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EC Traineeship – the days after the first (at the Commission)


If you think that your first day at the Commission was not as exciting, hopefully the days to follow will get better.  You will have the chance to share your opinions later on (you’ll see).


In fact, you may have heard from other ex stagiaires that after your first day at the Commission, you will have to attend a “welcome” conference in Flagey Centre (not a Commission building though).


For two days, you will find yourself in a room full with a few hundred trainees. There will be two busy days with many speeches on different topics, from introducing the other EU Institutions to presenting different policies of the European Commission.


Two days where you can actually interact with the speakers, asking them questions related to the subjects they presented.


Two days where you can actually learn new things, despite the fact that you may think you know everything about the EU Institutions.


Two days that may turn out to be a positive experience (don’t let yourself drawn too much by other trainees’ views, have your own!).


UPDATE! As published on the website from the Traineeship Office and also confirmed to me by friends who were recruited for the stage, the welcome conference will take only day instead of two days. This is good news. Your waiting to take office is now shortened. 😉


Of course, the views on the conference many vary from one person to the other, I personally enjoyed it and I even found myself taking notes at times (of things I deemed interesting). Not all the topics were relevant to me, but I still tried to pay attention and grasp concepts I was not familiar with.


Yet, not everything is about speeches and speakers. I think the fun part of it is asking a difficult question to the speaker, going on coffee breaks with the other trainees, sharing a joke and some frites for lunch, taking a photo with few hundred other people next to you, enjoying the welcome drink (given by the Traineeship Office). It is also deciding what party you want to go to, what trip, what committee to be part of, extending your group of friends and having a good time being yourself and with yourself, being there.


All in all, two days that can be intense and exhausting altogether… and it all happens here…


EC Traineeship – your first day at the Commission


The whole first week at the Commission will probably look like this…



No exaggeration! But let’s just  start with the first day at the Commission. If you thought that you’d start work immediately, forget  it! As eager as you may be, it’s simply not going to happen. First day it’s all about paper work.


On the first day, you will attend an introductory session in Madou Tower, a 32-story blue building. The first traineeship day at the Commission is always either the first Monday of March/October or the Tuesday after. It depends on which of the groups you were assigned. Make sure you have the following with you:

» Passport or national ID card

» Original diplomas (if not originals, then certified copies)

» Other forms (emergency contact details, request for reimbursement of travel expenses, etc.)


When you arrive at Madou (by metro, bus, foot), don’t get intimidated by the height of the building (sure, it’s not New York, but tall enough for Brussels’ standards). Don’t take the main entrance to the building either. Go to the street behind the building, which is called Léopold Leinders (… I think).


You will have to show your passport and you will be given a badge for the everyday access in the buildings of the Commission (and some discounts in the canteen). You will then attend a presentation by a member of the Traineeship Office about practical things at the Commission and life in Brussels.

At the end of the presentation you will meet your file manager. That’s when you have to show your original diplomas and whatever forms they mentioned in the offer e-mail. I noticed the staff from the Traineeship Office is not so happy if you show up completely disorganized. If you don’t have original diplomas, you can present certified copies (by a notary public, lawyer, university, etc.). Also, if your diplomas are written in a language that is not one of the 23 official EU languages, then make sure you have copies translated into one of the 23 official languages.


NEW!!! Some changes took place this past October during the trainee administrative welcome. It seems that you no longer need to show your original diplomas. Just have your passport or ID with you. It’s getting easier and easier. :-)


Your file manager will give you more info about the grant, the insurance and other things they deem important, which obviously are, but you’ll forget in the next 5 seconds, because it’s just too much, your head will explode or you just happened to notice this interesting guy or girl at a nearby desk. Anyway, even if you forget, you can always contact your file manager.


If you happen not to have all/any documents with you on the first day, you will still have 10 days to provide them. So, for example, if you haven’t opened a bank account in euros, you have 10 days to do it. If not, you won’t be paid on time and that will hurt because life in Brussels tends to be fairly expensive. Also, if you haven’t put in your request for reimbursement of the travel expenses within 10 days, you will not be reimbursed at all. One tip about the travel expenses: keep your plane/train/ferry/etc. tickets because you will have to hand them over in order to be reimbursed.


This whole thing will probably take 2 hours or more if you decide to pass by the desk of the Stage Committee to get a welcome pack with gadgets and the social agenda for the first week. They organize lots of parties and other social events.


