In this article, I will explain how I got into the Blue Book traineeship at the EU Commission and will give you tips and tricks on how you can do the same.
I will also explain how you can find a job at the EU Commission directly after your Blue Book traineeship.
At the end of the article, you will find a list of websites and Facebook groups to find a room (or an apartment) in Brussels. We will also talk about safety.
There are three different traineeships you can do at the EU.
1. The Blue Book Traineeship
The first one is the Blue Book traineeship — the traineeship at the EU Commission. It’s the most popular one.
Acceptance rates vary between 1% and 5% (I will explain you in a minute how you can be a part of the 1%.) Blue Book trainees are older (+25 years old).
2. The EU Council Traineeship
The second one is the EU Council traineeship. Less than 1% of applicants get there.
3. The EU Parliament Traineeship
The third one is the EU Parliament traineeship. It’s the one that pays the most (they receive a salary of roughly €1350/month, while the Blue Book Traineeship’s salary was around €1250/month) and where trainees “work the less” since they have Friday afternoon off.
Parliament trainees are younger (21–24 years old), so if you’re under 25 years old, you’ll have more chances to get in there.
In this article, we will focus on the Blue Book traineeship (the one for the EU Commission) because this is the one I was accepted in.
Despite its reputation, a Blue Book traineeship at the EU Commission isn’t as difficult to get as it seems.
Consider my profile.
I studied one of the easiest bachelor’s (communication, biggest mistake of my life, but that’s another story) and my grades sucked.
Yet I managed to get into one of the most sought-after Directorates-General (DGs): The Joint Research Center (JRC).
Here’s exactly how I did it.
Side note 1: The JRC also offers scientific internships outside of the Blue Book context.
I have written a short text about them in the Addendum.
Side note 2: The application process constantly evolves. Your process may not resemble the process detailed hereafter. I keep this article constantly updated though, so thank you for letting me know if anything in the article is outdated.
Table of Content
Click to expand
- Your age
- The languages you speak
- The discipline you studied
- The university you studied at
- Your (work) experience
- Your academic level (bachelor, master, Ph.D.)
- Your country of origin
- Conclusion of Part I
- The First Step
- The Second Step
- The Third Step
- The Fourth Step
- Motivation Letter Template
- Conclusion of Part II
- How to Find a Room or an Apartment in Brussels for Your Blue Book Traineeship
- Safety in Brussels
- Conclusion of Part III
Part I: Understanding the Criteria
Before you apply, you need to understand the minimum requirement and the criteria you will be judged on.
Read this article here.
You will see you need to have a bachelor’s degree, speak at least English, etc.
These criteria are no secrets so we won’t speak about them.
What we will speak about are the unofficial criteria.
- Your age
- The languages you speak
- The discipline you studied
- The university you studied at
- Your (work) experience
- Your academic level (bachelor, master, Ph.D.)
- Your country of origin
The EU gives you points based on these criteria. The better you rank for each metric, the more points you have, the higher your chances to be selected.
Let’s discuss them in order.
1. Your Age
The older you are, the better it is. The EU doesn’t take trainees for fun. It takes them for financial reasons.
Trainees are cheap and work well. Since older people have more experience and work better, the EU prefers hiring older people.
If you’re under 25 years old, getting a spot will be harder. Unless you’re a genius with a Ph.D. in civil engineering and speak 5 languages, you’re unlikely to be selected.
The EU values experience, so go do some volunteering in NGOs, internships in embassies, or get a job.
If you’re under 25 and get rejected, don’t be discouraged. It’s normal.
I met a girl who had applied three times in a row before getting accepted.
2. The Languages You Speak
You have to speak at least English. The more languages you speak, the better.
Your level must be sufficient so that you can work with these languages.
Anything below B2/C1 is useless. If you have some time to kill, I urge you to work on your languages and reach C1.
French and German are always appreciated, but Spanish will do well too.
3. The Discipline You Studied
The problem with people that want to work for the EU is that they all study political science.
Which makes sense.
Unfortunately, political science doesn’t teach you how to do politics. On top of that, we’re living in the age of diversity.
