Breaking into the EU public affairs world may seem interesting as a young professional at the outset of your career. The players in this industry are often global leaders with aspirations of staying on top through excellence. Many young professionals, for instance, believe that taking the first step starts with a Bluebook or a Schuman traineeship. However, not all career paths look alike. Climbing the career steps in the EU Bubble can look different to everyone. One sure thing is the fact that the candidates who manage to secure their positions and grow in the “Bubble” will be the ones who understand it.

While the standards are uniformly high, the actual pathways into professional life in Brussels are anything but homogenous. Although a Bluebook or a Schuman traineeship is indeed a highly sought-after and valuable experience, there are more opportunities within EU institutions and bodies than just these two. By all means, explore the various assessment criteria and recruitment positions for both traineeships and temporary positions across not just Parliament and Commission, but the Council, Committee of the Regions, or any other agency that piques your interest.

Looking beyond the EU, there are many diverse intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) for aspiring talent, such as NATO, Eurocontrol, and various UN agencies that offer challenging, international, and prestigious early career positions. They can be invaluable opportunities to burnish your credentials, gain hands-on experience in Brussels, and grow your network.

Something that all of these options have in common, however, is that they reinforce the underlying assumption that the only course to follow is through large, institutional players, with highly competitive bureaucratic hurdles or intensely structured recruitment processes. This is by no means the case, and both the private and public sectors can offer pathways to get your foot in the door.

Finally, there is not necessarily a “silver bullet” that offers a guaranteed long-term perspective or a fool-proof way to professionally gain traction. Successfully breaking into the job market can take one, or many paths, and may require you to jump between several types of experience or roles as you build a diverse skillset and grow your network. Here is a quick overview of the steps you can take to start the journey and an example from someone who has recently established themselves in Brussels:

First, start with a mapping of the actors present in Brussels. It is important to understand the ecosystem of the EU Bubble which consists of various sets of companies, associations, institutions, and professional service firms. All these actors have different compositions: management structures, team sizes, needs, and challenges… and the job opportunities to match. These positions might branch out to roles such as Public Affairs / Advocacy / ESG-Regulatory Affairs or Policy officers, communications/PR professionals, legal advisors, and project managers. If the size of the secretariat is relatively small, it can mean that one position might execute different tasks outside of its profession – which may make you feel less up to the task, but which will give you a much more flexible and comprehensive skillset once you grow into it.

Narrowing the map of the actors is crucial in helping you direct your effort in the right direction. Start by thinking about whether you want to work in the public or private sector. If you want to work in industry/professional associations, you can check NGOs and trade associations. As for opportunities in the private sector, there are abundant consultancies, public affairs/PR/communications agencies, law firms, or corporations that operate on a diverse range of issues, or even as specialized boutiques. Finally, think tanks can offer an interesting mix of options: policy, communications, project management, and administrative roles all fall within their remit.

Some resources you can use:

  • The European Transparency Register for interest representatives/organizations that are engaging with the EU Parliament, the Council, and the EU Commission,
  • EuroBrussels, EurActive, and Jobs in Brussels websites for the general list of the actors,
  • EPACA for EU Public Affairs Consultancies.
  • Mavence’s Career Hub and LinkedIn page. As Mavence is recruiting on behalf of different actors in the private sector – for positions related to policy and regulation in EU Public Affairs/International Affairs, it would be helpful to take a look at the Career Hub.

As the second step, you should decide which sector industry you want to start working in: healthcare, sustainability, chemicals, automotive, tech, digital, energy, raw materials, agri-food, trade, media, financial services, mobility, etc.

Questions to ask yourself and factors to consider before deciding the sector industry you want to work in:

  • What are the core purpose and values of this sector industry?
  • What is the career growth potential?
  • What are the income prospects?
  • What are the benefits or potential risks of choosing a specific industry?
  • Is it a sector that has high demand and high job availability?

Keep in mind that reflecting on where you see your career is going has a crucial effect on deciding your industry. Do you see yourself more in the technical-regulatory affairs role, general advocacy, public affairs, or communications?

The third step, understanding your competences. Knowing how and where to use your skill set will help you stand out as a candidate – but only if you can convert that understanding into a compelling narrative and a case for yourself with respect to your prospective employer and colleagues. This requires a significant investment in self-reflection and refining where you’re going and what you’re bringing with you, explicitly but concisely. As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”, and that applies to your professional self as well.

Not only that, but you will be able to identify roles where you are most likely to make a tangible impact and positive contribution, increasing the likelihood that your foot-in-the-door materializes into something more permanent down the line.

To figure out your competencies, you can work with a job coach who has expertise in EU Public Affairs. Mavence’s career coaches who specialize in EU Public Affairs can be a way to go.

The most crucial set of skills are the ones you don’t necessarily learn when you study. These are your *soft skills*. You will be engaging externally with stakeholders and people outside of your company. In those cases, it is important to understand the diverging expectations, build professional and solid relationships within international teams, and navigate challenges to solve problems. Keep in mind that in Brussels, you will meet with people who have completely different backgrounds. Your communication and adaptability skills will be the game-changers. They will help you bridge the differences, adapt to the professional environment of the EU Bubble, and stand out in the job applications.

You’ve analyzed the actors, narrowed the map, decided on the sector you want to work in, and examined and distilled your competencies and skills. Now, it is time to take action. Start checking the open positions within the organizations by using the tools provided above. Most of the organizations offer traineeship opportunities with a duration of 6 months up to 12 months. If you don’t get a longer contract, don’t be discouraged: it can be beneficial to work under such a temporary traineeship contract to learn the necessary skills with hands-on experience and move onwards and upwards from there. This experience can help you to find a permanent position in another organization. Be mindful of the options that are out there and use them to profile yourself in a certain direction while planning what you want to try and explore. These traineeships will be for testing what you enjoy doing before making a final call.

Special Note: Exposure and visibility are crucial in your first experiences. It is important to engage and network with external stakeholders as a lobbyist in the EU Bubble – even if you don’t work in advocacy, you can be lobbying for yourself. To that end, always put yourself out of your own bubble, and look beyond your immediate responsibilities. If you work at an international trade association, for instance, make a point of getting to know the members and their business models, as well as what keeps the association moving as a whole. Working at a consultancy can be also helpful in liaising with different clients from different sectors. Experiences like these will give you a birds-eye view of the way different types of organizations work together and increase your overall visibility in the job market.

By all means, navigating the dynamic and multifaceted landscape of the EU Bubble to build a successful career requires a proper approach and a solid strategy but not a homogenous one. Keep in mind that it will be a journey that includes a combination of passion, perseverance, and strategic acumen and this overview will be the light to your way to have a head start.

Aybüke Beren Kiraz – EU Public Affairs Recruitment Assistant