Those who were successful at the EU career pre-selection tests are now facing the Assessment Centre or AC in Brussels.
Besides the case study, that is written on a separate occassion, the 3 main parts of the EPSO AC (for general Administrators) are:
- the Oral Presentation
- the Structured Interview and
- the Group Exercise.
Having trained over 300 candidates at Assessment Centre preparation courses online and offline, I am glad to share with you tips and tricks to help you succeed at the last stage of your EU career exam.
What the EPSO Assessment Centre looks like
When looking at the Assessment Centre, the most important approach to keep in mind is the role of "competencies". These are personal skills that each of us has: luckily, these can be greatly improved by training and preparation.
The 7+1 competencies EPSO is looking for in candidates are the following: analysis and problem solving, communicating, delivering quality and results, learning and development, prioritising and organising, resilience and working with others. Administrator (AD) exam candidates also have the 8th competency, which is leadership.
Each competency is tested by 2 exams, so for instance the leadership competency is tested by the group exercise and the structured interview, to ensure the EPSO assessors get a clear picture of your skills when they score each competency plus your knowledge in the chosen domain (e.g. audit or external relations or public administration).
Here is a nice video explaining the Assessment Centres in general (non-EPSO specific):
Getting a high score in the Assessment Centre therefore means you demonstrate high levels of competencies in all the 8 fields EPSO evaluates.
Let's look at 9 resources and tips to ace the Assessment Centre and get an EU job:
The Oral Presentation Exam
1. What the exam is about: you will have 15+5 minutes to prepare a presentation based on an extensive background document that contains emails, press releases, official communications and other types of elements.
You will need to read and analyse it quickly while taking notes because at the presentation, you are not allowed to use the original documents, just the notes. The 5 minutes refers to the time you have once you are given a large sheet of paper that you will be able to use on a flipchart as a visual aid to the presentation. You will be then asked to present the file in 10 minutes and you will get tough questions for another 10 minutes.
2. What to pay attention to: be very careful of your time as 15 minutes plus 5 is very short. Make sure to take lots of notes, including figures, numbers and data which may be asked in the Q/A section of the exam.
While presenting, be very aware of your body language (no closed gestures, how you stand next to the flipchart, eye contact, folded arms etc.) and your tone of voice (especially if you don't know the answer: it matters a great deal how you say "I don't know").
3. Oral presentation video: here is useful video on the oral presentation (disclaimer: this is not our video and may not be 100% relevant for EPSO exams, still we think it is a useful resource). You may be interested in this general presentation skills video too.
The Structured Interview Exam
4. What the exam is about: the structured interview at EPSO is certainly not a job interview. Your CV is not going to be checked beforehand or during the interview, and you should not expect questions on "Why would you like to work in the European Commission" either.
The aim of the structured interview is to test 4 competencies, one by one, via relatively easy-looking questions (e.g. "Tell us about a time when you had a disagreement with your superior") where you are required to tell the "story" of a past event in a relatively detailed manner so that it provides assessors an idea of your competency in that field.
This exam lasts 40 minutes (for Specialists, this can last 50-60 minutes and 5-6 competencies may be tested instead of 4, while for Assistants this may be 40 minutes but not leadership competency is tested.) You are required to start with an introduction of yourself. The good news is that EPSO assessors tell you which competency is being tested so you can tailor your answer accordingly.
5. What to pay attention to: make sure to think of 2-3 relevant "stories" from your professional (or exceptionally, private) life that you can tell as examples to each of the competency questions that are tested in the structured interview. (You can check some sample questions here to get a better idea of what to expect.)
Make sure you prepare an introduction of yourself but make sure it sounds natural when you say it. Also, keep in mind the structure for your answers: start with the context in which the event happened, then talk about your approach and "feelings" when you were faced with the event or challenge, then discuss your personal role in it and contribution to the solution, and finally end with a conclusion or take-away lesson you learned as a result of this experience.
Keep all this under 3-4 minutes to allow time for follow-up questions, and make sure your example and the story is relevant to the competency in question (e.g. learning and development instead of working with others).
6. Structured interview video: here is a useful video on how to score high in an EPSO structured interview (disclaimer: this video was not produced by us yet we found it useful to share):
The Group Exercise Exam
7. What the exam is about: the group exercise in the EPSO Assessment Centre is used to test various competencies such as leadership, working with others or communication by giving you a background file comprising emails, press releases and other elements that you will need to discuss with 5-6 other candidates sitting around a table.
The time available is 40 minutes, with some 10 minutes given for preparation beforehand. Usually each candidate has an extra page in the background briefing which is unique to you, but the exam does not have any assigned roles (e.g. who is the group leader, neither do you have to "represent" a role which is different from others').
8. What to pay attention to: the most important is to quickly read the background briefing (which you can take with you to the actual exam so you don't need to take extra notes) and try to participate in the discussion as cooperatively as you can. Ask questions from others, summarise what group members have said, remind others of the time and required deliverables, yet make sure not to dominate the group or to be overly reserved.
Be aware of your body language (are you leaning forward? are you crossing your arms? are you pointing at others?) and try to call other participants by their names as all of you will have a name tag to facilitate the discussion. If you have the possibility, the best practice is to do a classroom simulation with 5-7 other candidates.
9. Group exercise video: here is a useful video on the group exercise (disclaimer: we did not procude this video and it may not be 100% relevant for the EPSO exam, however it provides useful information that we think is worth considering).
As always, we are happy to help you with FREE tips, hints and advice, just contact us any time!
We also offer personal EPSO coaching 1-on-1 to maximise your chances to pass.
Any comments? Ideas to share with others? Get in touch with us!