Therefore, the EU is looking for everything except political scientists.
When my internship ended in July 2021, I received a survey asking me how the EU could attract people whose background was not political science.
As a result, I strongly encourage you to broaden your skillset.
You’ll have more chances to get into the EU if you have a business, economics, law, engineering, medicine, or maths degree than political science.
The best degrees are IT and everything related (AI, data science, etc).
4. The University You Studied at
Sciences Po, Bocconi, Polytechnique institutes, Oxbrigde, etc don’t play as big of a role as before due to the EU’s willingness to be more inclusive.
While they’re still important, what really matters is that you studied outside of your home country.
You must have done at least one Erasmus, at best a master abroad.
International experience is a must.
5. Your (Work) Experience
The EU selected me because of my work experience.
I had had the chance to work as a research assistant for an EU-funded research project at one of the leading universities in Belgium.
That project happened to be somewhat similar to what the JRC (the place where I ended up doing the internship) was doing when I applied.
So they hired me.
I can’t stress enough how important work experience is.
During my internship, I met an Italian architect whose previous job was to get administrative authorizations and permissions for new buildings in Brussels.
He got his traineeship because of his experience with Belgian bureaucracy.
The importance of work experience seems counter-intuitive when you apply for an internship.
However, as we specified above, the EU is not a university (or a charity).
They’re not hiring trainees for the mere pleasure of teaching them. They’re hiring them to work.
Side note: experience does not necessarily have to be “job” experience. This blog helped me get the internship too, for example.
6. Your Academic Level (Bachelor, Master, Ph.D.)
While the EU requires at least a bachelor’s, I recommend you get a master’s before applying.
Ph.D. candidates will have even more chances due to the volume of research that the Commission produces.
7. Your Country of Origin
Your country of origin doesn’t give you points – but it plays on your chances to get in.
It’s obviously much harder for a German or a French to get an internship because there are more candidates per place than for smaller countries.
The worst country to be coming from is Italy.
From what I understand, no one wants to stay in Italy. All smart Italians leave and go work in the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, the US, etc (can’t blame them).
I don’t remember the exact number, but Italians are always thousands to apply compared to other countries.
If you’re Italian with a second nationality, use that one.
To help you estimate your chances to be selected, the EU created a self-assessment tool.
Conclusion of Part I
You don’t need to be brilliant to go to the EU.
All you need is
- to be old enough
- speak English
- have studied something else than political science
- have studied abroad
- get some relevant work or volunteering experience
- get a master
- not be from Italy, France, or Germany.
As you can see, no one is mentioning grades or winning math competitions.
Part II: The Selection Process
There are four steps in the selection process.
1. The First Step
The first step is the initial application.
You’ll have to send a motivation letter, a resume, proof of skills, proof of work experience, proof of language, and a lot of other documents.
The idea is to get rid of a maximum number of contenders that already feel tired just doing all of this administrative work.
Don’t wait up.
The faster you fill-up the application, the better it is.
You will also have to choose two DGs you want to work at.
This is where you need to become strategic and think in terms of the value you can deliver and not the DG you want to work in.
The two DGs you choose will have a hiring priority over other DGs.
Eg: If you have a Ph.D. in economics, don’t go apply to DG JUST or HR (the DGs where they don’t do anything).
If you want to maximize your chances, you need to think about the DGs that’d be happy to hire you.
So think in terms of the value you can deliver.
Not about your wishes.
During this first step, HR will review your documents to make sure that you are eligible.
2. The Second Step
Once you have been declared eligible, you have passed the first step.
The second step is easy. HR will authenticate your documents.
They may ask for other proofs if the ones you have sent them did not suit them (Eg: proof of level for the languages you claimed to speak).
You will have one week only to come up with the required documents.
3. The Third Step
Once your documents have been authenticated, you will be part of the last pool of contestants.
Roughly 30% of candidates will get an internship, so you have three chances out of ten to be selected.
The different DGs and agencies are supposed to “select you” and approach you. To do so, they search for keywords in your resume.
My DG selected me because I had “media analysis” written.
