|"I used to be very self-conscious about speaking French, but then I realised my colleagues didn't notice my errors, they just wanted to understand, and that their English is not perfect either." Sarah Rooney, Policy Assistant - European Personnel Selection Office.
I studied Mathematics as an undergraduate at University, after which I needed a change and spent a year working for an environmental NGO in Italy as part of the European Voluntary Service programme – this was the start of my working relationship with the European Institutions and ultimately led me to where I am today.
After completing a Masters in Sustainable Development, and working for a time in the private sector, I applied for and passed the EU "concours" – the selection procedure to join the EU Institutions. I was then recruited by the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), the EU equivalent of the Public Appointments Service, which manages recruitment for 10 EU institutions and also organises the selection "concours".
A Typical Day
I’m currently the policy assistant to the EPSO Director. My job is to know everything that’s going on in the organisation and if for some reason something is not working as it should, work with my colleagues to fix it. I attend a lot of meetings and ask a lot of questions. We might be discussing the language regime of the EU Institutions, the technicalities of introducing new tests, or how to improve our IT system, for example. I touch base with my boss and the rest of the Directorate team frequently to make sure my gut instinct is the right one.
I really enjoy the variety of subjects I get to work on in my current role and also working with diverse colleagues from all over Europe. It is also exciting to think that I can move to any other EU policy area, and even potentially delegations all over the world, over the course of my career.
I believe the EU offers outstanding career opportunities for those interested in public service, whatever your area of studies or professional experience, and Irish people have enjoyed tremendous success in EU roles. Women like Catherine Day, until recently Secretary General of the European Commission, and Emily O’Reilly, the current European Ombudsman, are a real source of inspiration.
If I could offer one piece of advice to prospective candidates, it would be to keep up your languages. I was lucky to be educated through Irish and studied French, German and Latin (which has since been phased out!) at secondary school but maintaining your languages and putting them into practice can be a challenge. Watch sub-titled foreign films, attempt to work out what the label on your wine bottle says, try to speak the language when on holidays.
I used to be very self-conscious about speaking French, but then I realised my colleagues didn't notice my errors, they just wanted to understand, and that their English is not perfect either. I am looking forward to starting a targeted course in formal written French soon -another perk of working for the EU!