I sat down with my friend Adam, whose career in Brussels evolved from starting as an Erasmus trainee to a full-time consultant in European affairs.

Adam studied law, EU studies, and political journalism and has been living in Brussels since autumn 2015. He conducted numerous traineeships in legal affairs, media, government and the NGO sector before settling in the arena of EU public affairs. He spends his free time learning to become a private pilot and continues to struggle elevating himself in the first half of triathlons’ best participants.

Adam was keen to share his tips to make your job seeking easier! He will be sharing his story, know-how, and impressions on Brussels. Hope this will help get you into the ‘Eurobubble’.

L: Adam, thanks for being here. How would you start looking for an internship in Brussels?

A: Everybody starts with Google but I’d advise searching for someone who already has the experience. I recommend contacting a Brussels insider, someone from the European Parliament, Commission or Permanent Representations of EU countries. Having a mentor will enable you to acquire hidden information on the recruiting process in the institutions and how they work in general.

Brussels very much runs on personal recommendations. It’s not impossible to get a job in the private sector without the references of course, but knowing someone who could be your reference is often decisive. And once you’re there, your professional path is powered by the network you start creating. People recommend each other and will spread the information about any new vacancy. Again, it’s essentially impossible for the employers to choose from 2000 applicants per position if they want to conclude the recruiting fast.

The quickest way how to get in the EU institutions is through a Member of the European Parliament coming from your country. Get in touch with him or her, even in your country. They often speak at events and also run their national offices. They could offer a one-month traineeship in Brussels. After that, I would recommend looking into the 6-month paid traineeships at the European Commission and other EU institutions such as the Council of the EU. You can also apply for such traineeships at the European Parliament.

 

Hanging out in Bxl. Photo credit: Adam

L: How did you get in?

A: I reached out to my acquaintances who lived in Brussels and talked to people who previously worked there. In parallel, I started browsing through some job portals such as on the website of EurActiv/Jobs. I’ve sent around 25 inquiries and eventually heard back from 3 of them in the following lines: Thank you for your inquiry – unfortunately, you have not been selected for the interview.

 

Photo credit: Adam

 

L: So how did you land the first job?

A new-found contact (and later very good friend of mine) of mine was kind enough to direct me to a lawyer who after interviewing me agreed to start a collaboration. I had prepared a specific offer: through the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs program, I wanted to work on enhancing the collaboration of lawyers and mediators in the dispute settling. The program offered a modest remuneration so there were no costs for the company. This made sense and I got accepted.

L: I presume you have been through some interviews before that…

Indeed, I went to roughly ten interviews for certain internships/jobs in Slovakia and in fact, got accepted in each and every one of them. You can clearly see the difference. Brussels was an eye-opening experience understanding the vast competition abroad.

Again, that’s why it’s so important to work on the network. At least I got the chance to be interviewed and finally got the job. Nevertheless, the fluctuation in Brussels is quite high so I would say being patient will bring results eventually. But the process of getting hired there takes a lot more time than in Slovakia. Be patient.

L: Do you have any tips on how to approach creating a CV?

The biggest paradox is the Europass concept. In Brussels, it just doesn’t exist although it’s the official CV format recommended by the EU. I would say keep it if you have it, but don’t use it for any private sector vacancies. It’s anyhow now being redone by the Commission.

Try to keep your resume short, ideally one page or maximum 2 pages long. Because the jobs require certain qualities in representing your employer, it’s definitely a plus to attach a professional picture. Don’t forget to add a short summary in the beginning and don’t underestimate the design and cleanness of the document. In other words, it has to look good!

L: How did you switch from an internship to a regular job?

A: To be perfectly honest I switched twice from a full-time job to a traineeship and backward. I suppose this is a new ‘normal’ in the current job market. Important is not to let yourself down from such ‘developments’. For example, I moved from a junior lawyer position in Slovakia to the Erasmus trainee in Brussels. Then, after working for the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU, I again moved to what formally was a trainee position in the industry.

After finding the vacancy on LinkedIn, my first public affairs position was at Bayer, where I competed with a couple of hundred applicants. What helped distinguish my profile was the experience from working for the Council of the EU Presidency. Normally, most people transitioning towards public affairs have the experience either from the Parliament or the Commission.

L: Top three things you like in Brussels?

A:

1. ‘Place Lux’ on Thursdays. This is a famous after-work gathering next to the European Parliament with hundreds of prevailingly junior staff of the EU institutions grabbing drinks and chatting about work and beyond. But the crowd can get very mixed, with Members of the European Parliament holding their beers and talking to their potential assistants 🙂
2. Bois de la Cambre. This beautiful park offers great options for taking your wife or partner for a decent run in the woods, or picknick in case you are blessed with some nice weather!
3. All the politics and so on. If you are passionate about politics, Brussels it’s the best place for you in Europe. Think Washington D.C. in the US.

 

Place Lux on Thursday by Adam

L: Now the three worst things!

A:

1. The weather. You will hear this from literally everybody but those 10 sunny days per year are too few!
2. Excessive competition and sometimes lower salaries in the private sphere. Don’t expect to become millionaires. Keep yourself motivated by the learning curve. And ultimately you will enjoy a decent life.
3. You can easily get into a vicious cycle of working or thinking about the work non-stop. Brussels is a very professional city so don’t forget to take occasional breaks to visit your home country to get a flavor of life with no daily exposure to EU news. You’re in the Euro-bubble – sometimes you might feel detached from the reality, so book your flight!

Place Lux by Liv. (Taken on iphone 4 at the time.)

L: Your fave spots in Brussels?

A: Cafe Luxemburg which I see from my office, right where the Thursday gatherings take place

Pizzeria Paolo’s Idea at place Schuman with pizza named after the famous Slovak soccer player Marek Hamsik

Brunch: Le Pain Quoditien with their reasonable and tasty mixture for late breakfast

Networking party in one of (many) Brussels’ pubs

Adam, thanks so much for your time!

Dear readers, if you happen to have further questions, feel free to leave a comment. I’m happy to help where I can. 🙂

Also, feel free to contact Adam for any inquiries about job opportunities in Brussels!