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).
41,000 officers from 193 Member States work at the United Nations (UN). Half of these serve in field operations worldwide, a third are based one of the six UN headquarters (New York, Geneva, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Nairobi), with the rest working in regional commissions, tribunals and other locations. The UN works to find solutions to complex problems across the globe, from ending conflict and alleviating poverty, to combating climate change and defending human rights.
Given the diversity and complexity of the issues the UN deals with, there are a wide variety of career opportunities across its three pillars of Peace and Security, Human Rights and Economic and Social Development, at the six UN Headquarters and at UN field missions. Jobs include monitoring elections, coordinating relief in humanitarian crises and providing administrative and logistical support to carry out complex mandates, to name but a few.
The variety of opportunities at the UN means that you can change functions, departments, geographic locations, and even organisations and fields several times throughout a career there.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) was established in 1961 as a follow on from the Marshall Plan. Ireland was one of its 20 founding members. Today the organisation has 34 Member States from Europe, Asia North and Latin America and, from its base in Paris, employs approximately 3,000 people, including almost 80 Irish citizens.
The OECD is a hub for the discussion of global policy issues. It supports its Member States by producing high-quality policy advice, informed by a peer-learning and multi-disciplinary approach and, through its research, helps to sets standards and define best practice across key areas of economic, environmental and social policy.
For those with postgraduate qualifications in economics or related OECD policy areas (including social affairs, trade, agriculture, development, education, employment, environment, finance, fiscal affairs and statistics), the OECD is a uniquely exciting employer, providing a chance to contribute some of the most innovative, high profile research and policy discussion taking place today. You can find out more about what the OECD looks for in its recruits here.
World Bank & the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were created at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference as part of agreement on post-war monetary system. Comprising 188 member countries, including Ireland, both organisations have their headquarters in Washington DC, with offices right across the world.
The World Bank is not a bank in the ordinary sense. Rather, it’s the world’s largest international development organisation. Its two key goals are to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to promote shared global prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40% for every country. The Bank provides a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries, lending to low and middle income countries through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and providing interest free loans and grants to the poorest states through the International Development Association.
The World Bank employs more than 10,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are based in Washington. It recruits all year around, with posts advertised online. Typically, successful recruits tend to have several years’ relevant professional experience and a record of academic achievement, as well as a broad understanding of development issues. You can find out more about what the World Bank wants here.
The World Bank’s sister organisation, the International Monetary Fund, also comprises 188 member countries. Its core objective is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system. It does so in three ways: by keeping track of the global economy and the economies of member countries; by lending to countries with balance of payments difficulties; and by giving practical help and advice to its members.
The IMF employs just over 2,500 people from 147 countries, including Ireland. Other than technical staff, most of its recruitment is focussed on economists and economic researchers. It offers a limited number of paid internships to economic PhD students, as well as a three year economist programme for PhD graduates in economics, finance or international trade. You can find out more about the Fund’s recruitment policies here.
World Trade Organisation (WTO)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is a global international organization which regulates international trade. Established in 1995 as a successor to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), the WTO provides a forum for negotiating agreements aimed at reducing obstacles to international trade and ensuring a level playing field for all, thus contributing to economic growth and development. It also provides a legal and institutional framework for the implementation and monitoring of these agreements, as well as for settling disputes arising from their interpretation and application.
The organisation’s Secretariat, located in Geneva, is staffed by 640 officials, drawn from 70 different countries, including Ireland. The Secretariat supports the WTO’s various councils and committees, provides technical assistance for developing countries and monitors and analyzes developments in world trade. Its professional staff is largely composed of economists, lawyers and others with a specialization in international trade policy, but, like all of the international organisations, there is also a substantial number of personnel working in support services, including informatics, finance, human resources and language services. Ireland has historically been a very active contributor to the organisation - Irishman Peter Sutherland was the WTO’s first Secretary General.
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is a multilateral development finance institution owned by 67 members, 48 from the region and 19 from other parts of the globe. Established in 1966, ADB is designed to improve the welfare of the people in Asia and the Pacific, particularly the 1.8 billion who live on less than $2 a day. It achieves this by providing various forms of assistance to governments and private enterprise, including policy advice, direct loans, technical assistance, grants, guarantees and equity investments. Ireland is one of its non-regional members and Ireland is one of the 59 countries represented amongst the Bank’s 2,900 employees, most of who work at its head office in Manila. ADB recruits staff from a wide range of backgrounds. Most professional recruits, in addition to having a strong academic background, would have some experience in projects or programs for developing countries.
