Creating social change with ParliaMentors

Afsana_blog_imageAfsana Salik, 3rd Year International Relations student

ParliaMentors is a political leadership programme I’ve been on this year while studying at Queen Mary. I’m in a team of 5 Queen Mary students, all of us from different cultural and religious backgrounds. we’re supported to run our own social action project and we also get mentored by an MP. It has been an amazing experience for me.

It’s such a wonderful initiative that gives students from various cultures and faiths the chance to participate and make a change in society. The great thing about it is that it gives opportunities to students like me the experience of parliamentary life through mentoring by MPs. I’ve been mentored by Labour MP Stephen Timms for the last year. He is a very active and committed MP and so passionate about what he does. ParliaMentors also trains us to make social change in our communities. I’ve loved the training that I’ve been given throughout the programme. Each of these training sessions is based around skills like teamwork, leadership and public speaking, and they have been so useful and beneficial. And the training didn’t just support my participation in the programme – it also helped me in other areas, helping me to look at my community from a different angle.

My group and I have decided to deliver a social action project on mental health. We started by doing broad research into mental health in our local borough of Tower Hamlets, and after some thought, we have decided to focus on our campus. We are bringing together the students’ union, counselling service and students to bring changes in our counselling system, in order to make it more accessible. We believe our work will benefit the future students of our university and hopefully others in Tower Hamlets who also uses similar services.

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How to get a job in public affairs

Stuart Thomson, Head of Public Affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell, recently came to give a talk to students at Queen Mary. In this really helpful blog post he explains how he got to where he is today and what his tips are for students and graduates looking to make their career in public affairs:

So you want to work in politics

Here are some of our top tips:

–         Every local MP has too much work to handle and will be grateful of an extra pair of hands.  If you don’t get a favourable response from yours, there are still a good number of others in London so you can try them.

–         Around the time of local and national election campaigns get involved with your local political party, there’s always plenty of work to do!

–         Whilst getting a job in local government and the civil service doesn’t rely on networking, breaking into think tanks, political party roles and public affairs certainly does.  Make sure you attend talks and events where you get to meet people in the industry.  Right on your doorstep is the prestigious Mile End Institute so why not start there?


–         Make inquiries at your local council. You may be able to apply for a placement, do some volunteering on a community programme or simply work shadow someone.

–         If you can’t get anything in the field of government and politics itself, think laterally about areas of work related to it. Try and get a few weeks work experience in a local newspaper. You can use the experience to learn to debate and express opinions on news items, or look at a government relations department in a big business, where they employ the equivalent of lobbyists.

–         Be flexible with your career plans. You could start your career working for a few years in the policy unit of a charity or NGO, for example, and then move into government, a think tank or a political party.  Equally you could work in any sector where the job itself intersects with government, such as the government relations department mentioned above.

So what’s the take-away message?

Think creatively, be persistent and flexible and get networking.


UN Careers: Part Two, Unpicking the Process


So you’ve read Part One, Have You Got What it Takes and decided you really do want to work for the UN. So what are your options? First of all, each individual UN agency will have its own vacancies throughout the year, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to research your options. Many people will simply apply for the Secretariat because they think this is where the important work is done (or they want to go to New York!). But the agencies are just as important as the Secretariat and will have an array of choices. Each one will recruit slightly differently, so the main things to remember are to make sure your application is tailored specifically to that agency and that role (don’t talk generally about the UN) and that you’ve paid careful attention to the values and competencies mentioned in part one.

Young Professionals Programme (YPP)

If you want to work for the Secretariat one of the main ways is through the YPP. In a nutshell, you make an application to sit an exam. If you’re successful in that exam you are invited for interview. And if successful in that you will get placed on a roster and offered a position as and when one becomes available.

Full details of the YPP are available on the UN website, including an FAQ and test examples. Key things to remember are:

  • You will need to be fluent in either English or French, be under the age of 32, have a Bachelor’s degree and be a national of one of the participating countries.
  • The programme is incredibly competitive. Roughly 20-30,000 people apply each year; only 4-5,000 will be invited to take the exam and only about 100 or so will actually pass.
  • To ensure fair representation, only the best 40 applicants from each participating country are invited to sit the exam. So you will need to be one out of 40 of the best candidates in your country.
  • The exam takes place once a year in various examination centres throughout the world.
  • If you are successful and offered a position, you must accept it. If you decline you will be removed from the roster and have to do the application process all over again. So you need to be flexible as to where you are prepared to work. If you are holding out to go to New York you may not get there just yet!

Junior Professional Officers’ Programme (JPO)

JPOs are effectively representatives of their home countries who work for and with the UN. Unlike the YPP where you are directly hired by the UN, the recruitment process for JPOs is handled by the foreign or international development office of your home nation. Again, the recruitment process is very competitive, with the requirements being higher than the YPP. To apply you will need a Master’s degree, and at least two years relevant work experience, together with fluency in 2 of the 3 UN languages (English, French and Spanish). Check out their website for more detail on how to become a JPO.