When you’re done, go pluxing with the new friends you’ve just made (trans. go for a drink in Place Lux(embourg)).


Accommodation in Brussels


Finding accommodation in Brussels may be difficult, but not impossible. Just don’t expect the Commission to provide you with accommodation, because it won’t. Not because the Commission is selfish, but because there are simply too many people coming in at once and no available buildings to accommodate them. The Commission is not a university and it doesn’t have a campus either.


Depending on each case, and I mean your case, you might want to consider one of the following (and not necessarily in this order) options: be on your own, rely on a friend who already lives in Brussels or is coming to Brussels to do the stage with you, or use a hostel.


If you’re on your own, then you should start with practical information link from the placement offer e-mail you received. The link is at the bottom of the e-mail, click on it, then browse along and you will find loads of valuable pieces of information to read, including an example of lease contract in both English and French. It will lead you to the website from the Stage Committee (a body of a few trainees representing all the EC trainees based in Brussels). Although I’m not a great fan of their website (too chaotic for my tastes), they do have a section where they post accommodation (or housing) ads. It can be anything from a room (or kot) to a studio or an apartment. In addition, their website has links to online real estate agencies in Brussels. Look on the ads, make some calls, write some e-mails to landlords and try to settle things before arriving to Brussels. At least, this is what I did and it took me over a month. At the time, I didn’t really have friends in Brussels.


Also, if your budget allows it, you can even make a trip to Brussels to visit apartments. Another option would be to walk around neighbourhoods and look at the yellow/orange A LOUER/TE HUUR (to rent/to let) ads in the windows of available properties.


Having friends in Brussels is the ideal solution, in my opinion. They could lend you a hand to find a place to live and, if they are generous enough, they can offer to host you till you find something. Even if you stay temporarily at a friend’s place, you could still try to find accommodation through one of the ways mentioned above.


A third option would be staying in a hostel. Although I’m no fan of hostels (been to one once and wouldn’t repeat the experience), I know that there are people who love the idea, so check again the practical info link where you’ll find the websites to quite a few hostels in Brussels.


I’m not sure if you are aware, but the Traineeship Office provides two computers with access to internet, as well as two telephones, in their headquarters at Madou Tower. You could make use of them if you come to Brussels and have no internet connection and no phone (though you might consider buying a SIM card). It’s all for free and all meant to help the future trainees find accommodation.


If you are more of the traditional type, you could find ads in the local press: Le Soir, Le Vlan or The Bulletin (issued in English).


I would like to remind you that paying rent or guarantee in cash or by Western Union, MoneyGram, etc. is NEVER recommended. There are plenty of stories of trainees who naively lost their money. Don’t help increasing their number!


And if you don’t have enough money with you when you arrive in Brussels, have no shame to ask for a loan to the Stage Committee (aka Liaison Committee).


Moving and living in Brussels



All right, so you blissfully hit the roof when you got the e-mail and you printed everything and signed and sent back… You can go on a holiday now to celebrate! And I can think of some destinations, but even to go on a holiday you need some planning, just like coming to Brussels and living here for at least 5 months requires some planning too.



You will often hear or read that Brussels is not London or Paris and, in some respects, it indeed isn’t, but it still is a capital, if not the (un)crowned capital of Europe. What you will not read or hear so often is that finding a place to live in Brussels is very difficult. Here is one reason why: compared to London or Paris, as international as it may be, Brussels is rather small, which means the offer cannot meet the demand. When you have an intake of 600 trainees coming at once (almost) overlapping with a wave of few thousands of students, and some other professionals settling in, then the issue can become serious. On top of it all, prices are kind of high for the products/services the real estate market has to offer in Brussels. Then landlords tend to be somewhat inflexible and not too keen on signing short term lease contracts for which they ask you to pay guarantee. On some occasions, you might even want to make use of your rusty French or Dutch. Overall, moving to Brussels is not a thing you want to leave to the last minute, unless Serendipity is your middle name.


Nevertheless, there are options. When looking for a place to live in Brussels, you might first think of your budget. In the beginning, it has to cover all sorts of foreseen and unforeseen expenses, so make sure you have enough money with you during your first month. The first grant will only be paid at the end of the first month of traineeship. Get ready to pay at least 400 euros monthly for the rent, to which you should add a deposit (usually two month rent) or guarantee. In practice, you will open a joint bank account (on your name and your landlord’s) where you block this guarantee. Don’t worry, you pay it only once when you sign the contract and you will get back when you leave (provided you didn’t damage any of the goods, otherwise you’ll be charged from the guarantee). Always ask for the details about the rent and the guarantee and never pay any money in cash or by Western Union. Some Belgian landlords can be very sneaky!


