This article will teach you everything you need to know to get a Blue Book traineeship at the EU Commission.
There are three types of traineeships you can do at the EU*.
The most popular one is the Blue Book traineeship — the traineeship at the EU Commission.
Acceptance rates vary between 1% and 5% (I will explain you in a minute how you can be a part of that 1%.) Blue Book trainees are usually older (+25 years old).
The second one is the EU Council traineeship. Less than 1% get there.
The third one is the EU Parliament traineeship. It’s the one that pays the most and where trainees work the less. They have Friday afternoon off which they spend getting drunk in the Leopold Park before other trainees arrive.
Parliament trainees are younger (21–24 years old), so if you’re under 25 years old, you’ll have more chances to be accepted there.
In this article, we will focus on the Blue Book traineeship 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 the dumbest bachelors in the world (communication, biggest mistake in my life, but that’s another story) ans my grades sucked.
Yet I managed to get into the most sought-after Directorate-General (DG): The Joint Research Center (JRC).
Here’s exactly how I did it.
Understanding the Criteria
Before you apply, you need to understand the minimum requirement and the criterion 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.
The EU selection algorithm gives you points according to your value.
The more points you have, the more chances you have to be selected.
The metrics that give you points are:
- 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
Let’s discuss each of them.
The older you are, the better. The EU doesn’t take trainees out of good heart. It takes them for financial reasons.
Trainees are cheap and work well. Older people have more experience and work better, so they are preferred.
If you’re under 25, it 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.
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.
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 an 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).
The University You Studied at
Sciences Po, Bocconi, Polytechnique institutes, Oxbrigde, etc don’t play as big of a role as before due to 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.
Your (Work) Experience
Believe it or not, but I was selected 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 job was to get administrative authorizations and permissions for new buildings. 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, for example.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Selection Process
There are four steps in the selection process.
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 experiences, proof of languages, 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 priority over other DGs that also want to work with you.
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.
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.
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).
While the official guideline is to sit tight and wait, you obviously should send a CV and motivation letter to each one of these email addresses.
When I did it, I created a CV and motivation letter template to automate and speed up the work.
Then I sent custom emails to all of them (you will find all of the templates below.)
WARNING: SOME PEOPLE WILL NOT LISTEN TO THE GUIDELINES AND WILL STILL TRY TO TRACK INDIVIDUALS WITHIN DGs.
I don’t recommend you to follow their lead, as you will be seen as breaking the rules since this is not allowed.
The Fourth Step
The fourth step isn’t mandatory.
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 to accept the JRC’s proposal.
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.
And this, my good friend, is how I got a traineeship at the EU Commission.
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?!
I am happy I did the EU traineeship because it’s prestigious and I wanted to see the inside of the Commission.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t after the title because I definitely was.
When I look back, I now realize I was action-faking.
What I really wanted to do was build a company.
As soon as I got the spot, an EU internship didn’t look so extraordinary anymore.
I wasn’t motivated to learn anything new and get out of my comfort zone because I was busy building a web design agency (which never worked, but that’s a whole other story).
And the people I met weren’t as good as I expected them to be.
Let’s be honest.
For most trainees, 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.
And in full honesty, I am guilty of it too.
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.
*Actually, you can also do traineeships at the EU regions.
For more articles, head to auresnotes.com.
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