The bank also runs an excellent internship programme, which gives masters and PhD students an opportunity to serve at ADB for 2 to 6 months, and a young professional programme, which allows three year placements with the Bank. A high level of fluency in English is essential for both programmes, so Irish applicants have a relative advantage.
European Regional Organisations
European Regional Organisations
Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization. Its mandate covers a wide range of security-related concerns, including arms control, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, national minorities, democratization, policing strategies, counter-terrorism and economic and environmental activities. All 57 participating OSCE States, including Ireland, enjoy equal status, within the organisation and decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding basis.
The OSCE Secretariat is based in Vienna, with other important OSCE institutions located in the Hague and Warsaw. The organisation also has field operations across South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus and Central Asia, where most of its human resources are deployed. Altogether more than 2,500 people work at the OSCE across 22 different locations.
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe (CoE) is a regional intergovernmental organisation which promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law in its 47 member States, working to combat discrimination, torture, terrorism, organised crime and corruption, cybercrime, bioethics and cloning, violence against children and women and the trafficking in human beings. Although all 28 EU Member States are members of the CoE, the organisation is not an EU institution. Connected to the CoE is the European Court of Human Rights, which oversees the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights across the continent. The CoE has its headquarters in Strasbourg. It employs 2,200 people, and maintains external and liaison offices to a range of other international organisations.
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 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.
Like the EU, the size and scope of the United Nations means that the range of career opportunities open to suitably qualified graduates is enormous – and can initially seem overwhelming. The UN Careers website provides an excellent resource, however. In addition to featuring notices of all current UN vacancies, it offers a clear overview of the work of the various UN agencies and details the qualities the UN looks for in its recruits, as well as practical guidance on the application process.
While the exact requirements for UN positions vary, fluency in English or French, the two UN working languages, is a prerequisite in all cases. Most posts require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree, while permanent or longer-term contract positions usually require higher level qualifications, as well as some work experience in a related field.
As in the EU, an internship or temporary placement is often a starting point for graduates. The UN offers internships of between two and six months across all of its main offices (including New York, Geneva and Vienna) and many of its funds and programmes. Unlike most EU traineeships, UN internships are not remunerated and interns are responsible for their own visas, travel and medical insurance. However, the experience gained as a trainee can be very valuable, particularly for those considering entering the world of diplomacy and public policy. The internships are designed to give you a first-hand impression of the day-to-day working environment of the UN, providing an opportunity to work closely with UN professionals and senior management, participate in meetings and high level conferences, and contribute to analytical work as well as organizational policy of the UN. To be eligible, you must either be enrolled in the final year of a Bachelors, Masters or PhD programme or have graduated from such a programme in the past twelve months and have good communication skills.
Every year, around 8,000 graduates from 160 different nationalities take part in the UN’s Volunteer Programme. UN Volunteers typically work for six month periods at a UN mission or agency, promoting peace, responding to disasters, empowering communities and helping to build sustainable livelihoods and lasting development. While the programme is not a formal entry route to a UN career, the experience can be extremely valuable, professionally and personally. A UN volunteer receives a Volunteer Living Allowances (VLA) which covers basic needs, housing and utilities, as well as other supports (e.g. health and permanent disability insurance, return airfares and a nominal resettlement allowance). To be a UN volunteer you must be 25 years of age or older and have a university degree or diploma of higher education and at least two years professional experience. You should also be motivated, dedicated to volunteerism and ready to serve in hardship locations for periods of between six and twelve months. The UN Jobsfinder website provides a more detailed overview of the programme for those interested in learning more.
The OECD, World Bank, IMF, WTO and Asian Development Bank all operate excellent young professional and internship programmes for graduates with a background in economics, finance or related disciplines. Competition for these placements is intense and those recruited tend to have a high level of academic achievement, typically at postgraduate level.
The OECD’s young professional programme opens for applications every second year (the next cycle is in autumn 2016). YPs are based at the OECD headquarters in Paris and are recruited for a fixed two year term, at the end of which many continue at the OECD by applying for available vacancies. Longer term contract positions, which usually require more extensive professional experience, are advertised on the OECD careers website.
The World Bank operates a paid internship programme for students enrolled in full-time graduate study (Master's or PhD level) in relevant fields, including economics, finance, human development, social science, agriculture and the environment. Positions are usually located at the Bank’s HQ in Washington DC and are for a minimum of four weeks, with applications are accepted in December and October each year.
