Getting jobs in the Eurobubble: a game of inches

I had a lot of fun at the EU Studies Fair last week. For me it proved a very fruitful event for both students and professionals who are trying to get a foothold in that lions’ den that I call “Eurobubble jobs.”In my experience this can be quite a daunting challenge, but if it has been a journey that I think it is worth blogging about.

The most frequent questions I got:

  1. I’m a student. How do I land an internship?
  2. I’m an intern. How do I move from “intern” to “employed”? 
  3. How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

Let’s get down to business.

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How did I land my first internship? It was 2010, a terrible time for job hunters. With a sluggish economy, in the middle of the worst crisis that Europe had witnessed since 1945, graduating between 2008 and 2012 was probably not the easiest time to lay the foundations of your career. Basically, there were no jobs around and all whether it be businesses related to politics, economics or communication, unpaid internships were really all that was on offer.

As a totally broke “economic migrant”, I could hardly afford unpaid work. I remember that together with a friend of mine at Maastricht University, we strategically worked our way towards getting a paid internship.

Firstly, we sent (literally) hundreds of spontaneous applications to all kind of businesses we thought might be interested in our profiles, not only in Brussels but in cities around world. I even remember getting an offer to go to Tbilisi to work for a think tank which I seriously considered doing – I really needed something.

Secondly, we screened a database of alumni from MU and looked at what they were doing. We also contacted them to see how they got their first jobs, and asked if we could get some tips and recommendations on which direction in which to move. Finally  we took the plunge and headed to Brussels for a couple of nights just to check out what these alumni were doing and see where people hang out after work. It was during those nights that we realized that public affairs is not all about knowledge (seriously, it’s actually only a small part of it). That’s when I realized I needed to change my mindset.

 85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge. Carnegie Institute of Technology.

To cut a long story short, we dared. We dared making the extra step to make sure we covered all possible angles in what was a pretty desperate search for employment, leaving no stone unturned. Eventually I got a paid traineeship at Bruegel which then turned into a job…but not after getting a few hundreds rejections from all other businesses. Rejection is bound to happen. If it doesn’t happen it means you are not setting yourself the ambition you deserve. You are just playing safe, away from disappointment but also away from opportunities.

Ergo, 1) be daring, 2) don’t give up no matter how many rejections you get and 3) cover all possible angles in the way your present yourself to the market.

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How can I maximize my time in the most efficient way while looking for a job in the EU sphere?

In the Eurobubble there is no real straightforward way to do this. But if I was forced to set out a clear-cut method to look for jobs it would be probably be something like this:

  • 25% of your efforts have to be around generic applications and letters of presentation. These will give you an overview of what is out there, how companies, businesses and institutions are structured and the way they publish vacancies. It’s the mandatory background on the environment you are trying to enter.
  • 25% should be on highlighting your social, extracurricular skills, passions and interests. This is a game of inches. For that one job in the bubble you applied for, trust me, there will be 100, 200 or 500 more people with similar profiles fighting for it. How can people decide to hire you over someone else? Most of the time, it’s what you don’t expect that will catch somebody’s attention. It might be a particular experience you have shared, an unusual language you speak or a common passion (whether it is photography, travelling or rock music) with your examiner. Don’t leave anything relevant behind when you present yourself.
  • 50% of your time should be on targeted and strategic approaches. These are direct, tailored and personal e-mails, handshakes or comments that hint at a potential ” meeting” or “a coffee” to follow up a conversation.

They shouldn’t be about jobs or employment but they should casually and in the least intrusive way possible propose an encounter where you present yourself as “a person” before being “a professional.” Why 50% into this? Because it will take you much more time to approach 5 people with this method than approaching 20 companies in a speculative fashion.

Surprisingly, this is where most young professionals fail, in my opinion for one main reasons: The overdigitalization of our interactions is creating a society where human interactions are scary or even unknown. People born after the late 90s already jump into this world where interactions and dialogue are fully digital among peers. People born before that back to the 70s have more flexibility since they experienced this change and can apply both interactive methodologies. (I’m 31 and find myself somewhere in the middle). This is not an outcry against digitalization. It is just a fact of life.

