2019 EPSO CAST Demystified - Q&A | EU Training

2019 EPSO CAST Demystified - Q&A

Get clear and direct answers to your questions about every aspect of the EPSO CAST programme all in one go during this EPSO CAST Demystified Q&A Session.

Click here to view the Presentation Slides

Webcast Transcript

 

Webcast Transcript

2019 EPSO CAST Demystified

Transcript Quick Links

WHAT IS A CONTRACT AGENT?
POSTS & CONDITIONS FOR CONTRACT AGENTS
WHAT IS THE CAST EXAM?
CURRENT CAST PROFILES & FUNCTION GROUPS
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CAST & OTHER EPSO COMPETITIONS
THE CAST SELECTION PROCESS
11 FREQUENTLY ASKED CAST QUESTIONS ANSWERED
TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF SUCCESS
PREPARATION RESOURCES
QUESTIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[00:00-07:00 - Information about the recording, sound check, introducing trainers, agenda, vote]

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

WHAT IS A CONTRACT AGENT? [00:07:08]

Andras Baneth: Let’s start with the very basics by looking at the CAST concept and who is actually a Contract Agent.

Anna Schmidt: These positions were actually established in order to achieve flexibility within the EU workforce. This is an excellent opportunity to get into one of the EU Institutions or Agencies without having to pass a full EPSO Competition as such.

However, these contracts are usually for a limited time, but I will tell you the exceptions to this rule later, because it’s not the case for every contract. In almost all cases responsibilities are limited, meaning even if you get a higher level contract agent position, e.g. Function level IV, which is Administrator level, then, for instance, you will not be a team leader.

There are less opportunities for career advancement. This means that advancement is a possibility, just the pace of advancement is much slower than it is for officials.

There are fewer mobility options. Again, just as an example, if you are in the Delegation, it will not be easy to move on to the headquarters, or at that point you would have to change from indefinite contract to a definite contract. Or if you are in one of the Executive Agencies, since you are linked to that agency, you can not change to another agency that easily.

And finally, the salary is usually lower for contract agents.

Andras Baneth: Perhaps to summarise it briefly: It’s a foot in the door. It’s a way to enter the EU Institutions with certain limitations, but it provides you necessary work experience, a better understanding of the Institutions, and in the end it can pay off. It’s a step into the realm of EU jobs.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

POSTS & CONDITIONS FOR CONTRACT AGENTS [00:10:06]

Andras Baneth: Let’s take a look at the posts and conditions for contract agents, because it’s an important aspect of what you can expect and has certain impact on the selection part as well. 

Anna Schmidt: There are definite and indefinite contract possibilities with these contract agent posts. This means that the 3B type of contract agent positions are for a definite duration. These contract agents are usually employed in the larger EU Institutions, for example the Commission. If you get a post in one of the DGs that will be for a limited period of time. But this also means, which I think is quite positive, that you are permitted to apply to internal competitions. This is, as András mentioned, a foot in the door to a Functioner post.

Then there are the 3A contracts, which are defined by staff regulations, which some of you may know already. These regulations establish the rules for employing people in the EU Institutions. So, the 3A contract agents are employed in the Executive Agencies and also in the Delegations for indefinite periods of time. These agents cannot participate in the internal competitions for the Executive Agencies.

Let’s move on to the Delegations. These agents can also get indefinite contracts, but with access to internal competitions. Which is, again, a favourable condition for those serving in the delegations outside of the EU.

Then there are regulatory agencies as well, who can be found in most of the member states. They also employ a variety of temporary contract agents

Andras Baneth:  Just to sum it up, essentially all of these are contract agent posts with the categories for each type of contract, with slightly different overall descriptions. But all of them fall under the headings of CAST Exams and Contract Agent Exams.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

WHAT IS THE CAST EXAM? [00:12:47]

Anna Schmidt: CAST stands for ‘Contract Agents Selection Tool’. What does that mean exactly? It is an open-ended Contract Agent selection process, introduced quite recently actually, in 2016. There was a pilot exam already in 2016. 

