The Council of Europe (CoE), headquartered in Strasbourg, France, is a prestigious international organization well-known for its competitiveness. Due to its reputation and significant role in advancing human rights, democracy, and the rule of law across Europe, there is great demand for job opportunities within the CoE, requiring highly skilled professionals. Candidates are carefully selected based on rigorous criteria, with a strong emphasis on showcasing a high level of professional competence, specialized knowledge, and expertise in relevant fields. To explore additional, extremely detailed and helpful tips offered by current or ex-CoE employees, read the article below.
DevelopmentAid: What major skills and requirements are necessary to start a career at the Council of Europe?
“Here are some of the major skills and requirements that are often necessary:
- Language proficiency
- Knowledge of Council of Europe values
- Research and analytical skills
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Project management
- Intercultural competence
- Professional experience.”
“The Council of Europe is the world’s leading regional organization in the sphere of human rights, rule of law and democracy. As such, the skills and requirements vary widely between its numerous directorates and departments. However, there is a set of skills that is indispensable for work in any of the Council’s structures. They are:
- Language proficiency(-ies). All the work and internal (and, most often, external) correspondence is produced in one of the two of the Council of Europe’s official languages: English and French. Although the organization is officially bilingual, and any language can be used for communication, vacancy requirements for the lower-rank jobs (of grades B and C) normally require the candidates to know only one of the above languages fluently. Vacancy notes for administrator-level jobs (A-grade) normally require the candidates to be fluent in one of the languages and have a “good” knowledge of the other. In my experience, knowledge at the level of B1-B2 could be qualified as “good”. In any case, language knowledge is checked during the competitive examination: the applicant can choose his/her “fluent” language as the language of the exam (will have to draft papers in that language), and one of the papers/assignments in that case would be to check the second language. Also, knowledge of both tongues could be checked during the subsequent live interview. As to the usage of the languages within the organization, I would say that English is widely predominant, but several departments may prefer internally to use French.
- Writing skills. An equally important skill as language proficiency. No matter what structural unit of the Council the candidate will end up in, most of their work will be dedicated to working with texts: reading, analyzing, and drafting. From donor reports written by technical cooperation project units to the texts of judgments and procedural documents of the European Court of Human Rights produced by lawyers of its Secretariat, drafting is a skill not to be underestimated.
- Planning and time-management skills. Due to budgetary constraints, the Council of Europe has experienced a long-term workforce shortage. The workload is usually high, and the ability to prioritize tasks and plan working time is of the essence.
- Good communication skills. Except for several purely “in-office” vacancies (such as a lawyer of the European Court of Human Rights), a Council of Europe job means a lot of communication with the outside world, especially with other international actors (UN, OSCE, etc.), civil society and government representatives. Communication and interpersonal skills are especially useful for fostering connections and building bridges for effective work here.
- Readiness to travel. A good part of the Council’s jobs requires the availability and readiness to travel to the Member States for meetings and conferences or to relocate to one of the field offices. This is especially true for technical cooperation project work, and departments such as the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), etc.
- As a note to candidates from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, although in no way an obligatory requirement, it appears that gaining a relevant Master degree from an EU-based university would count as a competitive advantage for the shortlisting of their CV.
- Last but not least, the substantive knowledge of the subject matter required for the vacancy is necessary. This is rigorously checked during the multi-part written competitive examination. The assignments are aimed at checking the specific job knowledge (be it human rights, science – in the case of the European Pharmacopoeia, for example, or political analysis), drafting skills, the ability to solve working situations (especially for administrator-level jobs), text understanding and analysis. As a general piece of advice, it would be useful to take the examination with good knowledge of the Council of Europe’s main legal instruments.”
“The major skills and requirements necessary to start a Council of Europe career:
- Strong academic background: The Council of Europe often seeks candidates with relevant educational qualifications, mostly with a degree in law, political science, international relations, or a related field.
- Language proficiency: Fluency in English and French is typically required, as these are the primary working languages of the Council of Europe. Proficiency in additional languages, especially those commonly spoken in member states, can be an advantage.
- Knowledge of the Council of Europe values and mission: Candidates should familiarize themselves with the Council of Europe’s work, priorities, and core values, as this demonstrates their commitment to its mission.
- Interpersonal and communication skills: Effective teamwork, diplomacy, and the ability to engage with diverse stakeholders are essential for success in a multicultural and multilingual environment.
- Analytical and problem-solving abilities: The Council of Europe deals with complex issues and challenges, so critical thinking and analytical skills are highly valued.”
“What is required is not only a high degree of specialization in the subjects of specific expertise but also the ability to transfer one’s own concrete experience gained in the field to the beneficiaries. So, for the young professionals who want to work as International Consultants for the Council of Europe, I may suggest building up a strong track record of study in the subjects of interest, perhaps enriching the academic aspect with a PhD, and start gaining direct experience in the field (as volunteers or interns) so as to start acquiring the necessary field experience that makes the professional profile extremely attractive to international organizations.”
DevelopmentAid: What challenges have to be faced when applying for a Council of Europe position?