On top of this, there has been a substantial change of values among generations. I’m generalizing here, but I confidently see how the generation of our parents had completely different values based on prosperity and stability (whether this was financial, societal, geographical or marital) while the current youngsters value freedom, experiences and independence on all fronts. More and more of us are not as fussed about buying houses, nor cars, nor getting married nor crave that lifelong job contract that our parents so desperately want us to get. So, why be shy, right?We have learnt to be more flexible and ready to adapt. But it is important that we exploit this flexibility.

As a sort of experiment, but also as a work management filter, when people ask me for a meeting, a reference, a favour etc., I always give them my phone number straightaway and say “Call me whenever.” Out of these people roughly 5 % call me while the remaining 95% don’t follow up, forget or come up with written excuses for not making things happen. In my experience, that 5% who reached out to me over the phone were successful in starting a business, organizing a conference or getting a valuable contact. That is because they want to be champions in what they do and they do what they gotta do with no excuses.

There is one more point I particularly wanted to get across the people I talked to during the event. In my opinion Brussels is like bodybuilding: It’s not for everyone. I’m not saying that you need special skills to come here and land an EU sphere job, but not everybody is ready or willing to play the game. What I’m saying is that the Eurojobs (in the wider sense) game is not 9AM to 5PM. It’s actually from 5PM onwards.

Do you want to get a confortable 9 to 5 job in an office and be happy with that? Cool. You can do that anywhere in the world from San Francisco, to Milan, from Kuala Lumpur to Dakar. Why choose Brussels?

Do you want to build a career in the field of international institutions, relations and affairs? Then Brussels is the place for you (together ex aequo with Washington, Geneva and the city of London). But that “career” is made of a lot more than sitting in the office in front of your desk. It’s a lot about shaking hands, going to conferences, making yourself known on social media, blog, talk, chat, explore, fail, learn and start over again and this is the part that is not for everybody.

Many people have the capacity of doing this, but this is likely not everybody’s vocation. The same way that people have the capacity to prepare for a fitness competition and to train every day, diet seriously, follow a coach, a nutritionist, and a physiotherapist, but not everybody is meant for it. Personally, I am addicted to both the institutional communications/relations game and bodybuilding but this is just me.

To summarize the key piece of advice I gave at the Euro Studies Fair…. it all comes down to following your true vocation which doesn’t depend on what your family or friends or society tells you to be. It is about what you want to be or become, taking risks, being laser-focused on a goal, and willing to pursue it no matter what it takes to get you there. You are hard wired to follow the path towards the completion of your goal. Now get out there and make things happen to achieve your goal in life because ain’t nobody gonna do it for you. I’m up for coffee or protein shake whenever you like.

Peace.

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Why Yelping matters


Yelping matters. That’s right. Reviewing businesses at the local level helps both customers understand how to make sensitive choices when purchasing goods, services or meals and it mutually helps businesses improve themselves. Only those businesses that apply positive constructive critiques to their work and their investments are able to survive and develop a demanding market.

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Yelp does all that. Many ask “Why not using Tripadvisor instead?” Tripadvisor is a terrific community that helps travellers planning their holidays and not get ripped off when booking a hotel or ordering a meal. The opinions you find on Tripadvisors are mostly from tourists to tourists. Yelp connects locals to locals and locals to tourists. It provides the image of the local people of local businesses. Whether you value more the opinion of one-off consumers or regular community connaisseurs is up to you but the grassroot community building that Yelp brings up is pretty extraordinary, especially in big cities.

The case of Brussels is very interesting. A trilingual community (French, Dutch and English) in a very international environment with tourists, expats, businessmen and locals communicating at the same level.

I started being engaged on Yelp some months ago and I’m happy to see that my continuous reviewing has paid off. I was made yesterday an Elite Squd Member of the Brussels community. I mainly stick to my field of expertise: food.

I love food, I love eating, I love watching my nutrition. As a lad from Parma (yes, one the world capitals of some of the most recognized foods in the world) I’m happy about the improvement that Brussels has displayed over the past few years in terms of food services, making in Forbes Top 10 Cities for Street Food.

Belgium is not a well-know and recognized place for its cuisine. Undeniably, Brussels is standing out lately. Possibly the huge inward immigration fluxes from all over the world have helped raising standards, variety and food culture. I am loving this trend.