These competitions are organised by EPSO in order to improve transparency. And just to clarify what that means, before these official CAST exams were created, you could already get Contract Agent positions in the Institutions. But the problem was the process of selection and recruitment was very much not transparent. Meaning available posts were not really published or advertised anywhere, and once they did find a candidate there was just a simple interview and they received a position indefinitely. EPSO saw the need for a more transparent and fair recruitment process, meaning anyone who would like a Contract Agent post should have to pass a test. They introduced the pilot program in 2016 for just the Agencies. And then from 2017 it was made official throughout, and now only those who pass EPSO CAST Exam process can get Contract Agent positions.

The selection exams include verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning tests, and field-related competency test.

Andras Baneth:  That is something we’ll come back to in much more details because we’re pretty sure that you are very interested in how these compare to the Administrator or Assistant exams, and especially what the field-related competency is, and what the best sources are that you can use for preparation.

Anna Schmidt: These exams are completed in test centres located throughout Europe, not just Brussels. The tests are made up of multiple-choice questions which we will talk about a little bit later in more detail.

  • Andras Baneth:  And there was one question which I will quickly address: If you apply for and take the CAST Exams can you also apply for and take the AD and AST exams? You absolutely can. There is no exclusivity when it comes to these exams, you can take any open competition.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

CURRENT CAST PROFILES & FUNCTION GROUPS [00:16:05]

This is just a quick overview of the currently published profiles on EPSO’s website and the so-called ‘function groups’.

These days you can apply for any variety of posts in finance, project management, secretarial positions, political affairs, law and many more. Basically different Function Groups mean different levels for those performing the duties. Function Group II is a more entry level style of responsibilities, while FG III is a little bit more advanced but still an assistant level job, FG IV is comparable to an AD5 level position. But I would immediately like to add here that, of course, very often, there is overlap in responsibilities between the function groups. Meaning that in a Function group III post officially you have less important responsibilities, sometimes this is simply because of budgetary restrictions and the Institutions prefer to employ people at a lower grade but you may still be able to perform duties which are of higher importance than applicable to that function group.

For some people, this is great news. For example, even in Function Group III you could be a legal advisor. But in practice you also must remember that it is not easy to change to a higher function group once you’ve started out at a lower one. This is just to explain that your responsibilities may not always correspond to your Function Group, which can be very wonderful and very frustrating at the same time.

Andras Baneth: Just to emphasize this comes into play after you’ve passed the exam and you are in the actual job. For selection purposes these are formal groups to which you apply.
Here are one or two questions which might be worth addressing, though we will come back to this later. 

  • Q: Is it possible to take an EPSO CAST Exam without applying to a concrete Function Group?

Anna Schmidt: You can register in the database, definitely, yes, meaning you don’t have to apply for anything specific. What is important, however, is that you cannot sit the exam without being invited by a recruiting service. A recruiting service needs to choose your CV and your application and send you for testing. This usually happens when they want you to fill a concrete position. Once you are in the database you will only be invited to take the exams if your application is relevant to a specific post, and a recruiting service would like you to take the tests and would like to interview you afterwards.

I saw another question which was quite interesting. One of you asked:

  • Q: Can we apply for several Function Groups? 

A: Yes, within the same field and actually it is better to apply to more than one. For example if you apply for both FG III and FG IV and you pass the FG IV test you automatically pass the FG III test as well. Simply the higher function group applies to the lower function groups.

Andras Baneth: Does that need to be decided at the time of application or only once you are called to sit the test?

Anna Schmidt: I will give you some tips on the best way to apply. In my viewpoint it is best to apply to as many function groups as interest you and as many profiles as possible where you have relevant experience.

Andras Baneth: Let’s take an example, for instance if you studied Political Science or Law you might have a relevant profile for Political Affairs, EU Policies, you might have an applicable profile for law, and there might be one or two others. Within those profiles you may be eligible for FG III and for FG IV.

