IMPORTANT: this article refers to the previous EPSO exam system before March 2010 and may only be partially relevant for the new one.
1. “I can prepare for the exam in two weeks.” Unless you’re a genius and don’t mind drinking ten Red Bulls a day, you will need at least two months to thoroughly prepare for the competition. EPSO will ask you many details, data and names that will take some time to memorize, especially if you first need to learn the basic institutional aspects of how the EU works. We advise making a day-to-day timeline for preparation with two days left for repeating challenging topics.
2. “Understanding how EU institutions work is enough for the exam.” While it is one of the most important parts to learn, knowing how EU institutions work is more of a pre-requisite than a goal by itself. You cannot really understand the policies, EU programmes or the basics of EU law without having a very clear idea about each institution’s role in the system.
3. “I can find all information on the Internet in no time.” You can certainly find most information you need, but the question is whether you really know what is needed? The European Union is such a vast topic with so many details that finding the right information takes meticulous collection of information. Luckily Online EU Tests has already done this for you and the most relevant links are available free on our Resources page.
4. “I may submit my application online on the last day of the deadline.” EPSO itself regularly calls applicants’ attention to the fact that too many people may try to access their server on the last day of application, which may cause technical problems that make application impossible. Also, you may discover that some documents or information is still missing so you better leave sufficient time for these emergencies, not to mention triple-checking formal requirements: if you forget to sign a paper or tick a box online, your entire application may be rejected altogether.
5. “I’m good in maths so I don’t need to prepare for numerical reasoning”. This is the most dangerous assumption you could possibly make: numerical reasoning is the test that takes out the highest proportion of candidates. Even if you’re good in calculus you should practice counting and logical arguments every day until the exam so that you won’t waste time with otherwise simple issues. The same goes for verbal reasoning: read as many articles in English as possible and make sure to look up each word that you don’t know to improve your vocabulary.
6. “The EU recruitment procedure will go fast.” Unfortunately, it won’t. It takes about 1 – 1.5 years from the publication of the competition until the reserve list is published in the Official Journal. Even this does not mean recruitment, it only shows that you are eligible for appointment to a specific post, which may again take some time. Recently EPSO announced that they are aware of this situation and from 2010 onwards a new and presumably much faster (5-9 months) selection process will be launched.
7. “There are so many candidates that I have no chance.” This is absolutely not true: look at all those 40,000 EU officials who have passed the competition at one point or another, and the large number of people placed on reserve lists every year. Keep this in mind: only a fraction of people who signed up online actually show up at the exam, and only a fraction of these people had actually spent more than two weeks preparing for the competition. So if you take things seriously, you are “only” competing with 20% of all those who have applied.
8. “I’m tempted by the EU salary though the job seems boring.” Well, if the only motivation you have to get an EU job is the salary, you better not apply for the exam at all. The main reason behind all these multiple choice questions, essays and oral exams is to test your motivation and persistence, not to mention the real competition between the candidates. Only if you are truly motivated to work for an EU institution should you start with the recruitment procedure.
9. “The recruitment will depend on who you know instead of what you know.” Actually, it will depend on what you know about who you know :-) Jokes apart, the EU recruitment process is the most objective and balanced way of selecting people for the European public sector. You may challenge the various exams they make you sit but the overall transparency and equal treatment of the candidates is hard to question. Even if you feel mistreated, you can raise a complaint or turn to the European Ombudsman who will examine your case.
10. “EPSO-exams are only for people with good diplomas from elite universities.” Absolutely not. As long as you meet the formal requirements of a selection competition (e.g. to have any diploma or having x years of work experience), you are welcome to sit the exam. Given the nature of multiple-choice questions, they only measure knowledge, whereas written essays are always evaluated anonymously by at least two experts who don’t even know each other. Having a good diploma may help in the preparation, but it is certainly not a free pass to an EU job.