To network or not to network?
Incoming trainees at the European Commission are encouraged to network as much as they can. Landing a cushy job in Brussels is partly about who you know. Of course, if you want to work for the Commission itself then you also have to pass rigorous EPSO tests. But to work at the numerous lobbying firms, NGOs, interest groups and think tanks in Brussels it is advantageous to have contacts who already work there.
I recently went to a meet-and-greet event at which former trainees were present. Clutching my half-pint of Stella, I did as you are supposed to do and interposed myself in small groups and thrust out my hand in search of a handshake. It feels less obnoxious if you try to think about it as a game, and yourself as a persona. (“Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be a Networker.”)
I asked some former trainees about finding a job once the traineeship was over. All of them had managed it. Not surprising though. I suppose all the people who ended up jobless had to leave Brussels and were therefore unable to attend. Generally the method by which these former trainees landed their current jobs went along the lines of “I got really lucky”. So no actionable tips there. It wasn’t all plain sailing though: one trainee told us she had had to do a total of six internships before she finally got her job at a lobbying firm. This was met with gasps of horror from the current trainees.
The hottest place to network, though, is Place du Luxembourg next to the European Parliament. On Thursday nights hundreds of trainees congregate in the three or four bars that line one side of the square, and there they network the shit out of each other. The networking is helped along by the Happy Hour deals that most of these bars offer from 6pm-7pm. One word of warning though: Bar Ralph’s at the end of the square is often touting its generous Happy Hour deal, but I have discovered that this is simply shrewd marketing, and the deals at the other bars are generally better. At Ralph’s you get one Euro off a beer, whereas in other bars it is BOGOF. Also at Ralph’s they only seem to sell Carlsberg.
During our introduction week we were told that Place du Luxembourg (or ‘Plux’ to the insiders) is where we would make contacts that would help in our future careers. People whispered feverishly that EC officials sometimes lurked in Plux’s bars, and that making a good impression on one of them would do wonders for your future job-hunting. Maybe I am doing it wrong, but the only people I have met at Place du Luxembourg are drunk trainees.
That was until last night. While jostling for warmth under a heat lamp, who should I espy leaning against the bar? Was it the Conservative MP for North East Somerset, everyone’s favourite Eurosceptic maverick old Etonian, the Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg enjoying a crisp, frothy pint of Stella Artois? You decide:
In any case we didn’t speak. A failure of my networking skills, no doubt. Also it probably wasn’t him.