As a small country, with one of the world’s most open economies, Ireland places a special value on its membership of international organisations. Ireland’s accession to the United Nations (UN) in 1955 and the European Union (EU) in 1973 were key milestones in the state’s development. Our membership of trade and economic organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and regional organisations, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), are similarly fundamental to our interests, security and values.
Global Horizons is an initiative led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which addresses third-level students by exploring the theme ‘Representing Ireland Abroad: Opportunities for You’. By partnering with the Public Appointments Service and the Department of the Taoiseach’s ‘EU Jobs’ initiative on GradPublicJobs, Global Horizons aims to share the real-life experience of recent recruits and to provide real-time information on the internship and career opportunities within international organisations such as the European Union, the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
Irish citizens make an enormous contribution to these organisations. Well over a thousand are directly employed by international organisations, including almost 500 at the European Commission alone. Each year, Irish graduates are recruited to junior management, policy analyst and specialist roles across the EU, UN and elsewhere. As the ‘international Irish’, they serve not only Irish citizens, but the global good.
International organisations like the EU and UN are looking to recruit creative and constructive people who are determined to make a real difference. The work these organisations do is exceptionally varied and means that, whatever your academic or professional background, an ‘international career’ may be a good fit for you. This section provides an overview of the many opportunities that exist for Irish graduates in the largest international organisations of which Ireland is a member.
The work of the EU is very diverse – the institutions develop policy and legislation across many areas, including trade, environment, energy, agriculture, the single market and justice and home affairs. They also play an essential role in the management of the eurozone and in the coordination of economic, employment and social policies across the EU’s 28 Member States.
The EU institutions – the European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the EU and others - employ around 50,000 officials, including almost a thousand Irish citizens, most of them based in Brussels or Luxembourg.
The European Commission is the largest direct employer among the EU institutions, with some 35,000 employees, including almost 500 Irish citizens. As the EU’s executive arm, the Commission proposes new legislation and supervises its implementation. Commissioners are appointed by the Member States and head up Directorates-General which deal with areas of EU policy such as trade, climate change, employment and agriculture that offer very varied career opportunities in drafting and negotiating legislation, translating documents and conducting policy evaluations and research.
The Council of the European Union adopts European legislation and acts as the EU’s primary decision-making body. It comprises Government Ministers from each Member State – for example, there may be meetings between finance ministers, agriculture ministers or environment ministers. The Council Secretariat is the official body which supports the Council’s work, working with other EU institutions on the legislative process. It employs approximately 3,500 permanent officials, around 70 of whom are Irish.
The European Parliament is directly elected, with 751 Members of European Parliament (MEPs), including 11 from Ireland and 3 from Northern Ireland, representing all the citizens of the EU. It plays a key role in scrutinising European legislation, adopting the EU budget and conducting inquiries. Following the Lisbon Treaty, it now has a major decision-making role along with the Council of Ministers. The Parliament’s Secretariat fulfils a similar role to that of the Council Secretariat and is staffed by some 6,000 EU officials, around a 100 of who are Irish citizens. In addition, each of the MEPs has their own assistant, whilst the political groups they represent have research staff - you can find out more about opportunities in the Parliament here.
The European External Action Service is the EU's diplomatic service. It helps the EU's foreign affairs chief – the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – carry out the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Headquartered in Brussels, the EEAS has Delegations and Offices in 140 countries around the world, representing the EU and its citizens globally. It employs a little over 4,000 staff, including around 80 Irish citizens.
There are nine other EU institutions, all of which employ substantial number of professional staff and offer great career opportunities. Those with a legal background may take particular interest in the European Ombudsman office, headed by Irishwoman Emily O’Reilly and the Court of Justice of the European Union, the judicial institution of the EU, which is based in Luxembourg. Graduates of economics, finance and commerce programmes may be drawn to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt or the European Investment Bank, Investment Fund and Court of Auditors, all of which are in Luxembourg. There are also opportunities within the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Data Protection Supervisor, as well as at more than 40 EU Agencies, including the Dublin based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound).