Anna Schmidt:  Go for all!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CAST & OTHER EPSO COMPETITIONS [00:21:29]

Anna Schmidt: EPSO Competition are announced regularly, while you can apply for CAST competitions at any time, there’s no deadline and there is testing every month, basically an ongoing, monthly possibility, to apply for a CAST position.
For EPSO competitions you need to submit your applications by a deadline. While for CAST competitions you register yourself in the database to participate but there’s no deadline for that. In brackets I will say there are times when agencies are looking for something specific, like a legal advisor, and in this case there will be a deadline given for the application. Then you do have to be registered in the database by a certain deadline. There are different processes for selecting candidates from the CAST database, so sometimes there is a deadline.

For EPSO competitions everyone who applies and is eligible gets to sit the computer-based tests. While in the CAST competitions the HR departments search for and select applicants from the database to send for computer-based testing. 

Andras Baneth: Here is an important question from Christian asking:

  • Q: After we are registered in the database, what should we do, if anything, to be selected by HR services?

This is another point we’ll come back to but let’s address it right now. 

Anna Schmidt: There are several things you can do. It’s a huge database filled with thousands  upon thousands of CVs. Therefore it is good if you can somehow reach out to HR Services directly. For instance if you have an existing network in the Institutions that can help you reach out to the right person, simply so they know about you and  just to say ‘Hi I’m here, I’m an expert, I’m interested, I’m looking for a job, and so on. Spontaneous applications are a good idea as well, they may not always get through to the right person, but you never know and it is worth a try. 

I will also be giving you tips later on how to improve your application in order to be found in the database - so, how can you stand out from the thousands and thousands.

Moving on, in EPSO competitions you have to get one of the highest scores to be invited to the next stages of the competition, while in the CAST competition reaching the pass mark for each test is good enough. So that’s a pretty huge difference between the two types of competition.

Then the EPSO competition tests are designed to eliminate candidates while for the CAST competitions you simply need to pass the test to be invited for job interviews, so your marks will not count which is very important.

Lastly, for the EPSO competitions you need to be on a ‘Reserve List’ to get invited to job interviews while the CAST is technically not a competition, so you are not competing directly against each other. You can all reach the pass mark and all be invited for interviews, so there is no real competition against each other.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE CAST SELECTION PROCESS [00:26:10]

Andras Baneth: Let’s look at the various steps which we divided into 6 parts for the selection process. We’ll walk you through it because it might be a little confusing, at least this is what I find from questions I often get from people, where there’s quite a bit of confusion on which step follows which one, do you register first, do you take the exam first, when does your preference come into play about which area you’d like to apply for and which jobs you are eligible for.

Anna Schmidt:

  • STEP 1 - Fill in the application form which will be added to the CAST database. This is very important and, of course, without this you will never be able to take a CAST exam. 

Andras Baneth: Let’s discuss what the application entails. Does it need to be optimized, do you need to be very verbose, very detailed about your profile and what your preferences are, should you stack it with keywords, is that a good technique or is it purely a formality?

Anna Schmidt: András is already covering some important questions indeed. I have sat on the other side, so I know how a recruiter looks through the database. It’s a bit like a Google search. There is a search option where recruiters can search based on certain keywords. Just as an example, I had to search for engineers with experience working with raw materials. So I simply put ‘raw materials’ in as my search phrase. I received all sorts of non-relevant results, but I did get 60-70 relevant CVs. Another example for instance, I did a search for mining engineers and I received a lot of results about ‘data mining’ which of course was not what I was looking for.

It’s good to have detailed CVs with lots of information to make your profile more relevant. Also, yes, use many, many keywords, repeatedly, which are relevant to your profile.

Andras Baneth: By the way, Anna, just as a little offshoot question: You probably don’t want to make your CV too long and visually unappealing, but perhaps could you add a little section at the end listing keywords? Could you put ‘tags’ that would describe your profile? For example for you the ‘tags’ would be: #HR #recruitment #interview techniques #cognitive psychology...:?