Check out my Yelp profile and follow Yelp Brussels on Twitter.

To Rotate or not to rotate? A question for the EU Council Presidency on Twitter


An intersting point has been raised by Matthias Luefkens for Europe Decides about having a rotating Twitter account for the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Considering the management of these accounts, the piece does raise some interesting point. I have left my contribution in their comments section.

Cattura A problem I could already foresee with Matthias’ solution is “what to do with all tweets?”Meaning that, for instance, tweets from @gr2014EU would now look like they were made by @IT2014EU.
An EU Presidency still remains a very team-based or national-based effort. The accounts that get closed after the term do work as archives of their achievements.

What is your take on this? Share it in the comments section below or joined the conversation on Twitter.

A few lessons from the European Digital Advocacy Summit


Digital advocacy is assuming an increasingly important role in Brussels. What’s working to engage European policymakers? Can social media platforms help you find other advocates? Which tools work best? These were some of the questions addressed at the latest European Digital Advocacy Summit in Brussels, organised by the Public Affairs Council.

At the event, public affairs executives shared interesting case studies, insights and best practices as well as EU officials shared their perspectives on social advocacy. This executive-level conference was designed for interactive engagement between participants and presenters. I couldn’t attend the whole conference but I had the chance to sit at the “Successful Online and Media Engagement” part with Bruno Waterield, Brussels correspondent from the Telegraph and Christophe Leclercq founder of EurActiv.com

In this panel a lot was discussed about the Eurobubble (or Brussels bubble), the so-called circle of (mostly foreign) professionals living in Brussels and working on EU affairs. For an international organization, it is certainly challenging to communicate at different levels of governance and reach different target audiences at the European, national and local level. What could we learn from that panel?

  • Use the (Euro)bubble as a bridge, not as a border

I often hear the claim that the Eurobubble (including EU institutions) only communicates to the bubble. This is clearly an incomplete statement since the EU communicates at levels of governance and addresses different groups of stakeholders according to the policies the work on. For instance the European Commission:

Having said that, I am also convinced that people living and working in the Eurobubble do not only communicate within the bubble but they serve as information ambassadors at the national level. The Brussels press corp mostly reports to their central offices in EU Member States and around the world, professionals in various fields often go home and tell people what happens at the European level, civil servants exchange opinions with their national administrations and so on so forth. This is why I prefer thinking about the Eurobubble (whatever that means) as a bridge between Brussels and the rest of the world rather than a self-centred echo chamber.

    • Keep yourself in the loop

What I know as a social media analyst is that I have still an awful lot to learn and that I am bound to keep myself in the loop in order to keep providing valid recommendations and understand how the digital world evolves. There is no short-cut in this learning process. This applies to all professionals working in communication. Spend at least 10% of your time keeping an eye on communication technologies, experiment and make sure you get at least a tiny grasp of what may come next in your field of work and expertise.

    • Use the online to reach the offline

In digital advocacy the offline cannot be separated from the online any longer. These two dimensions work best when they are connected, when they merge. Being engaged online should be (an optional) step one to make “real” connections.

Where you European Digital Advocacy Summit too? Share your views with me.

What the “EU Tweets of the Week” teach us about the rewarding effect on social media


A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to hear Kasper Peter‘s presentation about the EU Tweets of the Week, a creative product by viEUws, an online media organisation providing an analysis of EU policy developments. I found it very interesting to hear what is behind this product which has gained quite some success in the Eurobubble as you can also see from their increase in Twitter followership in the past 3 months.

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source: Twittercounter

In my opinion, their success is partly due to their grasp of the “rewarding effect of social media” and because the product goes straight to the point and targets a very specific group of people: professionals in the bubble.

We often discuss about the topic being rewarding on social media. Giving your audience a reason to come back, being engaging, interactive and interested in your content. The EU Tweets of the Week is one of the best example I have seen of the embodiment of this principle. Apart from collecting suggestions under the hashtag #EUtweets, the guys behind the scene are also monitoring the entire Brussels twittersphere and choosing the best comments directly related to the most important events happening each week.