“Applying for a position at the Council of Europe, like any competitive international organization, can present certain challenges. Here are some common challenges:
- Intense Competition: The Council of Europe is a highly respected international organization, and positions within the organization are often in high demand. The level of competition can be intense with a large number of qualified candidates vying for limited job openings.
- Rigorous Selection Process: The Council of Europe typically has a thorough and rigorous selection process to ensure that the most suitable candidates are selected for positions. This may involve multiple rounds of screening, written tests, interviews, and assessment centers.
- Language Requirements: Proficiency in both English and French is often required for positions at the Council of Europe. Candidates must be able to demonstrate excellent language skills in both written and spoken forms.
- Specific Skillsets: The Council of Europe seeks candidates with specialized skills and knowledge related to its core areas of work, such as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
- International Experience: The Council of Europe values international experience and a global perspective. Candidates with prior experience working in an international context, preferably in the field of human rights or related areas, may have an advantage.
- Limited Job Openings: The number of job openings at the Council of Europe may be limited compared to the number of qualified applicants. This means that even highly qualified individuals may face difficulties in finding suitable positions that match their skills and aspirations.
- Relocation and Mobility: The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, France, and some positions may require relocation or frequent travel. Candidates must be willing to relocate if necessary and be prepared for potential mobility requirements.”
“Truth be told, the application process of the Council of Europe is pretty standard compared to other international organizations. The existing online page and the electronic system for recruitment (www.coe-recruitment.com) are straightforward and simple and require input of less information than, for example, for UN or OSCE systems (e.g., it is not necessary to provide a detailed description of the duties and achievements for one’s past workplaces or to indicate starting and finishing salaries). The CV processing times are also, as a rule, quicker: for my OSCE or UN applications I received responses within approximately a year’s time, while for the Council of Europe, it was from one to three months on average. However, if a vacancy note suggests many people will apply (e.g., marked as an “office-wide”), the response times could also be as long as a year. In general, the application process is hassle-free. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to regularly monitor vacancy notes and to apply within the deadline.”
“The challenges when applying for a Council of Europe position:
- Competitive selection process: The Council of Europe attracts talented professionals from around the world making the competition for positions quite intense. It is crucial to demonstrate exceptional qualifications and relevant experience in order to stand out.
- Adaptability to a multilateral environment: Working in an intergovernmental organization like the Council of Europe requires the ability to navigate complex political dynamics and work collaboratively with diverse stakeholders.
- Thorough understanding of Council of Europe priorities: Candidates must be well-informed about the organization’s current priorities, initiatives, and ongoing projects. It is important to align their application with its objectives.”
“The CoE is a multilateral organization and so it is mindful of the need to ensure an appropriate balance of national representation, even in its expert bodies. As a result, a person with the best qualifications does not necessarily get to fill in a position if he or she lacks the required national background.”
DevelopmentAid: How do you prepare for a Council of Europe interview?
“Preparing for a Council of Europe interview requires thorough research, self-reflection, and practice. Here are some tips:
- Understand the Council of Europe: familiarize yourself with the CoE’s mission, core values, major initiatives, and key areas of work
- Review the job description thoroughly
- Do a self-assessment
- Practice your responses to common interview questions to ensure clarity and conciseness
- Showcase language proficiency (English and French at least)
- Ensure professional appearance and demeanor.”
“Council of Europe interviews are standard and require the usual preparation. First and foremost, it is necessary to know the subject matter of the vacancy well. Secondly, be prepared to provide solutions to various working situations, especially when applying for administrator-level (A-grade) positions. Thirdly, it is a good idea to be ready for bureaucratic questions concerning workflow and interaction between various parts of the organization as this is an inevitable part of the job. Lastly, as noted above, be ready for questions that test the knowledge of languages one has indicated in the CV and, above all else, both official languages (English and French).”
“Preparation for a Council of Europe interview:
- Research the organization: Gain a comprehensive understanding of the Council of Europe’s structure, mandate, and recent activities. Candidates must familiarize themselves with the department or sector they are applying to.
- Reflect on your experience: Candidates should prepare examples from their past professional experience that demonstrate their skills and abilities relevant to the Council of Europe’s work. It is crucial to highlight their achievements and how these align with the organization’s goals.
- Anticipate interview questions: Practice answering potential interview questions, particularly those related to candidate’s knowledge of the Council of Europe, have an understanding of its values and identify the candidate’s ability to contribute to its mission.”
“One can be prepared for the CoE interview by fully understanding what is requested, by carefully studying the vacancy she/he is applying to, by providing clear answers to the questions that are asked, by showing professionalism and by highlighting your expertise, professionalism and experience.”
DevelopmentAid: What are some mistakes that young professionals make when applying for a Council of Europe position?
“When applying for a Council of Europe position, young professionals can make some common mistakes:
- Lack of Research: Failing to thoroughly research the Council of Europe, its mission, and its work can be a significant mistake. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the organization’s values, key areas of focus, recent initiatives, and conventions.
- Insufficient Language Skills: The Council of Europe places high importance on language skills, particularly proficiency in English and French.
- Generic Applications: Sending generic applications that do not specifically address the requirements and qualifications outlined in the job description is a common mistake.