Anna Schmidt: I think this is a very good idea. Of course you want to make your CV appealing, but I suggest you can make it a two-page CV or maximum four, as in the case of Europass CVs, I say make it a bit longer, no problem.

  • STEP 2 - Upload your CV. Many people only fill in the application form, but you should upload your CV as well. 
  • STEP 3 - The recruiting services selects you to sit the CAST exam. This may happen because you applied for a published job OR you were invited via the ‘CAST search’ process. Just to go into a little more detail: There are basically two ways to get a contract agent post. One of them is that a post was published somewhere and you applied to that post, but also you are already also in the CAST database. The other way is simply saving your application and CV to the CAST database and then wait to be found through a recruiter’s CAST search in the database. Just so you know, many agencies and delegations only do CAST searches, they simply don’t publish open positions. If you are particularly interested in working at a regulatory agency in a certain country then check their website. If you see no info about open positions has ever been published by that agency, then they only do CAST searches. But if you see there are open positions published on the website then apply to the post directly and also keep your CAST application active in the database.

Andras Baneth: A question I actually want to ask on behalf of our listeners whether a CV should be Europass format or any other format? What is your suggestion? I have quite strong personal views about the Europass format with all respect, which is rather critical. But in terms of the institutions what do you suggest for candidates?

Anna Schmidt: What I would say is use the Europass format, but feel free to modify it a bit. So you can simply save it to your own computer and cut out some of the spaces and delete parts which are not relevant. It’s just easier for recruiters to compare candidates based on the same style of CV, that is why they prefer it.

Andras Baneth: I think there were some efforts recently to revise and update the Europass format, so we certainly support that endeavor.

Anna Schmidt: Yes, absolutely. And I always suggest to add elements which are not, let’s say, allowed by the system, but if you save it to your own computer you can make modifications.

  • STEP 4 - Computer-based testing takes place every month

Andras Baneth: Okay let’s take a look at the computer-based tests because that’s an interesting part which happens regularly.

Anna Schmidt: The preparation is pretty similar as it would be for an EPSO competition, which is practice numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning regularly. You also have to pass the field-related questionnaire, depending on which profile you go for. These will also be multiple choice questions. 

  • STEP 5 - If you pass the CAST exam (reasoning tests and field tests) the recruiting service which invited you to sit the exam is obligated to interview you. Many people don’t know about this obligation. So if you pass the exams and are not invited to an interview after, then you can file a complaint with EPSO because that is against the rules.

Andras Baneth:  This is an important point. You are invited to the tests, you pass them and then you are not invited for an actual interview… Here’s a relevant question coming in: How long should you wait, how patient should you be? What happens if you are not invited for 2-3 months?

Anna Schmidt: Well, that’s definitely too long (2-3 months). How it should happen - you sit the exam. Results are usually out within a month. After that the interview should take place within 3-4 weeks time. If you are not contacted you can send a reminder - if you know who sent you, because sometimes you will not know. If you don’t know you can write an email to EPSO to help get that information to ensure you get an interview.

  • STEP 6 - If you successfully pass the selection process, including the interview, you may get offering a position or role in a delegation, agency or one of the main EU institutions.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