“People are trying to be on the tweets of the week” said Kasper, and I agree with him. I can see a trend in trying to be more breaking news and more engaging on key political issues in the Brussels twittersphere. I can’t say that this is  because of the EU Tweets of the Week but certainly I can see people interested in trying to “make it there.”

I think the same applies to Jimmy Kimmel‘s Celebrities Read Mean Tweets. The rationale behind this is “be mean to celebrities and you might end up in one of the biggest TV shows in America.”

I understand in the (Euro)bubble the rationale is a bit more limited, like “talk cleverly about EU policy making and you might make it to a moderately viewed Vimeo-hosted 3 minutes show targeting exclusively a limited circle of professionals” but hey, that’s actually what all we want in the bubble.

Keep up the good work.

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A response to Kosmopolito’s “The inconvenient truth about social media and #ep2014”


Kosmopolito is one of the best bloggers in the eurobubble. He recently wrote The inconvenient truth about social media and #ep2014 which I find a very good and punchy piece on one of the main events of 2014 in Europe. Although I disagree to some extent, I think it is laudable that experts in the field are openly feeding the debate. In his article he points out “10 simple truths about social media and the #ep2014.” See my comments below each point. It would have been complicated to put all this in a blog comment so I preferred writing a dedicated blogpost about it.

1. Social media will only help a few MEPs that have already invested heavily  in their individual social media presences. Using social media  during campaigns may look good – but only a long term commitment can deliver sustainable results. It’s simple:  be authentic, build relationships and engage your audience. But: Using social media in a bad way is worse than not using it at all. Think about it!

1. I don’t find the first point convincing, I actually think it debunks your assumptions. “Social media will only help a few MEPs that have already invested heavily in their individual social media presences.” You are basically saying that the MEPs who have invested on social media will have an advantage compared to those who haven’t. Doesn’t this mean “having an impact?” This is for instance very visible in Italy where the EP elections will be (maybe coincidentally) lead by the two leaders and parties that have the highest followerships and highest levels of investment and engagement on social media.

2.  We live in an echo chamber – the bubble is talking to itself. Nobody listens to voices with a different opinion. You only follow stuff you already like. Result: Social media is not a helpful tool for complex political debates. Welcome to the filter bubble!

2. I disagree to a certain extent. “Following” somebody doesn’t’ necessary mean to agree with that person or institution. However, it is true for most (not all) people, that we live in a social media self-built echo chamber.

3. 75 % of Europeans still get their political information on Europe from TV. “The Internet” is  only the 4th most important resource for political information – and the preferred information sources on the internet are “information websites” – not social media.

4. Social media does not reach people who are already disengaged from politics. And even if there is more engagement it does not translate into a higher voter turnout. Statistically, young people are more engaged on social media but their interest / engagement in the political process is  falling – both  at the national and European level. Suggesting that social media will boost the turnout of young voters may be a false correlation.

4. Disagree. The demonstration of the opposite is still visible in Italy. People who are disengaged and most importantly disillusioned by politics are reached by new political movements which use social media extensively (i.e. Pirate party, and most ALDE) Continue reading “A response to Kosmopolito’s “The inconvenient truth about social media and #ep2014””

My experience as a cyclist in Brussels


I come from a solid cycling tradition. In my region, Emilia Romagna, everybody cycles and most people are also fond of competitive cycling and follow the Giro d’Italia with vigor and passion. Especially in the city where I went to University, Forlì, people always say “there you can find more bikes than people.” I have also lived in Antwerp and Maastricht, two pretty cycling-oriented cities and that’s why prior to coming to Brussels I thought I would find the same level of cycling-friendliness. Well, I was wrong… My friend Kwinten writes a very good blog about this topic. You should check it out.

Brussels is everything but bikes-friendly. Let me tell you a few reasons why.

  • Infrastructures aren’t great

We can perhaps say that cycling infrastructures are decent compared to other areas in the outskirts of Europe but in comparison to most Central-Northern European cities, Brussels doesn’t shine through.

  • Drivers aggression (especially taxis)

Don’t get me started on the dangers of being a cyclist in the Belgian capital. Drivers literally love to get as close as they can to cyclists and when I take a cab I can’t understand why they are so aggressive and impolite to them. Continue reading “My experience as a cyclist in Brussels”

The streets of Brussels are dirty, really dirty


“Expats who work for EU institutions in Brussels have few Belgian friends, think the city is “dirty” and plan to go home when their job ends.” This is what an article on the EUObserver (by Andrew Rettman) says .This is one of the most recurring comments by expats living in Brussels. “This city is dirty.” Although, when I bring this up to locals, most times I get the response “c’mon, it’s not that bad.”