Officially, you’re not supposed to do anything during that phase. However…in the past, candidates used to track managers in DGs and send them emails to get in.
It was such a mess that the Commission asked each department and agency to provide an official email address where candidates could send their motivation letter (while discouraging candidates to send any emails to anyone else).
UPDATE December 2022: it seems that the Commission no longer provides a list of email addresses that trainees could contact, and instead asks them to choose three DGs and write motivation letters to them directly. I assume that it is because they received too many emails. As a result, I discourage you to try to hack the system and contact managers to ask for an internship. I maintain this is a bad idea, even if you have “heard of someone that knows someone that did it”. I will advise you to always respect the guideline, in this context at least. I will update this section as time goes.
They will send this list to you with a message along the lines “if you want, you can still contact the DGs and send them your motivation later”. You obviously should send both a CV and a motivation letter to each and everyone of these email addresses. When I did it, I created templates to automate and speed up the work. Then I sent custom emails to all of all the DGs and agencies (find the templates below.)
WARNING: SOME PEOPLE WILL NOT LISTEN TO THE GUIDELINES AND WILL STILL TRY TO TRACK MANAGERS WITHIN DGs.
Don’t do that. It feels needy, desperate, and it’s not allowed anyway. The first signal it sends is that you’re not capable of respecting the rules (and it’s only the beginning…).
4. The Fourth Step
The fourth step does not always happen.
Some DGs offer placements to trainees during the third step, while others organize interviews (the fourth step).
Both happened to me.
After I sent emails to every DG and agency, I got two answers.
First, one DG offered me an interview. I did it, then waited. Meanwhile, the JRC offered me a traineeship, without any interviews.
Obviously, I didn’t wait to know whether I was taken to the other DG. I accepted the JRC’s proposal right away.
Even though the other DG was better, my sole purpose was to get into the Commission. This application was my only shot since my plan afterward was to be serious about business.
So I said yes to the JRC.
5. Motivation Letter Template
Here’s an example of one of the motivation letters I sent to one of the DGs.
In this case, it was the DG in charge of innovation. I personalized each letter to show that I cared and knew what I was talking about.
Dear Madam, Sir,
In a world increasingly driven by creativity and technology, innovation is a key component in the creation of jobs, wealth, and prosperity for the Union. The attention that Mrs. von der Leyen has given to innovation and science at the beginning of her presidency is an excellent reason to be optimistic about the future!
Here is what I can do for you as a Blue Book trainee.
These last two years, I studied two master’s degrees, one in political science (EU studies) and one in business management. I have learned about economics, the EU legislative process, and had the chance to interview many of your colleagues from the JRC for my thesis on innovative political practices.
The two internships I have participated in (one in a movie production company in Belgium and one in a technology company in Poland) taught me how to use the entire Office 365 Suite (including Excel, Teams, and DevOps) and various other programs such as SAP, WordPress, and Photoshop.
I have learned through numerous student jobs both soft and hard skills such as public speaking, leadership, teamwork, pro-activity, copywriting, and online marketing.
I would be happy to use these skills and assist you with research, presentation-making, paper-summarizing, writing, problem-solving, and any other task that needs to be well done.
I understand the importance to be creative and constantly think of ways to improve the workflow. I am also attached to the respect of deadlines and being on time.
This, in a nutshell, is the value I could bring to the Research and Innovation Directorate-General. Should you be interested in my profile, I would be happy to move forward with an interview.
As you can see, I started with an introductory paragraph then explained my skills and what I was ready to do for the DG.
Now that I am looking at it, I think I used the word “I” too much.
But it worked, didn’t it?!
Conclusion of Part II
I am happy I did the EU traineeship because it’s prestigious and I wanted to see the inside of the Commission (and a friend of mine did it and I’d lie if I said she hadn’t inspired me).
Overall though, I was slightly disappointed.
First, the people I met weren’t as good as I expected them to be.
Second, the experience looked more like an Erasmus (getting drunk with friends and having sex with strangers, or the other way around) than a professional internship.
So, this is how I got an EU internship.
Was I the best candidate? None at all.