11 FREQUENTLY ASKED CAST QUESTIONS ANSWERED [00:35:25]

  1. If I fail a CAST test, can I repeat it? Yes, definitely yes but you will need to wait for 6 months to be tested again. Your data will be stored, so they know when you took it last and in 6 months time you can try again. For the reasoning tests you can take the exam again for the same or higher function group(s). You can retake the competency tests for the same or higher function group(s) within that particular CAST profile. Also, a re-do after this time elapses doesn’t happen automatically. This is important: you need to be selected again by an institution / agency before getting another chance to sit the exams. Therefore, it’s the same process all over again, and you need to wait be invited by a recruiter service to sit the exams again. I see a question here: If one fails the CAST exams is it possible to take the EPSO AD exams within the six month waiting period? Absolutely yes. There is no connection between these two types of competitions.
  2. May I apply to several profiles and function groups? Yes, you can, and I also strongly advise you do that. You will have a much better chance if you have applied in several different function groups and profiles. Make sure to tailor your application specifically to each one.
  3. Is it possible that a recruiting service may want to interview me first before inviting me to take the computer-based tests? Yes, sometimes recruiting services do a pre-interview before sending people to sit the CAST exam. In this case the recruiter wants to make sure that they are only sending people to sit the exams who they are truly interested in.
  4. If I’m working in the institutions with a different type of temporary contract (as a temporary agent, national expert) and I’m close to the end of my contract, is it a good idea to ask my hierarchy to invite me to sit a CAST exam? This is something that’s definitely worth doing if you are interested in a contract agent contract as well. If you have already sat the CAST exam previously, this may improve your chances of finding a new post. This is a good thing to do simply because sometimes recruitment services are looking for people who have already passed their CAST exams so they don’t need to wait for candidates to go through the whole process starting with getting invited to sit the test, then waiting for the next exams and then waiting for the result so until they can interview a candidate they may have to wait 2-3 months. So if you are already in the institutions and you can lobby your head of unit or your HR department then ask them to send you for a CAST. This may not mean you will have an interview, often this means that you sit the tests without an interview, but having the CAST exam in your pocket will help you in the future to find a post more easily.
  5. Is the field-related competency test EU specific or not? It is not necessary to have prior experience in the EU Institutions in order to pass these tests, but this exam does require some preparation. You need to have some prior knowledge and experience of that field. I see another question here now: I worked for six years in the Commission and have now been working for ten years as a contractual agent. Is it possible to go back to work in the commission from here? Yes, but I have to admit I’m not sure how long you have to wait until you can go back. There is a period of time you have to wait before going back though.
  6. Are the verbal, numerical and abstract tests for CAST as difficult as the AD competitions? As you only need to reach a threshold (pass mark) the tests are somewhat easier but still require proper preparation. All you have to do is reach that pass mark, and after that nobody cares what your marks are. These tests, although a bit easier, can be a bit tricky especially if you’re taking them for the first time, so proper practice and preparation is key. 
  7. Is it enough for me to simply apply for a contract agent post? No, it is not. You may be required to send your CV and cover letter to the place of recruitment, as well as submit a CAST application. These are two separate processes. As mentioned earlier, sometimes it is not enough to just be registered in the database but you also need to express your interest in a certain published post. This is certainly something important to take into account. 
  8. Is it possible to ‘upgrade’ from a contract position attained through the CAST process to a permanent role? (e.g. an administrator at the EU commission)? András Baneth: I think this is of concern to a lot of people. We mentioned ‘the foot in the door’ - can you actually enter the house and stay there?  Anna Schmidt: There is no possibility to upgrade. However, depending on the type of contract, you may be allowed to participate in internal competitions, which are somewhat easier than the external competitions and with fewer steps. 
  9. How often will I need to sit the CAST Exam? If you successfully pass each test the Reasoning tests are valid for 10 years for the same or lower function groups and the Competency test results are valid for 5 years for that specific profile in the same or lower function groups. This is important for example if you pass a CAST exam but don’t manage to pass the interview phase, then at least you have the CAST exam phase done and you can go for interviews within the given time frame.
  10. If I pass the CAST tests, but want to improve on my scores can I take the tests again? Is there an advantage in having a very high exam score? Not really, the CAST exam is just about passing, not about your scores. The scores are not given to the recruiting services, just whether you have passed or not. 
  11. If I am invited to a cast interview will it be like an EPSO competency-based interview or different? This will be a proper job interview, which may include similar elements as the competency based interview, but it is different. Expect to be asked very specific and technical questions about the profile type you are being interviewed for. There will be questions about your background and your motivation. There could be competency-based questions, but not necessarily only those types of questions.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF SUCCESS [00:46:20]

We have already mentioned this, but I cannot emphasize it enough: apply to as many fields as possible as long as they are relevant to your profile. Submitting multiple applications does not necessarily increase the chances of you being pre-selected but you have more chances in more fields. Don’t forget to tailor your application to each profile. Always apply with a different, tailored application for each different profile.