After the budget comes the location. Brussels is divided into 19 communes (just like London into boroughs and Paris in arrondissements), where price of rent varies from one area to the other. Living in the proximity of your DG might be ideal, but also costly as rent in the areas close to the Commission buildings tends to be higher. On the bright side, living closer means no extra money spent on the monthly Stib abonnement (which is 45 euros), it means no delays, no traffic jams or strikes (which, luckily, are not as frequent as in France). In any case, farther hoods should equally be considered as they could be cheaper and the public transport network covers all areas and is fairly efficient.


On the other hand, you should know that some specific areas need be avoided (not made for living there): some parts of Schaerbeek, St. Josse or even Ixelles (much overrated for its multiculturalism), Molenbeek – BIG fat NO, and don’t get too close to any of the main stations (Central, Midi, North). And why shouldn’t you live there? Reported break-ins, thefts, mugging, pickpocketing… You don’t want any of this to happen to you in a city and country where police is notorious for its sloppiness and lack of cooperation.


And if you don’t have a place to live yet and you don’t know where or how to find it, I’ll give you more ideas in my next post.


EC Traineeship – Recruitment



Recruitment… the final step before booking your plane ticket to Brussels. If the selection e-mail came to confirm and secure your position as a future trainee, the recruitment or offer e-mail will undoubtedly bring you the traineeship offer (also known as placement offer). The e-mail contains a link with a password and some practical information. Yes, you may be jumping up with joy, but bureaucracy can be larger than life. I’m just kidding… :-)


A job offer means signing a contract and providing some personal information about yourself. Same goes for the traineeship offer. In the offer e-mail click on the link and type in the password. You’ll be redirected to your traineeship offer. There’s a lots to read, not to mention it can be confusing too.


The traineeship offer contains a job description, an acceptance form and some other documents that you will have to print, fill in, sign and e-mail back. If the traineeship offer does not stand up to your expectations, then you can decline it or… take it either way. It’s up to you to decide. You will have to do all this within the deadline, which is clearly marked in the offer (usually 2 to 3 weeks from the receipt of the offer).


So if you decide to take the offer, sign the acceptance form (the acceptance form is basically your contract). Then go to the annex “Documents to be supplied” as you will be required to e-mail back some of the documents on that page together with the acceptance form. Scan them and e-mail them back. You will receive an automatic e-mail to acknowledge the receipt of your acceptance.


When you have received this acknowledgement e-mail, youwill know for sure you can start planning your trip and stay in Brussels. And that’s when you have to get back to the offer e-mail and read the practical information on: accommodation, visa formalities and other…


Oh yes, before I forget and before you forget, make sure you keep an extra set of all the documents with you. It might come in handy later on.


EC Traineeship – Selection



Selection is the final key step before the actual recruitment. It is coming up and you’re most definitely eager to get that lucky e-mail in your inbox.


But before you receive the e-mail, what exactly happens during selection?


The DGs make their final deliberations on their choices and select their future trainees.


As I already explained, during pre-selection you may be contacted by the services of Commission if your profile is interesting enough to match their needs. They can contact several candidates for the same position, but in the end, they can select only one for that position.


When selection is over, all the candidates who made to the Blue Book will receive an e-mail to let them know if they passed or not. You don’t have to react to this e-mail or start making phone calls or reply to reconfirm you availability.


The selection e-mail is just an informative e-mail and all you have to do is take note that you passed selection, then patiently wait (if you can contain your impatience) for the next e-mail with the job offer.


You can react to the e-mail if you’re not sure you’re up to the job or if you’re disappointed in being selected by a different DG than what you had expected or you received a better job offer in the meantime (yes, that can happen!). In any of these cases you can reply to the selection e-mail and decline the offer.


If you are unlucky to have received the non-selection e-mail, don’t despair. Another candidate (see above) might change his/her mind, decline the offer and then you could be offered that seat. It’s only a matter of patience and also confidence.


Here is some more useful information related to selection that I found on the Traineeship Office website (but which you may have missed).

