Job as an EU policy adviser
Sandra Reed works at the European Commission in Brussels as an external relations policy adviser, on secondment from the UK Department of Transport. One week, she might be commenting on a new agricultural directive and the next week on a cultural initiative or a road safety regulation.
How would you outline your job as an EU policy adviser?
I work in the office of the European Commissioner for External Relations. We provide policy advice on the latest developments in external affairs, as well as organising meetings and co-ordinating briefings. I focus on relations with the Middle East, North Africa and the US.
As a Civil Servant management trainee, I worked in the Cabinet Office on Civil Service reform before being seconded to the Polish Civil Service to advise on reforms in readiness for joining the EU.
What are your main responsibilities?
The job is very varied and requires a lot of flexibility. Basically, I am an aide to an EU Commissioner. Every country within the EU appoints a Commissioner and they each have responsibility for an individual sector. The one I work for is in charge of external affairs and my work involves organising the working day, arranging meetings and researching and providing any material needed.
What is your main work routine?
We have a cabinet meeting, which involves all the policy advisers, each morning at 9.00am where we go through the Commissioner's agenda and talk through any policy issues that need to be discussed. I am responsible for co-ordinating any preparations that are needed for any visits to, or meetings on, the US or the Middle East. In addition, I may be involved in preparing speeches and briefing documents – often in several languages – for future meetings or EU parliamentary debates, for instance.
How do you make use of your language skills?
There are officially three working languages of the European Commission – English, French and German. Although English is spoken a lot, French is the main language spoken around the office and you need to understand it well to follow meetings. I use German because I work for the Austrian Commissioner. I have used my German to translate speeches and to draft letters to German-speaking correspondents.
What hours do you work?
I get in at 8.45am and rarely leave before 7.00pm. However, we have longer lunch breaks – often up to two hours – so this compensates for the slightly later working day.
Who do you work with?
I am part of a team of nine, plus support staff. There is a principal adviser to the Commissioner – called a chef-de-cabinet – and the rest are advisers like me who have responsibility for specific policy areas.
What special skills do you need for your job as an EU policy adviser?
You need to be calm under pressure and able to think about practical, logistical things that will influence policy issues. There is a lot of material to read, so you must have the ability to read and analyse long documents quickly and to have strong written and oral communication skills.
What training have you done?
I had taken science subjects and German but preferred languages and literature to science. I got accepted at university to study German literature and spent a year in Vienna. Once I graduated I wanted a career that combined my language skills with interests in the EU.
Sandra's route to her job as an EU policy adviser
- A levels.
- Degree in German Literature.
- Study period in Vienna.
- Civil Service Fast Stream management scheme.
- Short-term placements and EU courses.
Sandra's policy adviser tips
- Don't be afraid to research any number of career sectors that interest you – a lot of people will help you provided you can show a genuine interest.
- You must show an ability to learn languages if you want to work for the European Commission.
EU policy adviser related jobs
- Civil Service administrative assistant/officer
- Civil Service executive officer
- Civil Service management trainee
- Political/Constituency agent
- Political researcher
Salary of an EU policy adviser
- Assistant policy entrants to the EU earn between £18,300 and £27,000 with administrators starting at around £30,000.
- Department or unit heads will earn up to £50,000, rising to £120,000 at a director-general level.
How to become an EU policy adviser
- Entry to the EU institutions, as a permanent member of staff, is by open competition organised by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). You must have knowledge of a second official EU language, though you don't need to be fluent.
- EU administrators must have a university degree, or an equivalent qualification. For some positions, candidates will need a degree in a specialised area such as law, economics, accounting or statistics or relevant professional experience.
- EU assistants need A levels or equivalent and may need professional experience.
- For young graduates, there is the possibility to gain some work experience at one of the EU institutions.
- UK civil servants may be able to take part in the structural traineeship programme, which includes a five-month training and work attachment at the European Commission.
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