In 2015, the Bank launched a new Group Analyst Programme, open to applicants under 28 years of age holding a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a relevant field. The three year structured programme could see you placed either at the Bank’s HQ or in one of its regional offices and presents an excellent opportunity for anyone with a passion for international development.
The Bank also runs a young professional programme similar to that of the OECD, targeted at postgraduates (principally PhD level) with qualifications in the above fields and with some professional experience.
Through its internship programme, the International Monetary Fund offers students enrolled in PhD or Master’s level programmes in economics the opportunity to undertake paid three month research placements at its Washington HQ each summer, with applications are typically sought in December. The Fund’s celebrated Economist Programme builds on this allowing high performing PhD economic graduates a three year professional placement in which to apply their research to the IMF’s policy work.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Secretariat runs a limited paid internship programme for post-graduate students wishing to gain practical experience and deeper knowledge of the multilateral trading system. To be eligible, you must be between 21 and 30 years of age and have completed undergraduate studies in a relevant discipline (e.g. economics, law, political science, international relations) as well as at least one year of postgraduate studies. Internships are undertaken at the Secretariat’s office in Geneva and are typically six months in duration.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) also runs an internship programme, which allows masters and PhD students from relevant disciplines an opportunity to serve at the Bank for 2 to 6 months, as well as a young professional programme which supports three year placements with the Bank.
European Regional Organisations
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The OSCE presents a wide range of opportunities for those with specialist knowledge of human rights, economic and environmental affairs, media, political and security affairs, democratisation and rule of law. The OSCE is a non-career organization – as such, it offers fixed term contracts, rather than permanent positions, with vacancies posted through its website.
The OSCE offers a limited number of places for internship programme, with 40 interns taken on each year for placements with different sections/units in the organisation’s Secretariat in Vienna and Prague. Interns are also accepted by the OSCE Institutions and some field operations to support their activities. Applicants should be under 30 years of age and students in their final year of higher education at graduate or postgraduate level; or recent graduates or postgraduates, i.e. within two years after graduation.
The OSCE’s Junior Professional Officer (JPO) programme offers professionals below the age of 30 who have recently completed their studies the opportunity to gain a comprehensive overview of the Organization. The programme has two intakes per year, with six placements for a total of nine months. Notices are issued on the OSCE website.
The OSCE offers fixed-term and short-term contracts for positions at the Secretariat, institutions and mainly the area of administration, at its field operations. The Organisation recruits consultants to provide advisory services and expert assistance on a short-term and ad-hoc basis to complement the work of regular staff members or for specific projects. Interested experts are encouraged to apply for specific consultancy vacancy notices published on the OSCE website. Applicants for such positions are required to have a university degree and, typically, several years of experience at national and / or international level in a relevant field of expertise. Post-graduate specialisation and management experience is necessary for more senior posts.
Council of Europe (CoE)
The Council of Europe has a well regarded traineeship programme through which graduates can be placed at the CoE headquarters in Strasbourg for periods of between two and five months. CoE Traineeships are not remunerated, but do offer excellent professional experience, enabling trainees to learn about the structures, activities and international cooperation procedures followed by the CoE, including the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. There are two official traineeship sessions each year, beginning in March and September.
The CoE also has a Junior Professionals Programme, which offers recent graduates the opportunity to gain invaluable experience in an international institution and contribute to protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law across Europe. Linked to this is the Assistant Lawyer Scheme, which places legal graduates at the European Court of Human Rights. Placements under these programmes are typically for 3 or 4 years, with vacancies posted on the CoE website.
The CoE also employs temporary staff to cover staff absences, periods of increased workload, or to support specific projects. Month or daily temporary contracts can last from a few days up to a maximum of 9 months in any calendar year and can be an excellent way to gain international experience. Temporary vacancies are at three levels and cover the work of programme/project officers and lawyers, secretarial/administrative support assistants and technical services personnel.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
All openings in the UN Secretariat, including traineeships, are published on the UN Careers Portal. Most openings are for a specific position in a particular office, but there are also generic openings, similar to the competitions run by the EU and the Public Appointment Service, which are used to create rosters of candidates available for immediate selection across the organization.
Applications are submitted through the UN online recruitment system. This is essentially an extended digital resume, where you articulate your education, competencies, achievements and professional experience. Each application must also include a short cover letter, which is your chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants by highlighting what makes you the best match for the position. The UN advises that the letter be brief (three to four paragraphs) and as targeted as possible to the position for which you are applying – the more you put in to getting your letter right, the better your prospects of success.
