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“I have to compete with candidates who have three to four years of work experience”

“I have to compete with candidates who have three to four years of work experience”

UM’s recent graduates looking for a job during COVID-19 pandemic

He was shocked by it, he hadn’t expected the competition to be so fierce: three to four hundred “often strong” candidates for jobs in Brussels, around the European Commission. Jobs that Jack van den Berg, who graduated from the master’s of European Studies in the middle of July, would love to have. 

“In public affairs. You work for a business or a group of businesses and offer advice on matters such as European Union legislation. How should they anticipate such legislation? Can they have any influence on it? At the same time, you are involved in talks with the EU, because they really want to know how businesses feel about certain legislation. It is a two-way system. You try to instigate the discussion on - in my case - digital issues such as privacy, online marketing and artificial intelligence, which is my area of expertise. Lobbyist is therefore not a good description, because that is a one-way system.”

Jack van den Berg graduated with distinction (the presentation of the diploma still has to take place), participated in the honours programme, first did a work placement in New York with a company that helps European businesses get a foothold in the US, and then another in Brussels with an organisation that analyses satellite images. That is where he discovered that a job in public affairs is exactly what he wants.

45 letters

He sent his first letter of application back in November 2019; the counter now stands at 45. “You have to register early for the official EU traineeships. But at the moment, they don’t have any new places because the February batch has been pushed back until autumn, due to COVID-19.” Otherwise, COVID-19 has not had much influence on the number of vacancies, he says. “There is a lot on offer, but there is a lot of competition. I have a well-filled CV; I have always worked while I studied. The past month - Friday is my last day - I worked full-time for Maastricht Housing, where I also worked as a student. But I have to compete with candidates who have three to four years of work experience. They do work placements for two years, earning 800 to 900 euro per month and work extra in a bar to get by. I do want to do a work placement, but only if there is job certainty at the end or if I can build up a network in doing so. Everything goes through networks in Brussels.”

Mentor

He has taken on a mentor, who is helping him in his search and providing him with tips. “That is new. During COVID-19, a new platform was set up in Brussels by ‘young professionals in digital policy’, exactly my field. A group of people who tried to find work during the previous financial crisis. They know what it is like to try and find a job during a crisis. I am learning a lot from my mentor: make sure that your letter is one of the first to arrive, to increase your chances. Don’t be shy about sending open letters of application, it may work in your favour. Ensure that your relevant experience is highlighted in your letter.”

As soon as possible

Van den Berg hopes that in six to eight months - “I have spoken with an alumna from European Studies, who mentioned this period of time” - he will have found something. “Apparently, it takes time. There are fellow students who want to take it easy for a while, but I don’t want that. I would prefer to have a job as soon as possible.”

UM Alumni week starts on Saturday

Alumni week starts next Saturday - from 5 until 11 September – at Maastricht University. Indeed, for a whole week, and not the usual alumni day. The programme is online and (largely) in English. According to the organisation, “the largest event ever for (up-coming) UM alumni”. The event will kick off on Saturday at 13:30hrs., with a word of welcome by President Martin Paul and the keynote speech by Marijke Wijnroks (FHML) - Chief of Staff at the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - entitled: Life happens when you are busy making other plans.

The Monday programme includes an alumni coach café, on Tuesday there are alumni breakfast talks at various times for alumni in different time zones, and a meeting with former fellow students. Online sports are planned for Wednesday and the week will be concluded with a virtual drink, a speech by rector Rianne Letschert, and live music by UM alumna Marike Jager.

For more information, visit https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/nl/online-um-alumniweek-2020

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