Upload your CV as well, with lots of keywords. This will further serve your profile being more searchable. The application is not enough, always upload a CV as well.

Make sure to use keywords that are relevant to the profile. 

András Baneth: Finding keywords, or deciding which keywords to use partially depends on you because you are the one who has studied a certain area. You may want to look through a couple of relevant job descriptions or vacancy notices to familiarize yourself with the keywords that the Institutions/Agencies/Delegations use. Make sure that the terminology you use matches theirs. Don’t necessarily invent new keywords or just use the ones learned at university.

  • Anna Schmidt: Agnieszka has a great question here - I need to pass the CAST in order to extend my contract (I was here for 3 years but have the possibility to extend for another 3). Is the procedure the same? Will I need to be invited for an interview or will my contract be extended without the interview?

Yes, it’s the same procedure. There are many people currently working as contract agents who have not yet passed the CAST exam, simply because the CAST was introduced relatively recently. Do you need to be invited for an interview, not necessarily. They may just simply say they know you do your job very well and will extend your contract without an interview. There is not an absolute need for the interview.

András Baneth: Another tip we’d like to share aside from the keywords is to indicate your ongoing interest. Make sure that you update your application and perhaps even your CV every couple of months.

Anna Schmidt: You have to do it every six months, otherwise you will not be visible any more in the system. 

  • András Baneth: Here is a question that perhaps others would be interested in: Does it make sense from a recruiter perspective to update your application and CV every three months? Do you get the results in the database according to the most recent updates? Or is the search tool simply based on keywords and other factors, therefore updating it every two weeks, five months, etc, would not make any difference in the search results.

Anna Schmidt: It doesn’t really make any difference. The most important are using the keywords.

Here is another question: I have been selected to sit the CAST exam. Do I get to choose when I take the exam or is this determined by the recruitment service?
They will give you a choice of dates, I believe, but the recruiter determines what those dates will be. They will probably give you 2-4 dates to choose from.

  • András Baneth: Here is another question which we’d like to address at this point, as I think it’s relevant for many of you: If you pass the reasoning tests, but fail the competency test, do you need to sit the reasoning tests again, or just the competency test?

Anna Schmidt: Just the competency test.

Moving on, this we have already mentioned, but I think it’s a good idea to lobby for yourself. There’s a greater chance that the institution / agency will find you if they know about you. Andras, maybe you have some suggestions as you know quite a lot about lobbying.

András Baneth: The best lobbying serves an existing need. It’s very hard to create a need, in terms of recruiting you, if there is no need among the institutions or a given department for a position you are applying for. You need to observe the developments in your field partly, and making sure that your profile truly matches the one you are applying for. If you have a linguistic background and your applying for a position in financial services it might be a difficult sell. But if, politically speaking, there certain areas which are very relevant and popular, e.g. thinking of the key priorities of the incoming commission president or looking at certain EU agencies and their tasks becoming more important and therefore they want to recruit and that matches your profile that is a great opportunity. If you are on the radar of those services, you’ve passed the necessary tests, you’ve perhaps already had interviews then you are certainly in a much better position, then it’s just up to you to do everything in your power to get yourself noticed, even willingness to go for an interview on very short notice, or you are able to relocate if the job happens to be in a different country. All of these things matter.

We actually offer quite a few free and premium paid resources focusing on how to land an EU Job. There is the paid webinar on How To Get An EU Job From The Reserve List, which is mostly targeted at EPSO candidates, EPSO as in the Administrator and Assistant competitions, and how to optimize your CV. There is also 14 Tips for an EU Career which offers a lot of tips and that’s a free webinar.

