There are some free career counseling services

Career counseling is an important part of the professional development services at the European Commission

"At the beginning of the 21st century, the European Commission stated that job rotation of workers and the promotion of professional development should be increased," reports Liisi Rossi, Head of career guidance services at the European Commission since 2008. The development of career guidance services in the Commission began in 2003/2004. Since then, the Commission's staff have been offered career advice with trained career advisors.

The challenge facing the Commission was that the same people had worked in the same office for too long. This was resolved by offering interested civil servants the option of voluntary job rotation. As the transition to other tasks in the Commission requires participation in the internal application process, it was necessary to develop advice and training for the staff in order for the job rotation to be successful. For many of those who have worked in the Commission for years, there has been a need to develop job search skills, including: through training in the preparation of CVs and cover letters as well as preparation for the actual job interview.

Career advice for almost all members of the Commission

Career advice is now available to anyone who has a permanent position or a fixed-term contract with the Commission. The half-day training course to support career planning is also offered to university interns who are accepted by the commission twice a year. "This should support entry into professional life and integration into the labor market," said Rossi. However, career advice is not available to subcontractors or external partners.

The commission has a so-called “Talent Management Strategy” because its employees are highly qualified and many of them are long-standing experts. "This increases the challenge factor in terms of professional development and career development," explains Rossi. For this reason, career planning and the associated advice have become of central importance to the Commission in recent years.

In career counseling, which is used for internal job rotation, care is taken that the skills of the rotating person correspond to the required level for the new tasks. For example, the key competencies of policy officers within the Commission include at least communication, negotiation and project management skills and analytical skills. In these and many other areas, the Commission organizes specific training courses for its staff.

The Commission welcomes the fact that staff take part in the training leading up to the exam on their own initiative. The commission grants a small financial support as well as unpaid temporary exemption from the exercise of office for the examination studies. However, accredited learning is not a guarantee that the person will be promoted to a higher level or to a more demanding role in the service of the Commission immediately after graduation.

The role of career counselors

"The biggest challenge in developing career counseling was initially that it was not about clear processes and systems, but rather temporary and creative solutions," remembers Liisi Rossi of the initial situation. Such processes and systems were put in place in 2014 in the Commission's human resources management. They determine how the career guidance services are administered, maintained and made available to staff. "Now we are finally in a situation where the continuity of the career guidance service in the Commission is assured and seen as an established activity," states Rossi.

There are currently around 50 career advisors in the various Directorates-General of the Commission. They are available to staff on a daily basis to answer questions related to career planning and professional development. All discussions between the career counselors and the people coming to the career counseling are absolutely confidential. Career counselors are particularly helpful in situations where an employee is contemplating the direction of their career and opportunities for job rotation, career development, etc. in the service of the Commission. The interviews may also include questions about professional qualifications and training based on how a person views their own strengths and development needs, if necessary.

The most recent project concerns employees who have held the same position within the Commission for at least four years. A structured discussion is organized for them under the guidance of a career advisor. Here one concentrates on the evaluation of the professional development, on the work success and on the consideration of the future. “The experiences of these conversations are generally positive and the greatest benefit is seen as the opportunity for self-reflection,” says Rossi.

Sometimes the discussions deal with problematic situations that are based on stress and tension in the working group and that are solved with the available means and instruments. The special situations in career management include Return to work after a long illness or rehabilitation (e.g. disability). In such cases, career counseling tries to find the most suitable solution for the individual and their immediate working group.

A compulsory course (duration 10 working days) is organized for people interested in the position of career advisor. Participation is a prerequisite for working as a career advisor within the commission. In addition to the counseling methods, value is placed in the course on the ability to meet people openly and confidentially. Previously, external experts commissioned by the Commission were responsible for running the course. Nowadays they are carried out by acting career counselors who have been in this position for a long time. This brings authenticity to the course, as their practical experience gives them an understanding of the nature and requirements of the work in the commission.

Career advice is more than just personal advice

In addition to personal career advice, the commission also offers staff information events on changes in working life and their own careers. During the annual career counseling day, Commission officials have the opportunity to attend lectures, panel discussions and thematic workshops on these topics, to network with one another and to ask detailed questions. In 2018, the career counseling day will be held in November. His key themes include career opportunities, job search skills, key competencies and various Directorates-General and EU Specialized Agencies of the Commission.

The concept of career counseling is spreading across the EU institutions

The development of career advice in the European Commission has also attracted attention from other EU institutions. Following in the footsteps of the Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and many EU agencies in the Member States have included the career guidance service as part of their own human resource development strategy. This is intended to ensure sufficient professional advisory support for EU employees, from which both the individual and the entire working group can benefit.

In addition, the European Commission has cooperation agreements with prestigious universities around the world under which Commission officials train students on EU matters. The experience gained in the courses was enriching for the officials themselves as it helped them to see more clearly their own work and the role of the EU. For the students, on the other hand, they were an opportunity to hear and learn how the EU works and which issues it promotes.

The article is based on a telephone interview with Liisi Rossi on October 29, 2018

Text: Mika Launikari, The Finnish National Board of Education / Euroguidance Finland Picture: Liisi Rossi, European Commission