Given the diversity of organisations in this sector, career opportunities are wide-ranging. Jobs can be technical, field-based, policy-based, strategic or administrative – just as they are in our own civil and public service. As one of the ‘international Irish’, you could be a policy maker, lawyer, economist, accountant, communications expert, negotiator, scientist or ICT specialist… the list is almost endless.
Because of the quality of the work, competition for international careers is intensive. In addition to a strong academic record, most entry-level graduate positions require candidates to have some professional experience and, in the case of the EU, good language skills. However, many of the same organisations also have excellent paid traineeship and young professional programmes which provide an opportunity to build relevant experience before securing a full- time post. Increasingly, such placements are an essential first step to an international career.
In considering an international career, it’s important to recognise further exactly what’s on offer. This section outlines the key opportunities open to Irish graduates across international organisations.
The EU requires staff with a wide variety of backgrounds and skill sets. In addition to generalist policy officers, administrators and support staff, lawyers, translators and economists are always in demand, but so too are ICT specialists, communication professionals and scientists.
Collectively, the EU institutions and agencies run one of the world’s biggest and best traineeship programmes. Every year, more than 2,000 European graduates move to Brussels or Luxembourg to complete a 3 to 5 month long ‘stage’ – the French for traineeship – working alongside the EU’s top officials. Most of these positions are paid – trainees or ‘stagiaires’ typically take home around €1,200 per month.
EU trainees are given real responsibility right from day one, allowing you the chance to play a part in developing and reviewing EU policy. As a trainee, you could be preparing speeches for European Commissioners, researching policy at the Court of Justice or managing social media communication at the European Parliament. For those considering an international career, the ‘stage’ is a perfect way to test the waters – although there is no formal mechanism for progression from trainee to permanent official, increasingly, most EU officials start out as stagiaires.
Each of the EU institutions and agencies runs its own traineeship programme, with its own application process and deadlines. While this makes things seem a little complicated at first, it’s a real positive for anyone who wants to secure a ‘stage’. By knowing about the different options and applying strategically, you can give yourself the best possible chance of success.
The European Commission – where about half of all EU officials work – has by far the biggest programme. It has two traineeship periods each year, March to August and October to February, with applications for each accepted six months ahead. The next biggest programme is that run by the European Parliament, which offers both general policy and specialist translation traineeships and, unlike the Commission, also accepts some undergraduate trainees.
As the largest and best known programmes, the Commission and the Parliament are also the most popular, where the competition for places can be toughest. If you’re really keen to gain some Brussels experience, it can pay to look at opportunities in the smaller institutions and agencies, as well as the many EU-focussed NGOs and professional organisations. We post details of the larger trainee programmes on this site, but, for those wanting to plan ahead, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) provides a useful short summary of traineeship deadlines. We also recommend that you check out European Movement Ireland’s Green Book Guide to the EU Stage which contains information on the EU’s best traineeship programmes.
To be eligible for most traineeships, you need to have completed a third-level undergraduate degree (if you’ve just done your final year exams, but yet to receive your diploma, you’re also eligible to apply) and have a good knowledge of at least two of the EU’s 24 official languages, including one of the three working languages - English, French or German. Language skills are important in the EU. However, you shouldn’t be put off by the linguistic requirements – keep in mind also that Irish is one of the EU’s official languages and can be used for competition purposes. It’s also worth noting that the EU’s work is increasingly undertaken through English, which means Irish graduates are in high demand across the institutions.
The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) is the EU’s recruitment service and manages all recruitment for permanent posts at the European Commission, Parliament and most other institutions.
Administrators are the EU’s policy officers, managers and research analysts. As an administrator you could expect to work on a range of tasks or projects. Depending on the institution to which you were assigned, this might include working on policy issues affecting the environment – for example, negotiating an agreement with car makers to cut emissions of greenhouse gases; coordinating the broad economic policies of the Member; or completing legal research for the European Court of Justice.