But I fitted the profile perfectly. I was old, experienced, spoke languages, had studied at Sciences Po, and had a much more intensive international background than anyone else.
None of these things require a brain to acquire.
If you want to get an EU internship, it’s more than possible.
Just follow this plan, and you’ll get in.
Part III: How to Get a Job at the EU Commission Directly After Your Traineeship
A Blue Book Traineeship does not entitle you to a job, but it helps.
Let’s see how.
1. The Junior Professionals Program
The Junior Professionals Program (JPP) is an elite program developed by the Commission to hire the best of the best.
This program is only accessible to the Blue Book trainees doing their internship in a DG. Those in agencies are not eligible.
You will hear about the JPP and how to apply during your traineeship.
If my memory is correct, only 20 people get admitted into this program per batch, and there are two batches per year (so that’s 40 in total).
To get in, you need to pass a series of “logic tests”, two interviews, etc. It’s quite hard to get in, the JPP only welcomes the best of the best. You can find more info here.
Don’t be sad if you don’t get into the it.
There are other ways.
2. Passing the CAST
CAST means Contract Agents Selection Tool. It’s a database with people who have been screened and judged smart enough to work at the EU. Once you get into the CAST, getting a job becomes a whole lot easier.
To get into this database, you’ll have to pass a series a tests (logic, knowledge, etc).
Once you’re in, you can start applying for CAST-only job offers.
If you are recruited, you will be a contract agent for a maximum period of six years.
After that, they will have to give you a permanent contract…or drop you.
Once you get a permanent contract, you’re set for life.
3. Getting a temporary agent contract without the CAST or through interim
Interim is the French word for “temp staff”.
This is how most people start after a Blue Book.
When civil servants get sick or take a sabbatical, or simply when a DG has a special mission for which they need help, temporary job positions that do not require the CAST open.
Now, these jobs aren’t advertised on TV.
They’re hard to come by, and they’re quite competitive.
Nonetheless, I know a few people that got these jobs, so it means it’s possible.
- Hustle. The best way to get one of these jobs is to do such a good job during your internship that they want to hire you right away. Do not work from home, arrive early, leave late, volunteer for tasks, work hard, introduce yourself to people, and let them know you’re looking for an actual job at the end of your internship (be subtle and non-needy, please). One girl in my team had done such a good traineeship that she got hired right after it within the same team. This is where you see that experience can be good! She was a data scientist with lots of experience so she could be useful and valuable FAST.
- Be a part of as many WhatsApp groups as you can. Everyone will start making some dumb WhatsApp groups. Eg: one per country, one per hobby (when I did the traineeship, there was a WhatsApp group called “Plant Parents”…). They often circulate some job offers in these groups, so be a part of them.
- Talk to people. You always have people that somehow know everything (hot girls, tall guys), so make sure to befriend them. Remember that the competition among trainees is insane, so don’t reveal all of your cards either. Play it smart.
Finally, take a look at this page which outlines the different options you have to get a job at the EU.
Part IV: Practicals
1. How to Find a Room or an Apartment in Brussels for Your Blue Book Traineeship
First thing you should do is read my honest Brussels guide. I am from Belgium and lived in Brussels 3+ years, so I know what I talking about.
Read it? Good.
I recommend you book an Airbnb (or hostel) and fly to Brussels prior to starting the internship so you can visit the rooms and the neighborhood.
Indeed, Brussels is not the same everywhere, and the room you take isn’t only about the room – it’s also about the neighborhood.
You can always ask the tenant/owner to show you the room through Skype. If they have a lot of friends on Facebook, some pics, comments, etc, you may reasonably think that they’re not fake and won’t scam you.
There aren’t as many scams as one may think. My best advice is not to be overly paranoid and just have a bit of common sense.
Alternatively, you can read the most detailed guide on the Internet about how to find a room in any city in the world.
Do not mention that you’re going to do an EU Internship before knowing the price of the room, as it might entice the owner to charge you a premium.
Most offers for rooms are on Facebook.
You’ll get paid something like €1.3k/month. Because of inflation (which has been 90%-110% since 2018, don’t believe the “10%” from the media, it’s a lie), €1.3K is not nearly enough to live in Brussels.