Even though I have tried to keep an open mind on this, the evidence that the Belgian capital is a very dirty city is there, and it is on social media. Just check the hashtag #Bruxellespasbelle (credits to @quatremer )to see a collection of pictures illustrating the very poor waste management system of the city and other generic comments about some of the ugliest corners of Brussels.

I don’t think Brussels is an ugly city. Quite the opposite. But the way garbage collection is managed simply has no logic, it is inefficient and horrible. In Madrid, they recently had to face a massive strike by collectors. In Naples, the waste management issue is linked with several criminal organizations operating in eco-crime. But what justifies the disastrous way garbage collection is carried out in the capital of the EU?

To facilitate my advocacy, I created  a Tumblr called “Brussels Dump” through which I plan to collect tweets, posts, pictures and videos showing how waste management in this city is not working and to then bring this up to the authority in charge via social media.

Another similar effort has been put by @Bruxsmells (who has provided quite some material for my Tumblr) and by the blog Dirty Brussels Blog which seems to be inactive since 2011 though.

Stay tuned for more dirt 🙂

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Brussels expats get out of their bubble


A study by the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office shows that 60% of expats living in Brussels are sorry that they know so little of the Belgian capital. People who work for international institutions almost all live and hang out in the same districts (Schumann area, Place du Luxembourg etc…) TV Brussel looks into this topic by having locals showing expats around the city. I have participated in their latest episode in the programme Brussel Vandaag with Nico Cardone

A few lessons from #Europcom 2013


I only managed to attend one panel at this year’s Europcom. I really like this event. The topics are always very interesting and the participants’ level of expertise is always quite high. I noticed that comms2point0, a regular invitee to this event, made a very good and comprehensive summary of both day one and day two of the conference which I invite you to read.

The panel I attended was about the reputation of the EU institutions. Public criticism of the European institutions is on the rise. What is the impact of this on support for the European Union? What tools and strategies can be developed to fight the myths and clichés, and to set up a balanced dialogue with the public?

The debate was moderated by Rob Heirbaut and the speakers were Simona Guerra from the University of Leicester; Mélanie McCluskey from the Reputation Institute in Belgium; Sjerp van der Vaart from the European Parliament Information Office in Belgium; Sixtine Bouygues, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication at the European Commission and Antonia Mochan from the Representation of the European Commission in the UK.

In particular, there were three lessons I took from the event.

Sixtine Bouygues, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication in DG COMM, pointed out the importance of two main factors when dealing with reputation of institutions: “transparency and accountability.” While elaborating on this issue, she noted the effort made by the European Commission to rationalise its online presence and harmonise its visual identity.

At the same time, another challenge for EU institutions is to guarantee that all information is available, accessible and visible. “Being there and providing efficient information services to the citizens should be a priority for public institutions.” Rationalisation means better spending of public money and easier access for users and these are priorities in DG Communication’s work. Web rationalisation was also the topic of our last blog post written by Robert Andrecs, the head of digital communications in the European Commission.

Antonia Mochan didn’t need PowerPoint. She got right to the point during her talk and she discussed some very important topics related to targeting.

First of all, “if you don’t know who you are talking to then it won’t matter what you say.” Knowing who you target and how your target audience communicates is absolutely crucial in addressing institutional messages.

Secondly, it is important to focus on the “big picture.” The EU has over 500 million citizens and it is indeed challenging to address them all at once in all the domains that they could be interested in. Hence, it is important to be able to think out of the box or in this case, out of the “bubble.”

In all places of institutional importance at both national and international level, it is common to get caught up in professional bubbles, such as the famous “Eurobubble” or, as mentioned by Antonia, the Westminster bubble. No matter in which institutional bubble you find yourself, communicators have to think about the concern and the means of the people they are targeting, not the means and the topics used and discussed only in their bubbles.

I hope next year’s edition will include some brilliant insights again and that I will be able to attend more panels.