While many administrators are generalist policy officers - or so called ‘public administrators’ - the EU also recruits administrators with particular qualifications in auditing, law and external relations. Whatever their specific tasks, administrators typically have to handle a great deal of information, collected from multiple sources, and analyse and interpret it to help develop policies and legislation. Analytical and communicative skills are therefore essential for the post. So too are language skills; proficiency in at least two of the EU’s 24 official languages, including one of the three working languages (English, French and German) is required for any permanent position.
Administrators (AD) careers are graded between AD5 to AD16. AD16 is the most senior rank, held by the Secretary General of the European Commission, the EU’s top civil servant (which, until very recently, was Irish woman Catherine Day). AD5 is the entry level open to University graduates (or final year students who are set to graduate that year) and is the grade at which most graduate recruitment happens. The starting salary at AD5 level is €4,384 per month (more information on salary scales and conditions is available here). Competitions typically open in March. You’ll find more information in the how to apply section below.
Economists, Auditors & Statisticians
EU policies aim to ensure fair competition, mitigate poverty and raise living standards for all EU citizens. Economists work in many key posts across the EU institutions, providing economic and statistical analysis and shaping new policies in areas such as the single currency, economic integration and pan-European trade. Economists are recruited to the European Commission, Parliament and Council through specialist competitions run by EPSO, typically held in the autumn. The European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund all recruit directly, with competitions held right through the year.
Translators & Interpreters
The EU has 24 official languages, including English and Irish. While most of the work of the institutions is through three working languages - English, French or German – and, increasingly, through English, EU documents and legislative texts are translated into all of the official languages. To undertake this work, the EU employs a large team of translators and lawyer-linguists (experts in law and translation). The European Parliament, the Council and other institutions also employ interpreters who support communication in one of politics’ most multilingual environments. Translators, interpreters and lawyer-linguists are generally recruited at Administrator level. In addition to holding a University degree, preferably in a relevant subject, translators must have a thorough command of at least three European languages, one of which must be English, French or German.
Assistants work in a variety of administrative support, clerical and technical roles across the EU institutions. Typical responsibilities include the coordination of sections’ budgetary and financial affairs; human resources; and document management. Assistants can be recruited as generalists or with specific experience of financial management, communications or human resources. An assistant career covers grades AST 1 to AST 11, with new staff recruited at either AST 1 or AST 3. Starting salaries are between €2,675 and €3,234 per month, exclusive of benefits. To apply, you must have completed secondary education and have previous relevant experience, or have a relevant vocational qualification. You also need to have a reasonable command of at least two European languages, one of which must be English, French or German.
Thousands of people work across the EU institutions and agencies on temporary or fixed term contracts. Often, these are offered for specialised projects, for example in the field of scientific research or communications, with recruitment run by individual institutions and agencies. However, the Commission also recruits for clerical and administrative work through local temping agencies. For many graduates, a temporary contract proves an entry point for an EU career, allowing you to build experience and contacts and take advantage of the training provided to EU staff in preparing for permanent competitions. Recruitment to temporary or contract roles is all year round, with a first step in most cases being uploading a Europass version of your CV to the EU CV database. You’ll also find lots of useful information on the EPSO website.
How to Apply?
When you apply for an international post, you’ll be competing against candidates from all over Europe, if not the world. Knowing how the recruitment process works and how to present yourself effectively is essential if you want to join the ranks of the ‘International Irish’. This section explains how the various international organisations recruit and offers some tips on how to make your application stand out from the crowd.
Where possible we encourage you to register with the various organisations listed here to ensure you are aware of when opportunities arise. We will also be highlighting significant competitions here on gradpublicjobs.ie, so please keep in touch.
Each of the EU institutions and agencies operates its own traineeship programme, with separate application process and deadlines. There is, however, significant overlap between them and material prepared for one application, with a few tweaks, can be used to apply for other programmes. You can stay on top of the various deadlines through the short traineeship guide on the EPSO website.