So you’ll have to hustle another job online or dip into your savings.
Find a list of Facebook groups that offer rooms, apartments, etc to rent. There are more websites at the end.
Find below websites other than Facebook.
www.immoweb.be (for apartments)
2. Safety in Brussels
Brussels isn’t the safest city to live in.
So, what should you fear?
According to the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a high risk of terrorist attacks in Brussels.
However, I estimate this risk to be low.
Theft or harassment is what you should be wary of. I used to work for a pub crawl in Brussels, and people got their phones stolen every single night.
So, please, be careful.
Take Bolt or Uber when you don’t feel like walking, put your phone in your front pocket, avoid the subway, buses, train stations, and trams, hold your bag near you and close it well, don’t let watches and wallets linger around, and always watch your drinks.
Don’t dress too fancy (holds true for both men and women) and never, ever stop if someone seems like they want to ask you for something as these will likely be:
- Someone asking you for money to buy drugs.
- Someone offering you to buy drugs.
- Someone asking you for money for Oxfam, the WWF, etc.
- Someone distracting you while someone else comes behind you to steal your phone, bag, wallet, etc.
Part V: FAQ
1. What is the monthly salary of the Blue Book Traineeship?
€1300 net per month. Technically this isn’t a salary but an allowance given in the context of a traineeship.
2. How can I find a house in Brussels?
Look at the list of Facebook groups and other websites above.
3. Should I report my Blue Book Traineeship salary to any tax authorities?
Technically yes, you should report this in Belgium.
Practically though…no one really cares.
4. Should I register in the city hall when I come to Brussels?
Technically yes, practically, no.
It doesn’t give you any benefits, it’s long and annoying to do, and you won’t stay there enough time for it to be worth it.
For example, most people’s ID comes 6-9 months after they registered.
5. What about health insurance?
I highly recommend you subscribe to the Commission’s Allianz plan. It’s €30/month but it is definitely worth it. Take your European Health Insurance card too (you should ask for it from the social security of your country).
6. Does the Blue Book Traineeship entitle me to a job?
No, it does not entitle you to a job, but it is an excellent opportunity to work hard and network to get one!
7. What are the best tips and tricks to obtain a Blue Book Traineeship?
- Get some international experience (study/work abroad)
- Get a master’s degree
- Study a non-political science-related degree (STEM is best)
- Write about relevant experiences in your resume and motivation letter
- Get some relevant work experience prior
- Learn a third language
- Respect the guidelines
More than a year and a half after I finished the traineeship, I am still editing this article.
The results have been pretty impressive as thousands of people have read it.
I have one last piece of advice to give you: don’t be discouraged if you don’t get in the first time.
You have higher chances to get a job if you already have skills and experience, than if you don’t.
If you have spotted some changes in the selection process of the EU Commission, kindly let me know here so I can keep this article updated.
PS: if you have read to the end, I thank you for reading my work. I’m always up to meet some readers, so shoot me a message when you come to Brussels! Maybe I will be around 🙂
Addendum: Scientific Traineeship at the Joint Research Center
The JRC offers traineeships outside of the context of the Blue Book traineeship.
This is because their work is important and they often need skills and know-how from the outside because they lack it internally.
You can find opportunities for a scientific internship here.
The application process is different than that of the Blue Book, but I don’t know exactly how it works.
So, I’ll tell you what I know: every DG has a fixed budget to hire trainees. This budget is set by the EU Commission. The more money they have, the more trainees they can hire. Sometimes they don’t know in advance whether they’ll be able to hire or not.
The JRC is the only (?) DG to hire trainees outside of the Blue Book traineeship.
Because their HR needs depend on their projects, deadlines, and budget, they can’t plan much in advance who and how many trainees they will need. As a result, everything is done last minute.
When I was at the JRC, I was working with a software engineer on a scientific traineeship that got his place two weeks or so before starting. But it was virus time too, so I suppose it didn’t make things any easier.
My advice: get a plan B in case the traineeship doesn’t work. And definitely expect a last-minute call.
For more articles, head to auresnotes.com.
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