- Lack of Relevant Experience: Young professionals may lack extensive professional experience, particularly in the specific areas of work emphasized by the Council of Europe.
- Poor Application Presentation: Pay attention to the presentation and formatting of your application materials.
- Lack of Networking and Connections: Not leveraging networking opportunities and connections can be a missed opportunity. Building relationships with professionals in the field, attending relevant events, and engaging in online communities can provide valuable insights and potential referrals.
- Insufficient Interview Preparation: Inadequate preparation for interviews is a significant mistake.”
“As already mentioned earlier, the application process per se is straightforward and does not present any serious challenges. The candidates are mostly sorted out during the examination, less likely at the stage of interview (passing the exams with a good mark is already a good sign). Perhaps, for young professionals at this stage, it would be important to ensure sufficient language proficiency, undertake thorough research into the organisation, its structure and areas of work, and be prepared for the specific format of the competitive examination.”
“Mistakes that young professionals make when applying for a Council of Europe position:
- Lack of tailored application: Many candidates submit generic applications without tailoring them to the specific requirements of the position and the organization. Candidates should take the time to customize their application to highlight their relevant skills and experiences.
- Insufficient understanding of Council of Europe values: Failure to demonstrate a strong alignment with the Council of Europe’s core values and principles can weaken their application. Candidates must show how their values align with the organization’s commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
- Inadequate research: Applicants sometimes overlook the importance of thoroughly researching the Council of Europe, its priorities, and its ongoing projects. This can result in a lack of understanding during interviews and application materials.”
DevelopmentAid: What are the main challenges and benefits of working for the Council of Europe?
“Working for the Council of Europe can bring both challenges and benefits. The main challenges are:
- Complex and Sensitive Issues: The Council of Europe deals with complex and sensitive issues related to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Therefore, it can be complicated to deal with those in a correct (from the institutional point of view) manner.
- Multicultural Environment: The Council of Europe is an international organization with a diverse workforce representing different cultures, languages,and backgrounds. For some candidates, accepting these can be challenging.
- High Workload and Pressure: Working in an international organization like the Council of Europe often involves a high workload and tight deadlines.
- Bureaucratic Processes: As a large international organization, the Council of Europe operates within a bureaucratic structure.”
“Among the benefits, I can highlight:
- Meaningful and Impactful Work: One of the significant benefits of working for the Council of Europe is the opportunity to contribute to meaningful and impactful work in the field of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
- Professional Development: CoE provides various opportunities for professional development, including training programs, workshops, and conferences.
- International Exposure: Working for the Council of Europe offers exposure to an international environment with colleagues from different countries and cultures.
- Networking Opportunities: The Council of Europe offers networking opportunities with professionals, policymakers, and experts in the field of human rights and democracy.
- Work-Life Balance and Benefits: The Council of Europe, like many international organizations, often offers a good work-life balance and attractive benefits packages.
- Prestige and Reputation: The Council of Europe is a highly respected international organization with a strong reputation in the field of human rights and democracy. Working for such an organization can enhance your professional credibility and open doors to future career opportunities.”
“The opportunity to contribute to important causes, the potential for professional growth, and the chance to work in a diverse and international setting, make a career at the Council of Europe highly rewarding for many individuals who are passionate about human rights and democracy.”
- High workload
Certain vacancies require high mobility and involve frequent travel
- Due to the specifics of a big international organization, sometimes administrative work (reporting, internal communication, formalities, etc.) can outnumber the substantive work.
- Some of the vacancies require constant work with text in an office with little to no contact with the outside world (such as a lawyer of the European Court of Human Rights) whereas other vacancies require constant communication with external partners (other international organisations, government and civil society representatives). Vacancies that balance both extremes are quite rare so one needs to choose carefully.
Among the benefits:
- Highly competitive non-taxable salaries
- Excellent working conditions both at the HQ in Strasbourg and in the field offices
- Great team and a multicultural environment
- Working for the benefit of human rights, democracy, and rule of law
- An excellent internal training system, from languages to professional skills
- A truly unique experience of living in Strasbourg (for HQ vacancies).”
“Challenges: Working in a multilateral environment can present challenges such as coordinating with multiple stakeholders, addressing diverse perspectives, and navigating bureaucratic processes. Benefits: Working for the Council of Europe offers numerous rewards, including the opportunity to contribute to promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law across Europe. It provides a platform for engaging with international experts, collaborating on impactful projects, and developing a deep understanding of European affairs.”
“There are many benefits of working with the CoE, not least being at the center of European policy impacting on human rights and contributing to its shaping, as well as working with esteemed colleagues from other CoE member states. As for the main challenges, occasionally, one has to be mindful of the broader political context in which topical issues are being debated and actions are being formulated which might impact on his or her work.”
Securing positions at the Council of Europe can be a highly competitive process. Applying for a position within the CoE typically involves a series of steps to present your qualifications and express your interest. With the DevelopmentAid Individual Professional Membership, you will not miss a single opportunity as you will have full access to all the CoE’s jobs, tenders and grants for individuals and other useful information.