Intern selection time

Every so often, it happens; I have to go through the CV’s of various exceptionally motivated and intelligent young people, and then decide which of them gets the privilege of working with me. Unpaid. Yep, in Brussels (as in Washington, as in many other places), many organisations including mine are kept going to a certain extent by the volunteer labour of interns. I bring my interns along to most of the conferences I attend and for most of my meetings with senior officials, I give them tips on career development and contacts in their fields of interest as far as that’s possible, I write glowing references about them (no exaggeration is necessary – these are very bright and able people) for future employers. In return they keep my appointments diary, help me with general admin, do a certain amount of research, and provide intelligent conversation. And I admit that I get a certain kick out of mentoring in this way.

It used to be that the person in charge of internships in our office would thrust half a dozen applications at me, and I’d pick the one that was most obviously impressive. The problem now is that I’ve got much better at specifying what sort of person I want, and it is getting more and more difficult to choose between the CVs as they are more finely tuned to my needs – interest in the politics of the countries I work on, academic ability, experience of an office environment, language skills if possible. Of the ten I was given this afternoon I could only rule out five (on the grounds that their undoubted expertise lay too much in economics or human rights rather than in political analysis, or that their geographical interests appeared too different to mine). I’ll have to interview the other five on Wednesday, and I know it will be a difficult choice.

In three years in this job I’ve had nine interns:

#1 was the only undergraduate to have interned with me; she worked for me in summer ’02, got a first in Inernational Relations from St Andrew’s in 2003, and has a job with a London-based charity (oddly enough not an internationally oriented one).
#2 was French/German and doing a master’s in Québec; after working for me until early ’03 and finishing her studies she went to Africa and now works for an Italian humanitarian organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
#3 was Belgian (though born in India), an interesting case of someone who had intended to be a professional translator, didn’t quite make the top grade of the translation exams, and so decided to switch careers into a more intellectually challenging role; worked for me in spring ’03, finished her master’s in international conflict analysis at the University of Kent in Canterbury, and now has a job administering humanitarian aid at the European Commission.
#4 was (so far) the only young man (as opposed to young woman) to have interned with me, for the second half of 2003; an American, also doing the master’s in international conflict analysis at the University of Kent in Canterbury (which is taught in Brussels); still in Brussels doing bits and pieces of international political work. I know he’s still looking for new opportunities so will hardly mind my linking to his site from here.
#5 was a somewhat different case, a Croatian who already had a master’s in European affairs from Vienna and was working as a Brussels stringer for the Zagreb papers but wanting to diversify her work experience; she did a few months with me in spring 2004 and then went back full-time to her journalism work which she is still doing.
#6 was British/Slovenian, worked for me in the summer of 2004, had only a BA in History from Oxford but sold her other experience including a couple of other Brussels internships very convincingly; now works for an MEP.
#7 was Slovenian, worked for me in the second half of 2004, was just finishing up her MA in European Politics and Governance from LSE, managed to land a decent and oddly political job in the private sector in Brussels.
#8 was another Belgian citizen (though born in Kazakhstan), worked for me for the first few months of this year while doing her master’s in culture and development at Leuven, has now gone back to her studies there.
#9 is a Canadian/American citizen, doing a master’s in international relations and diplomacy in Paris, but fascinated with Macedonia which is also my favourite country of the ones I cover; hopefully she’ll go on to get a real job in Skopje in the autumn.

The first two are now both doing program management of hands-on humanitarian stuff. The others are all still in Brussels (or back in Brussels); two in the European institutions, two in the spin-off world of small think-tanks and journalism, one in the private sector and two still studying. I’ll follow them all with interest.

One thought on “Intern selection time

  1. “like”? Never met him, but I have found him moderately entertaining on occasion.

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