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.
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.
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.
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.
Careers Information Assistant, QM Careers & Enterprise Centre