  • The Traineeship Office decides who many trainees a DG will host (depending on the needs of that DG). This means that you’ll not be alone and that you’ll meet other fellow stagiaires in your DG. You may share the same office or not, you may work in the same field or not. (We were quite a few trainees in my DG, all scattered around, but we had great time together and still keep in touch after the stage.)
  • When the services made their final choices, they send the list of selected trainees to the Traineeship Office.
  • If you work in a field which might present a conflict of interest with that of the Commission service, there is a high chance that you will not be recruited to work in that field.

Time to get ready to receive the lucky selection e-mail and keep those fingers crossed.


Pre-selection follow-up


The previous post was not all. There is a follow-up to pre-selection. It is related to interviewing, lobbying, etc…


When the Blue Book comes out, the services of the Commission have access to it. They can see all the profiles and CVs and depending on what they need, they can decide to contact you for an interview.


It doesn’t have to be the same DG you applied for. If you are wanted, you are wanted. If you are lucky enough, you may be contacted by a couple of DGs.


In general, it’s an interview just like any other job interview. Make sure you sharpen your language skills, make sure you show lots of drive, interest, market yourself the best way you can and don’t forget to ask questions about the job, what will be the tasks, what will be the challenges, how is the team, the working hours, the dress code or anything else you deem important.


You could even have a list of questions prepared (just in case). Most importantly, at the end of the interview, if you feel that all went well, reassure them of your availability and interest in taking the job.


Also, ask for some contacts (names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers). They might not give them to you, but you can still ask to try to stay in contact.


What I learned from my advisor after I came to Brussels was that he had actually made a list of potential candidates who were fit for the job. He interviewed them, but I was his first choice. Had I refused the job, he would have given it to the second choice.


In case you are contacted by more DGs and you interview with all of them, you can tell to all that you want to take the job. But then you will have to weigh which is the one that really tickles your appetite and give them a firm answer. Don’t forget to inform the others you are no longer interested. You can always try to negotiate, just like any other job. I met trainees who told me they were contacted by different DGs. Yet, I remind you not to take any kind of promise for granted (see my posts on the Blue Book trainees and The Breakthrough) . You can only be sure of the traineeship when you receive the offer by e-mail.


When it comes for lobbying, remember that in the pre-selection e-mail you have a list of e-mails addresses from different DGs. You can contact them if you want to lobby, meaning nuke them with updated CVs and motivation letters. It’s simply up to you. I didn’t do it (maybe because I was a bit ignorant at the time) and still got the traineeship, but I know other trainees did it. You learn a lot of things and hear funny stories after you come to Brussels and meet the rest of the crowd.


One more thing, if you changed your phone number, e-mail the Traineeship Office your new number. You cannot update it by yourself in the older application form, but they will do it for you.


I know the period after pre-selection can be quite stressful, but just hang in there and have faith in you.


EC traineeship – Pre-selection


Pre-selection is the first tough round after eligibility.


At the time I am writing this post, the Traineeship Office published on their website the pre-selection results for the session starting in October 2011.


You will only see the application numbers published (the names of the people are not disclosed) and there should be around 2,500.


If you remember from my previous post about the Blue Book trainees, these 2,500 who pass pre-selection make it to the Blue Book data base, but that doesn’t mean that they will all become trainees. Only roughly 600 will make it to the end.


Coming back to pre-selection, I’ll try to explain how it works the way I made sense of it.


»During pre-selection all the application files are evaluated and graded by Commission officials.


» At first, the application files are divided by nationality. Then, juries made of officials of that respective nationality will examine the files. For example, an Italian jury will assess Italian application files, a Spanish jury the Spanish application files and so on. The members of these juries need to be of that specific nationality supposedly because they need to be familiar with the language of the country, the educational system there and other.


» Each file is assessed and graded by two officials. They will grade you for your academic background, your motivation, and other things like languages, exchanges abroad, etc. From what I have noticed and read, the marks (or weights) per each section tend to change from one session to the next. You can always check what the weights are for your session by going on the
Traineeship Office website.


» At the end of the assessment, each application file will have received 2 marks, which are further added into a final mark. Then for each nationality the files are ranked based on that final mark obtained. A quota is applied (the quota is based on a math formula published on the website) and the applicants with the highest marks are pre-selected until the quota is reached. If, for example, the number of application files with the lowest pre-selected mark is high, all of them will be pre-selected regardless.


» After the quota is applied per each nationality and the results are final, they are published on the website from the Traineeship Office. You will obviously receive an e-mail to inform you if you passed or not. In the case you did not pass, it won’t be a harm to contact the Traineeship Office and ask details about your results, etc. I recommend you do that in writing, better have things black on white. (Words uttered turn into thin air.)