UN volunteers

Getting Experience

While the YPP does not proscribe any minimum amount of work experience, you will find it difficult to make a really good application without any. And nearly all other vacancies at the UN will require some sort of work experience. So the sooner you start thinking about this the better. I know I keep repeating this but study the UN competencies and values! This will give you a good insight into what UN recruiters will be looking for when they review your application. Therefore, you need to make sure you get work experience that will help you evidence these competencies. Any work experience that addresses these competencies will be of value, but doing something with the UN will help demonstrate your commitment to the organisation. Two ways are through a UN internship or volunteering:

Internship Programme

To do an internship you need to be either enrolled in a Masters/PhD or in the final year of your Bachelors degree or you have graduated less than a year ago. Internships last between 2 and 6 months and you will need to apply directly with the relevant agency that is offering them. Internships are unpaid and you will need to have money for accommodation, flights, insurance etc.

UN Volunteering

Volunteering is a fantastic way to gain skills and experience, and for the first time the UN now offers Youth Volunteering for 18-29 year olds. Opportunities are advertised via the website or social media. And if travelling abroad would prove difficult for you, you can also do Online Volunteering. You can search by work type or by region and there are opportunities in everything from website design to writing funding proposals, to doing online tutoring.

For more info on what it’s like working for the UN, take a look also at our sister blog, International Development.

Heather Campbell

Information Assistant, Careers & Enterprise Centre

UN Careers: Part One, Have You Got What It Takes?


At a recent event hosted by SOAS, University of London students were invited along to hear John Ericson (Chief of the Outreach Unit at the United Nations Secretariat in New York) talk about careers in the UN. The talk provided a great insight into how UN recruitment works (you can watch the video here), so if you’ve ever been interested in working for the UN here’s what you need to know:

Are You Ready?

I’m going to talk more specifically about the recruitment process in part two of this blog post, but I want to emphasis, right from the outset that careers in the UN are incredibly competitive. They only take those with exceptional academic records and relevant work experience, who can demonstrate fully the competencies and values of the organisation. Often you will need a Masters degree and maybe even a PhD, and most certainly a first in your undergraduate degree. You will need to be entirely dedicated to the idea of working for the UN; the recruitment process can be drawn out and difficult. If successful you will be and international civil servant, subject only to the instructions on the UN – meaning that the UN will come above national allegiance. You will need to be prepared to work anywhere in the world – perhaps never actually been stationed at ‘home’. The rewards, however, are great. Not only does the UN provide a lot of support to help you relocate etc, but you will be doing a job that has the potential to make a difference to the world. As John pointed out, you will be creating stories to tell your grandchildren.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

The first thing John emphasised is just how large the UN is. It’s a body made up of dozens of agencies spanning every continent, so don’t just look at the Secretariat when thinking of a UN career. Pay attention to all the other agencies. If you are interested in public health, for example, you could work for WHO, UNAIDS, UNFPA and UNICEF. Each agency also has its own recruitment process and you will need to tailor your application to that particular organisation and role. So make sure you get to really know the agencies relevant to what you want to do.

And it’s not just politics or law graduates that they are looking for. The UN employs scientists, engineers, IT personnel, statisticians, anthropologists, geographers, auditors, security advisors, translators, HR specialists, technologists and more. So whatever your background there’ll be a role for you.

More than Competent

The UN has three core values: integrity, professionalism and respect for diversity. It also has 8 core competencies covering things like team work and communication. You can see the full list here. Each vacancy at the UN will use these competencies by which to judge candidates. Meaning that when you make an application you have to make sure you pay attention to what competencies are being asked and tailor your CV and interview answers specifically to those competencies. And have a think about the values too, and how you might demonstrate these to a UN recruiter.

Heather Campbell

Information Assistant, Careers & Enterprise Centre

Present your foreign policy ideas to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Future Foreign Policy, the independent international affairs think tank for young people is excited to announce an exclusive workshop ‘Strategic Foresight: The World in 2025’, hosted by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office taking place in London at their King Charles Street office on Wednesday 10th September from 4-6pm.

“The event is an engaging strategic planning workshop where we will look forward to the year 2025 and consider the future in international security, technology, economic development, ecological challenges, and social innovation. Identifying major changes in the world in the next 10 years is key to developing a comprehensive strategy to not only adapt to change, but be at the forefront of progress and innovation.

Students will have the opportunity to be at the heart of this conversation. The workshop will kick off with a keynote speech by the Joint Head of the Policy Unit in the FCO, followed by an interactive session where students will have the chance to brainstorm and present their own ideas and solutions. This will be invaluable experience to develop strategic planning capabilities and get first-hand practical advise from a senior diplomat.