Anna Schmidt: Okay, let’s look at the next tip. When you are invited to sit the computer-based tests, take your preparation seriously. As you know, you only need to reach the pass mark, but this is not as easy as you think. Especially if it’s your first time or if you go into the exam unprepared. To pass the reasoning tests (verbal, numerical, abstract) consistent and regular practice over a number of weeks is key. Do lots of simulation tests to enhance your skills in the areas being tested.

András Baneth: In terms of practice, it’s vital to be prepared. Because you have limited opportunities to pass those tests, referring back to Anna talking about the rules of how often you can retake it, if at all. So, once you are given a chance, use it wisely and make sure you are best prepared to pass those exams. You don’t need to have very high scores, you just need to pass with a good enough mark. But the competition is still fierce, therefore practicing and being fully ready for the competition is really important.

Anna Schmidt: Then, what else can you do to prepare for the field competency test? 
Join the "EPSO CAST Exams" facebook group to read feedback from other’s experiences.
Practice competency test simulations available on EU Training for each CAST profile (a good resource to prompt further topics to research and read up on).
Refresh your general knowledge and do some research on the profile you are being interviewed for.

András Baneth: A couple of other points to add, when you are preparing for the competency test we assume that’s your background, that’s what you studied and you have the relevant profile, that is the area that you allegedly know the most about. Having said that, you probably want to revise the latest developments and what might be interesting for the Institutions. One of my key, go-to resources are the Annual Reports. These are good reference points to start with. Even if the reports are very comprehensive and long, you can just skim through it and read the executive summary to get a rough idea of the key important topics in that field. Another pretty good resource tends to be press releases, because they are rather short and to the point about the latest developments. These two resources should help you get up to speed in a given area.

  • Anna Schmidt: Here is an interesting question: If I pass an FG III Project Management profile am I eligible for the FG II, including Finance and other fields, or do I need to retake the competency test for the relevant field?

You are eligible but you don’t have the test for that yet. So what you need to do is apply for both tests, you can go for the higher level test and then you will automatically get the lower function group as well, in case your name has been indicated for both of those profiles. So you don’t have to sit it twice, you just go for the FG III, then you are automatically in for the FG II as well in case your name was indicated for both of them. But not in all cases and not in other fields. So, if you go for Project Management both in FG III and FG II then if you pass the FG III that covers the FG II as well. Your FG III in Project Management does not cover FG II in Finance, so you would have to take the field competency test for each of those profiles.

András Baneth: So it is rather vertical in that sense, with the higher level taking priority over the lower. 

Anna Schmidt: Now some CAST Selection interview tips. Some of you have already asked in the chat whether we have tips for this. 

  1. As the competition is usually very high, make sure to prepare well for your interview. Sometimes there’s only one post available in your field and many people applying for it, so you want to be the best prepared. In the case of Executive Agencies sometimes they do reserve lists themselves, meaning they interview several people and maybe they don’t offer a position to everybody but they create a reserve list which is valid for a year usually these get extended as well. But it’s important to know you still have to pass an interview in front of a panel made up of 3 or 4 recruiters. These are quite serious interviews.
  2. Be ready to present yourself and explain your motivation. Most likely you will be asked some technical questions related to the job and also competency based questions are possible. Of course these questions will vary depending on the field and position you are applying for, but usually there is a common thread.
  3. Booking a personal coaching session with an EU career professional may enhance your chances of success.
  • András Baneth: There was a question here: Which competencies would be the most relevant to emphasize or to improve when it comes to the CAST interviews?

Anna Schmidt: I would say that Working with Others is very common - how you work in an intercultural environment, how you’re able to work with people coming from different backgrounds. Resilience is also common, when you have to work under pressure or a tight deadline. Another one is Learning and Development - these are very common competencies to be asked.

Count on there being at least one negative question, they love to ask for examples of when you failed or when you couldn’t manage something well. So, be prepared for both positive and negative questions.

