their numerical and reasoning skills as well as their knowledge about the EU. It is hard to obtain these skills in a short period of time. Still, practising is possible. "What's crucial during these tests is time. Do a mock test on the internet and keep an eye on the watch. Remember that it will not be possible to get back and correct a given answer", advises Mr Mauro.

For the next level of the game, candidates have to write a statement about a certain policy problem. Also here, time is scarce. “This is been done to check how a candidate reacts under stress”, explains Massimo Mauro.


Be aware of yourself

Successful candidates will then face the final enemy: the assessment centre. During a presentation, group discussion and an interview the best people will be scrutinised by experienced EU officials. It is key to make oneself aware about the own qualities beforehand. Be it in explaining a situation from ones professional life, be it the question of why someone has taken a certain decision. The aim of the interviewers is to check for what the candidate is like – their teamwork abilities, their stress resistance, their intercultural awareness. Odd, one might say, Europe’s cultures seem so similar. “But once you compare an Italian and a German while they are having a discussion you will notice the difference”, says Massimo Mauro. Overcoming this friction might be the little difference that makes an EU civil servant.

In order to prepare for this task, making a list of one’s achievements, personality traits and experiences in life might be useful. Candidates could than gather some friends to do a mock interview and train to sensibly answer to questions like ‘What was your greatest achievement ever?’ or ‘Explain a situation in which you have been under stress!’ “Attending one of the numerous assessment centre trainings offered in Brussels is also useful”, Massimo Mauro adds.


Becoming Pharaoh

After all these tasks, only a very small percentage of candidates will actually be offered a place on a reserve list and thereby the chance to be employed by one of the EU institutions. For the others, Massimo Mauro has some consolation: “I have seen a lot of successful colleagues who failed their first competition but then succeeded in the second one”, he says. Also, plenty of alternatives are out there – however, each has its specific pros and cons.

Becoming the assistant of a member of the European Parliament is something many trainees envisage. And MEPs search for highly skilled and experienced young people. “You do not even have to be of the same nationality as the MEP you are working for – you just have to speak their language”, explains Massimo Mauro. However, getting this kind of job requires some detective work. Get to know your favourite MEP’s current assistants, meet up for a coffee, make yourself known in the office you want to work for.

The other alternatives: Working with the EU instead of for the EU. That means, joining one of the myriads of organisations that lobby for their cause or business interest in Brussels, for example with an NGO. Massimo Mauro says: “This is something for people who are really committed to a cause. You cannot expect to make a fortune from such a job.” So private sector firms it is? Yes, but, again. “These institutions work like ancient Egypt”, Mr Mauro compares. “Starting off as a slave working on the pyramids, it might take forever to get into the Pharaoh’s chambers.” – in other words: Those who want to make a quick career should either have strong connections within the firm or lay off it.


“Being stubborn is an advantage”

Having seen many generations of young professionals coming in and out of Brussels, Massimo Mauro eventually reassures all those that are afraid of never getting a toehold in the Eurobubble. “The institutions have developed a certain sense of Karma”, he says. “If you are supposed to work here, you will work here.” And stamina is key: “Do not lose your faith. In Brussels, being stubborn counts as an advantage.”

Johannes Uhl is the Intern Life editor of Internal Voices and a trainee with the European Parliament.


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