Your application will be evaluated in terms of experience, education and skills. If you meet the requirements, you will be contacted to undergo an assessment. Depending on the position, this could be either a written exam or another type of simulation exercise or case study. If you perform well enough in it, you are then short-listed for a competency-based interview, which can take place either via telephone, video conference or in person.
Full details of the process and advice on how to prepare for each stage are outlined here.
OECD vacancies are published on its recruitment website, where they remain for a period of four weeks. With the exception of the young professional programme, openings are for specific positions, with detailed job descriptions in each case. Applications must be submitted online, with qualified candidates called to assessment or interview in Paris. You can register to receive automated updates on relevant opportunities at the OECD website.
The World Bank's Jobs site lists all current vacancies at the organisation, including job descriptions and selection criteria, and provides a system through which applications can be submitted online. As with the OECD, openings are generally for specific positions, with a small pool of candidates selected for interview in each case.
The International Monetary Fund has a similar recruitment system, requiring applicants to prepare a short profile, on basis of which they may apply for specific opportunities.
European Regional Organisations
All OSCE posts are advertised through its recruitment site. A detailed outline is provided in each case of the competencies, skills and qualifications needed for the role, the relevant deadline and other terms and conditions. Applications must be submitted online. Candidates who meet the qualifying standard are typically called directly to interview.
The Council of Europe has a well designed recruitment site, through which you can view all current opportunities at the CoE, apply to be notified of vacancies in specific areas of interest, and submit applications directly. As with the OSCE, recruitment is for specific posts and follows a standard process with preliminary short listing based on the experience and qualifications outlined in the online application form; followed by written assessments (such as exams, simulation exercises or case studies) and, finally, competency based interviews. The exact nature of the assessments will depend on the role in question.
Tips for Applying
While each of the international organisations featured here has their own process, there are many common elements in how they approach recruitment. Similarly, there are also key points which you should keep in mind when approaching any application for an international post, whether it be a traineeship with the EU or a contract with a United Nations agency. Here are some of our top tips.
Apply selectively – be targeted in your applications. Try to identify which organisations provide the best fit with your experience and skill set. If you’ve studied economics, for example, make a point of identifying where this will be a particular asset.
Do your research – before applying for any post, start by reviewing the organisation’s website and mission. If there’s a notice of competition or a job description of the role, print it out and read it, highlighting key words. What are the essential requirements for the position (education, professional experience, languages)? What general competencies are they looking for? How can you make clear in your application that you possess these?
Tailor your application – international positions are in high demand and vacancies are often heavily oversubscribed. By necessity, recruiters will immediately filter all applicants that don’t meet the requirements set out for a post (which may relate to education, experience or language skills) or who appear to be submitting a generic CV. If you want to succeed, it’s vital that you tailor your application, explaining clearly and concisely how your skills are matched to the position’s demands. Provide detailed descriptions of any relevant experience, if possible using the key words that appear in the vacancy or competition notice.
Be concise - make your words count. Your use of language is extremely important in an application form. You need to project yourself efficiently. Address the job's needs with clearly written, powerful phrases. Provide small, digestible pieces of information. Use action verbs. Avoid passive sentence constructions. Avoid clichés.
Make the most of your experience – Recruiters need to know what you’ve accomplished to have an idea of what you can do for them. Focus on identifying achievements which match the skills and competencies looked for in the organisation and the specific job. Emphasise what you've achieved, as opposed to what you do on a daily basis. It’s important to be honest – there’s a difference between making the most of your experience and falsifying it. But you won’t win marks for modesty.
Don’t undersell your language skills – language requirements differ across international organisations, with some – notably the EU – requiring that you are competent in a second language, while others require only English. Regardless, you will get positive marks for any language proficiency that you indicate. Don’t make the mistake of talking down your language skills. Make a point of highlighting any languages you’ve studied in school or university and anything you’ve done which shows an interest in developing your language skills.
Double-check your application - check all of your application material before you submit it. Typos, punctuation and formatting errors will all count against you so watch out for them. If you can, get a friend or relative to proof read your application for you – a second pair of eyes can be invaluable.
Avail of support – take advantage of any support available to you in applying for an international career. If you’re still in college, make an appointment with your career service and ask them to review your generic CV or specific application. If you know anyone working in an international organisation, get in touch and ask their advice on the application process. Or work through the Publicjobs.ie Information Hub.