In my opinion, pre-selection is particularly important because this when you need to demonstrate you stand out of the crowd, in the sense that you need to convince the jury your application is better than all others. How do you do that? By making a flawless application, an excellent motivation and first impression. In other words, let’s say that out of 300 other applicants from your own country, you must simply outshine. And this is only the first step. After pre-selection, you have to shine through selection too (if you want to be eventually recruited).


I don’t mean to scare anyone with this long talk. I am just trying to make a point that if you want to succeed, you must take this seriously.


Of course, if I forgot to mention something along the way about pre-selection (I tend to get carried away at times) and you have doubts about it or want to learn more, feel free to post a comment and I’ll try to reply the best I can.


EC traineeship – Eligibility



Eligibility is probably the easiest of the selection stages. It takes place right after the paper application files are received by mail at the Traineeship Office.


As far as I could understand from the Traineeship Office website, the aim of eligibility is to check if you comply with the traineeship application criteria and that your files are complete, i.e. that you haven’t missed enclosing proofs of everything you declared in your application about studies, languages, work, etc.


For example, if you wrote in your application you have a BSc in Astrophysics, but you forgot to provide the copy of that diploma, then your application will be rejected.


Or if you declared you speak 5 foreign languages, but you didn’t enclose any certificate to prove your speak at least one, then again your application will be rejected.


Also, if you did a traineeship in another EU Institution or Commission Agency for more than 6 weeks, your application will definitely be rejected.


If you applied as a French national, but you provided a copy of your British passport because one of your parents is British, then again your application will be rejected.


And Examples can go on… I recommend you view my previous posts EC traineeship application – general facts, EC traineeship – online application and Mailing your application file, if you haven’t already.


To summarize, all you have to do it pay attention to what you write in the application and to make sure that you put all the proofs inside the envelope you send to the Traineeship Office.


Otherwise, you won’t comply with the eligibility criteria and you risk being rejected. One tiny moment of distraction can cost you the application and receiving a rejection e-mail can be quite disconcerting. 



The Breakthrough



So now that you’ve mailed everything, what’s next? A few automatic e-mails.


When the envelope with your application file arrives in the Traineeship Office, you will receive the first automatic e-mail: the acknowledgement of receipt. Make sure you have the filters of your e-mail account set properly, otherwise, you’ll receive everything in the trash/bin section and you may not be aware of it.


From now on, you should follow the calendar posted on the website from the Traineeship Office.


It concerns the 3 major steps before becoming a trainee: eligibility, pre-selection and selection.


The calendar on the website breaks down these steps. 


Basically, in a few weeks’ time from the acknowledgement of receipt e-mail, eligibility should take place.


In the case of eligibility, you will only receive an e-mail if you didn’t pass it. From what I know from friends of friends of friends… very few applicants fail at this stage. 


They usually fail because they missed to prove things they declared in the application form. So if you read my previous posts and considered my tips, you should should be fine. 


Then, following the calendar, the pre-selection boards meet to examine the files. Pre-selection itself takes a few weeks, but you’ll only receive the automatic e-mail from the Traineeship Office in about 2 months from eligibility. Hopefully, you’ll receive the positive one.


If you received the e-mail saying you passed pre-selection, then that’s when your application goes to the Blue Book database and the Commission services can view your profile. And yes, that’s about when they start contacting you, on condition your profile is good enough to match the profile they need in their unit for the trainee position.  


If you make a good impression during the interview or whatever other form of contact, you might as well be selected. But don’t forget you need to receive another e-mail saying that you passed the last stage, selection.  


To resume, at each step of the application process you should receive an automatic e-mail, informing you if you did or did not pass that stage (eligibility, pre-selection, selection).  


If you don’t receive these e-mails, check the trash/bin section of your e-mail account. If no e-mails there at all, then contact the Traineeship Office. There’s a Contact section on their website where you fill in a form and submit it. They do get back to you. 


Now I’ll remind you something I already wrote about in my post about Blue Book trainees: the contacts you may have with officials during the selection stage are no guarantee you will become a trainee. The ultimate guarantee will be the offer you receive, yet again, by e-mail. So, do not take promises for granted and wait patiently to receive the contract (aka the offer) by e-mail! Only then you can be sure you have succeeded.


In the meantime, all I can do is hope that as many of you will breakthrough.