Getting an EU traineeship or an EU job is increasingly popular these days. However, for some people it may be advisable NOT to apply for an EU official position via EPSO. But who are these people? To avoid surprises, we put all the cards on the table, here is a list...
1. Those who prefer risks to security: one of the main attractions of working for the European Union is the job security it provides to permanent EU officials. However, for some people this may not be such an important factor; what's more, it may even be a turn-off. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit who love to try new ventures, create their own inventions, launch their own initiatives and take all responsibility for their success or failure, risk means the adrenalin that drives them. While of course you can and should use this adrenalin and proactive attitude inside the EU institutions as well (the higher you advance in the career, the more so, or if you get to work in crisis response, foreign relations or in the European Parliament on a Strasbourg week :-), it has a slightly different and more secure form than in the private sector.
2. Those not willing to practice hard for the EPSO tests: exams are not easy to pass, and sometimes you have to compete with 30 or even more applicants for one place on the Reserve List. However, this is not a reason to give up hope, it is only a fact of life that you must consider when estimating the required effort to pass and knowing the great rewards it can offer. Lots of practice, measuring results, timing yourself and learning the psychometric methods are needed to succeed. More importantly, you must be fully aware of the commitment required and what it means to work as an EU official (see below).
3. Those who dislike procedures: government bodies and international organisations, or, generally speaking, most large institutions (including companies such as Apple, HP or IBM) with tens of thousands of employees tend to use various internal procedures, policies, rules and decision-making systems, which seems well justified given their complexity. On the other hand, procedures take away arbitrary decisions as you know very well what is expected and what you can expect. In the EU it is very educational to attend meetings with Members of the European Parliament, negotiate with European Commission officials or attend a hearing at the European Court of Justice, though some people tend to feel lost in the inter-institutional and intra-institutional labyrinth. On the other hand, once you master the consultations and internal discussions and accept the administration that managing such a system requires, you will do fine, as the final goal is a noble one: building the European Union and making European citizens (and not company shareholders) happy with the help of a well-managed organisation.
4. Those unwilling to relocate to Brussels, Luxembourg or elsewhere: you must be entirely clear about what happens if and when you pass an EU competition. It means that you will need to re-locate yourself (and your family) to Brussels or Luxembourg, find a job for your spouse and a school for your kids. These are of course very positive things for most people, given the international atmosphere of these cities, EU benefits and language opportunities that living there entails. For others, however, this may be a discouraging factor given their strong connection to where they live or due to other professional reasons, though the benefits seem to outweigh the challenges by far.
5. Those not passionate about EU integration: to work for any of the EU institutions, be that the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council or any other body, you need an enthusiasm for and belief in the direction and purpose of EU affairs, which is bluntly referred to as "integration". Bringing 28 nations closer to each other is a grand task. It also means that inside the institutions you'll need to cope with 24 languages, divergent cultures and various working styles. Some love it, some are less so, but in any case, it is better to consider this upfront.
6. Those who prefer working in a small organisation vs. a large one: "small is beautiful", goes the saying, but when it comes to organisations or companies, the small ones are more vulnerable to market threats such as bankruptcy, takeover, or lack of demand. On the other hand, small teams may be (or perceived to be) more flexible, less hierarchical and more swift to react to a changing environment. Large companies and institutions tend to have a hard time keeping lean, flat and dynamic without giving up on their size. A commendable development is that EU institutions, especially the European Commission, have aimed at making both ends meet: they introduced lots of positive initiatives to "cut red tape", create "better law-making" or improve its Staff Regulations. As there are almost 40,000 EU officials and contract agents who need to be managed, which resonates very well for most people as long as smaller communities, work groups and a family atmosphere can be re-created within their unit.
7. Those who prefer individual vs. team effort: anyone who has a strong opinion and desire for self-expression, be that a political view, an opinion on the direction where EU integration is going or not going, the desire to create new social or business initiatives, publish newspaper articles, become a professional visual artist or take part in a rock band can flourish, but certain limitations do apply when working for EU institutions. Freedom of expression is allowed and encouraged, especially if it contributes to personal betterment or EU policy making, but in some cases it needs to be pre-authorised by the hierarchy. However, overtly critical views or self-fulfilling activities may be hard to reconcile with the status and image of a public official, and in most cases these are not allowed (alas, it's a question of loyalty and neutrality!). This is fully understandable - but for those having such urges it is better to be aware of it so as to avoid any misunderstanding about what the prerequisites of being a European civil servant are. But don’t worry: it is a great job, working for a great cause - even if you're a born artist!
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