Voices from ... Global Horizons, International Careers

Tuesday, 6th October 2015

Written by: Jennifer Evans


The “Voices from…” panel series kicked off this Tuesday with the first installation, ‘Global Horizons, International Careers’. Four speakers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the European Commission Representation, and the European Parliament Information Office shared their advice and experiences with students interested in foreign affairs and international relations.

But why look for an international job, instead of staying in Ireland? As Jennifer Bourke from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade explained, EU membership has been fundamental to the country, and Ireland’s contribution to world affairs continues to be phenomenally valuable.

“It may seem like a cliché,” said Joan Flanagan from the European Commission Representation, “but Ireland has punched above its weight in its international contribution.” This is the best time to be Irish in world politics, and with a job in foreign affairs you don’t only represent your country worldwide, as panelist Stephen O’Dwyer explained, you also get to travel, meet people from all over the globe, and make a real difference in people’s lives. O’Dwyer is a Third Secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and he feels that this job provides him with the most satisfaction that he is helping people on an individual level.

That’s all very well, you might say, but I don’t really know anything about politics, and I don’t know how my degree would fit in with this job… Well, you’re in luck! As all speakers emphasized, a job in the public sector can range from anything from journalism, sociology, to dentistry, finance, IT, administration… the list really goes on. O’Dwyer told the crowd that his original degree was in engineering, so you really can come from any background. The only thing they want from you is a passion for international affairs or representing your country abroad and often one European language besides your own, either English, French, or German.

If you love to travel, these roles would be great for you, too. Most opportunities are in Brussels, with some in other European cities, depending on specialty. You’re never short of variety either, with most members of the European Commission moving roles every few years, and since world affairs are always changing, the job is not one to stagnate.

So what opportunities are available to me?

Well, there appears to be something for everyone, and there are so many resources available for finding the right thing.

Internships and Traineeships

Internships are a great way to get access into the field, meet people, gain connections and maybe move into a full-time job. Jennifer Bourke gave some tips for applying to internships:

  1.  Focus on 1-2 organizations specific to your interests and subject area. Find out what they want by doing your research online and talking to someone in the company or sector and getting their first-hand advice. You’ll never know what you can get from talking to people, and that might give you the added edge when applying and attending interviews.
  2. Figure out your timeline. When are you free, and when are the internships offered? A lot of internships are only offered to students who have already completed their degree, which means they won’t accept you if you apply in March when you expect to graduate in June. If you keep an eye on the timeline, you won’t miss the deadline and you’ll give yourself time to prepare.
  3. Paid or unpaid? As with most internships, some will be unpaid, while some will give a stipend for the amount of time you work. This is key to research, especially if you know you won’t be able to fund yourself without a paying internship. Unpaid internships can still be incredibly helpful for making connections and gaining experience, but you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before you apply.
  4. Practice! A lot of the internships available require entrance exams, psychometric testing, online applications, and an individual or group interview component. If you have a few months to prepare, spend that time wisely. The Careers Advisory Service provides practice interviews with feedback, to give you the best preparation possible.


Where can I find opportunities?

The European Commission provides paid 5 month traineeships, paying €1000 a month to graduates of any nationality. More information can be found on these traineeships at http://ec.europa.eu/stages/.

Both eu-careers.eu and eujobs.ie have listings for internships and jobs available in the EU, the latter focusing on Irish opportunities. There you can find out about applying to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the European Parliament and Commission, and get any information on working within the EU.

Gradpublicjobs.ie is another resource for finding jobs and reading bios of current workers and their experiences and backgrounds.

All 751 members of the European Parliament are always looking for assistants and interns, as Anne McEvoy-Smith from the European Parliament Information Office explained, which is an excellent opportunity for the politically inclined. These are usually unpaid positions that give you excellent connections into the European Parliament and provide you with experience and a greater understanding of the workings of the parliament.

All these opportunities are competitive, and some require applications 6-7 months in advance. If you’re not successful the first time, don’t give up! Experiences in other jobs can be invaluable to these positions, and the second time round you’ll have a different and broader perspective. The opportunities in the EU are so broad that there is something for everyone, and new opportunities are always becoming available.

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