Having recently gone through the process of finding a traineeship in the field myself, I have to admit that initially I was overwhelmed with the process and a bit daunted. It was only through breaking it down into manageable steps that I was able to find an amazing placement that really suits my skills and interests which I am going to start in a few weeks.
As I am currently based in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, you can understand the selection process was intense because of the large competition. Every person who wants to work in European public affairs from around the continent (and beyond) comes to Brussels in the hopes of securing a placement. Nevertheless, with some tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can definitely be one step ahead of the competition!
I have decided to write this article for people who, like me a few months ago, are considering doing an internship in the public affairs field but have no idea where to even start. So here goes!
Find Out What Interests You
To start off, it is important that you really think about what sector of public affairs you are interested in working in as a trainee. There are a lot of options available such as working for an NGO or charity, a consultancy, a trade association, in-house for a company, etc. You should also have an idea about what kind of tasks or projects you would like to be working on during your internship. Once you know what sector and what tasks you would be interested in, the process of finding an internship placement becomes a lot easier.
Know Where To Look And Do Not Forget To Network
The next step is to take a look at different job boards and career websites to see what is out there. You can go no wrong if you start by searching LinkedIn or Indeed. For my own search, I also used the news media website EURACTIV which also has a job board with many available positions in Brussels and Europe-wide. If you are still a student, you can also check out your University’s career services website as they might have a database of internship opportunities.
Another great way to find out about potential internship openings is by networking with people who already work in the sector or field that you are interested in. Attend events, conferences, or meet-ups that are related to your sector and strike up conversations with people working in the field. You never know, they might just have an internship opening or be able to put you in touch with someone who does.
Another great tip is to have a look at the websites of companies and organisations that you would like to work for specifically and see if they offer any internships. If they don’t have anything listed, it does not hurt to write to the HR department and inquire, if they state on their website that they are open to spontaneous applications. You might be surprised!
Start Early And Be Persistent
Some of the most useful advice I can give is to start your search early and to be persistent. The job market in Brussels (as in many UK cities as well) is very competitive and the best positions are usually taken quite quickly. I started my search around November/December for internships starting in the summer and many of the listings were already closed by the time I applied in the middle of January.
If at first, you don’t succeed, don’t be discouraged! I applied to around 25 different internships before finally hearing back from a few and eventually landing my dream placement. The best way to increase your chances of being selected for an interview is to make sure your CV and cover letter are tailored to the specific position you are applying for. This means specifying why you are a good match for the tasks that will be required of you in the internship and providing concrete examples to back. I have a template that I use for my cover letter which I adjust and add relevant information for each different position I apply for.
Selection Process: Interview And How To Handle It
When you do get invited to an interview, congratulations! This is your chance to really make a good impression and sell yourself. If you have done your research on the company or organisation beforehand, this will definitely come in handy. Be prepared to talk about your motivation for wanting to work in the sector and for the specific company as well as your skills and experience. You should also be able to talk about recent news in politics and how those may affect the company you want to work for.
An interview is your chance to show the Recruitment team not only that you understand the organisation, but that you have a genuine interest in it and the work they do. For example, in my own interviews, I talked about my motivation for wanting to get into Public Affairs and my interest in EU policy-making. I was also able to provide concrete examples of why I wanted to work at each company because I had conducted thorough research in advance. The interviewers will also be interested in getting to know you as a person, so don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. At the end of the day, they want to see if you would be a good fit for their team, not just whether you have the right qualifications.
An interview is most often the first step in the application process, but it is not the only one. In some cases, you may be asked to do a written test or case study as part of the second stage. This will give the company an idea of your analytical and writing skills. For my own internship search, I had to do a policy analysis as part of my interview process which I was then able to discuss with the interviewer during my second interview. I also had to summarise a complex legal text, which was a great way for the organisation to see how I work under pressure and with difficult material.
After the interview, the final stage is the selection. The company will evaluate all the candidates and make a decision about who to hire for the position. This can sometimes take a few weeks, so be patient! In my case, I was lucky and was offered a position on the same day I finished my second stage but for others, it can take a bit longer. If you are successful, the company will usually contact you by phone or email to let you know and to discuss the next steps. If you are not successful, don’t despair! Don’t forget to thank your Recruitment team and if possible, ask for feedback so that you can improve for your next application.Just remember that the more tailored applications you send out, the higher your chances of getting a placement are.
And that’s it! The job market for interns in Public Affairs is competitive, so it’s important to start your search early and be persistent. Tailor your CV and cover letter to each position you apply for, and be prepared to sell yourself in an interview. If you’re lucky enough to land an interview within the first few weeks, make sure you know the company well and understand their work culture. Those are my tips for applying for and getting a public affairs internship. I hope you found them useful and that they help you in your own search. Good luck!
Minoas graduated with a Merit upon studying the full-time MPA Public Administration – International Development degree (MPA-ID) at the University of York. He is currently working as a freelance EU affairs consultant in Belgium.
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