Most of the institutions run a two-stage selection process. First, you’re required to submit an online application, in which you outline your qualifications, professional experience and skills. These are assessed by a panel and a short-list of candidates agreed. This list is published in what’s known in Brussels as ‘the Blue Book’, a database from which EU managers select their preferred trainees for interview, usually by phone.
While the criteria for selection vary, most traineeship programmes assess candidates on the following: Educational profile; Language skills in one of the 3 working languages (English, French and German); Language skills in any other of the 24 official European languages (including Irish); Relevant working experience; International profile / experience (e.g. evidence of having lived or studied abroad); Motivation; IT skills, organisational skills and specialist expertise.
To secure an EU traineeship, then, you first need to present a good application form. The tips section provides some good general pointers – you can get further advice through the EU Jobs campaign coordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach.
The EU institutions seldom recruit to fill individual posts. Instead, like the Public Appointment Service, they hold competitions to establish panels of qualified candidates who are then offered positions as vacancies arise. The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), the EU’s recruitment service, manages this process and is the place to start your search for an EU career. Competitions to recruit generalist administrators are held in the spring. Those for interpreters, translators, linguists and lawyer-linguists typically open in the late summer, while competitions for specialist posts, such as economists, open in the autumn.
EPSO’s website contains information on all aspects of EU careers, including detailed profiles of available jobs and upcoming competitions. You can find mock tests for the positions you’re interested in, listen to serving EU officials describe their roles, and learn more about how the recruitment process operates in practice. This is also where you take your first step in applying for a specific post by creating or logging into your EPSO account.
Having created your EPSO account, your starting point for any competition should be to read the notice of competition - it contains all the information you’ll need to prepare your application. You’ll need to decide if you meet the qualifying criteria and select your preferred competition languages (most competitions require that you select two). EPSO has a useful guide to the application process, which you can download here.
After applying, and presuming you meet the basic requirements, you’ll be called to sit Computer Based Tests (CBT), which are designed to evaluate your general cognitive abilities, abstract reasoning and situational judgment – these tests are taken in your first competition language (which can be any one of the EU’s 24 official languages) and can be sat in Ireland or any other EU Member State.
If you score well enough at these CBTs, you’ll be invited either to complete an intermediary E-Tray exercise in Ireland or, if applicant numbers are smaller, pass through to the final competition stage in Brussels. This comprises a full day assessment centre, including a structured interview, group exercise and oral presentation, and is conducted in your second competition language (which must be English, French or German). If you pass that, you’ll be placed on a reserve list, from which you’ll be directly recruited to one of the institutions.
You can get lots more information on EPSO competitions through EU Jobs Ireland, a service coordinated by the EU Division of the Department of the Taoiseach, which offers training and support services to help Irish candidates succeed in EU competitions. These services are open to all Irish citizens and residents who have registered for a specific competition or who intend to do so and are offered free of charge. If you’ve registered for any EPSO competition – and particularly if you’ve reached the Assessment Centre stage – get in touch with them to find out how they can assist you.
EPSO’s open competitions aren’t the only process through which the EU recruits. The institutions regularly hire non-permanent staff for specialist and generalist roles. These are known as contract agents and temporary agents. While non-permanent contracts are, of course, of limited duration, they are considered a great way to get a start at the Institutions. Many of those who are successful in securing permanent posts have previously served in non-permanent posts, taking the opportunity, while there, to develop their language skills, EU knowledge and general competencies, and hence greatly boosting their prospects in the concours.
The application process for contract and temporary posts is simpler than that used by EPSO and the language requirements somewhat less strict. Candidates apply by posting an EU CV online. Given the many thousands of CVs online, it’s usually essential to bring your application to the attention of the directorate or section you want to work in. A simple email to the right official can be a good start - you’ll find the EU’s Who’s Who Directory an invaluable resource in this respect. Further information on the profiles sought, eligibility criteria and application procedures can be found here.