If you’d like to attend this fantastic event send us an email to with a short cover explaining why they are interested in the workshop, the course they are studying and the university they are applying from.

Deadline Friday August 29th

N.B. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis so we encourage you to apply as early as possible to avoid disappointment.”

Working for the EU – The How, What and Where

So first of all, how does it all work?

There are a number of different ways that you can work for the EU, more of which is explained below. The UK government website has some good information on this: Career Opportunities in the EU. If you want to work directly for any of the EU institutions, you apply centrally to the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). If successful, your details are held on a database from which all EU positions are then filled.

What are EU institutions?

There are a number of different institutions, which cover numerous areas, including law, finance, science and politics. The main three institutions are: the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council. See the full list here, including details of what each institution does.

What roles are there?

The short answer is lots! And they are split into various categories:

Administrators – this is the general graduate recruitment category. You do not need any particular degree discipline to apply for this position. Administrators can be both specialists and generalists, but will generally work in one of the following areas:

• European Public Administration (policy-making) • Economics • Communications • Law

• External Relations • Audit

Don’t be confused by the terminology: In EU institutions, ‘Assistants’ do most of the administrative work, while ‘Administrators’ can have a broad range of responsibilities. An Administrator working in the field of European Public Administration, for example, could be formulating policy, delivering projects and programmes, or managing resources including staff, finances, and equipment.

Linguists – the EU Institutions look for language specialists to act as translators and interpreters. Translators will normally be working on the translation of documents from at least one foreign language into their main language. Whereas interpreters ensure discussions held at meetings are correctly interpreted into the official EU languages – through either simultaneous or consecutive interpreting.

Lawyer-linguists – there is need for those with a strong legal and linguistic background to work on drafting and translating often complex legal/legislative texts into other EU languages, as well as checking legal texts in their first language to ensure legal, factual and linguistic accuracy.

Specialised roles exist, for instance, for doctors, IT specialists and research scientists. However, these tend to require postgraduate qualifications and/or extensive work experience.

You can also do paid traineeships (internships) but these are organised directly by the EU institutions themselves and not via the European Personnel Selection Committee.

Where will I be working?

80% of EU staff live and work in Brussels and Luxembourg. The other 20% are spread across Europe.

Sounds brilliant! When can I apply?

Recruitment happens annually, with the Administrator positions opening in spring, and Linguists in the summer. More specialised roles open as and when needed.

When recruitment is launched all the information goes on the EPSO website, twitter  and facebook account.

And can anyone apply?

To apply, candidates must be an EU citizen and speak at least two EU languages.

You must be fluent in your first language which must be one of the 23 official languages of the EU: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.

Your second language must be either English, French, or German.

So how does the application process work?

There are three steps – online application, psychometric tests and an assessment centre.

Online Application

Candidates will need to first set up an online account, which will be used for all communications and should be checked regularly. This can be done at any time, even when there are no vacancies (or open ‘competitions’). You will then need to apply when a vacancy/competition is opened by filling in an online application form and answering motivation questions. Remember, you can always book an appointment with an Application Adviser to check your answers when the time comes.

Psychometric Tests

Those who have successfully submitted their applications will be invited to sit some tests at a test centre of their choice. Normally you will be tested on your verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning (in your first language) and situational (or behavioural) judgement (in your second language). You can find some examples of these tests on the EU Careers website here. The QM Careers Centre can also give further advice on psychometric tests.

Assessment Centre

Those who get through to the next stage will be invited to an assessment centre (in Brussels or Luxembourg), normally organised over one to two days. It will usually consist of a group exercise; a written case study; an interview and an oral presentation and they will be testing you on things like your problem solving skills and ability to work with others.

The whole application process takes about nine months.

Hmm…it sounds difficult…

The recruitment process is tough and competitive, but if you want to work for the EU institutions this is a good opportunity. And the rewards are high. Not only do you have the opportunity to live and work in an international environment, with people from all over Europe, the starting salary is generous – around €52,000 (£45,000) for Administrators.

There are also other ways to work for the EU. The UK Civil Service Fast Stream has an EU option, for example. Recruitment is similar to the EPSO – you will have to complete psychometric tests and an assessment centre, and you will also need language skills. You can find out more here. Depending what sector you are interested in, there are also lots of opportunities to work for various private companies and NGOs which are closely connected to the EU. You can always book an appointment to have a chat with a Careers Consultant if you are unsure of your options.

I’m tempted, but I’m not sure if my language skills are good enough.

For the EPSO you have to be competent in your second language, which must be either English, French or German. You will be asked to sit a situational judgement test in this second language, so you must be able to read fairly. The EU Careers website has an example of this test, which should help you gage whether your language skills will be good enough. Working for the EU will also be a great opportunity to improve upon your language skills as you will be encouraged to take language courses.

Heather Campbell

Careers Information Assistant, QM Careers & Enterprise Centre