András Baneth: Another aspect to this is what happens when you have done an interview but you were not selected for the job? What are you supposed to do then? Apart from proving your resilience and not giving up?

Anna Schmidt: That’s what I wanted to say - don’t give up! As I said, you have better chances, especially in the big institutions, for example there are plenty of Contract Agents employed in the Commission, and many positions are not advertised. Especially if you have a very specific profile or you think you would fit into one DG better than another, then that is the time to lobby yourself, send your CV around, make it knows you already passed the CAST exam, because it’s relatively easy to employ you after that. Because from there it’s just an interview and you can be on board. This is something recruiting services will appreciate.

András Baneth: You mentioned something really important, which might sound really obvious to some of you, but not so intuitive to others - and that’s emphasize that you’ve passed the CAST selection process. This may not be entirely clear or obvious, or even directly available as a piece of information to the recruitment services or to the actual DGs or units that are hiring. They many not bother to make the effort to look your name up in the database to see if you have passed or not. You need to spoon feed that information via your cover letter, e.g. ‘I have passed this and this CAST exam, therefore I am eligible for the next step, here I am’ etc. 

  • Anna Schmidt: And here’s a question: So, if I’m not invited, I cannot sit the CAST Exam?

Yes, this is correct. So, you have to be invited to sit the exam. That’s the difficult step in this process - how to get invited. 

  • András Baneth: Here’s another question slightly related to this: What is the difference between an application and a CV?

Anna Schmidt: The application is the official form to fill out in the CAST database when you apply for the CAST exams, you have to fill in certain fields (your name, birth date, phone number, achievements, etc), same as everyone else. Then you can upload your CV.

  • András Baneth: Another question came in regarding the test timing. Anna, you already mentioned that you are given a couple of date options, which one of our listeners confirmed that that was her experience and she had to take the test within 10 days. So is there a possibility that there won’t be time to prepare for the test, that there will be a very short time frame between the invitation and the actual exam?

Anna Schmidt: This is not usually the case. But, of course, there are always exceptions. They should give you more notice, but it could happen that they need to rush it and you only get 10 days, especially around holiday periods.

András Baneth: Perhaps it also relates to urgent recruitment needs, or is this less of a factor?

Anna Schmidt: I think that’s less of a factor. What happens is the recruitment services have to indicate the names of people they want to have tested by a given date. But sometimes things don’t run so smoothly and testing dates get pushed back, and there are many factors involved.
I would like to emphasize that you will usually have more than 10 days to prepare, but, unfortunately, sometimes you’ll only have 10 days - just go for it!

András Baneth: I think it’s like being prepared for a sports competition, where you don’t know necessarily know when it’s happening, you need to keep your muscles strong and stay in good shape, or in this case your skill set, so you can be deployable even at short notice.

  • A few rapid-fire questions: Are the CAST exams always in Brussels?

Anna Schmidt: You can choose your test centre, the tests can be taken in any of the member states, but not outside the EU. There are also limited possibilities within the EU, for example in Italy, I think it’s only available in Milan and Rome. So, it’s not available in every city, the choices are limited within the member states.

  • András Baneth: Another quick question: Is working experience a must in CAST competitions?

Anna Schmidt: I would say it’s not a must but it depends. You will need to check the eligibility criteria for the different function groups. I’m not sure what the minimum is but I would say at least one year of experience is necessary, but you can check this. Read the eligibility criteria to find out. For example FG IV only those with university degrees can apply. Therefore, you should be clear with the eligibility criteria before applying to any of these.

  • András Baneth: Another quick question: If I was invited to take the CAST exam, is it possible to postpone it?

Anna Schmidt: It’s not easy to do when you already have the invitation. As I said you will have a few dates to choose from. But moving it to an entirely different month, this is not a good idea because the recruitment services may lose their interest in you and choose another candidate. Just keep in mind it is a lengthy process just to fill one position. By the time you get invited, take the test and then get invited for an interview - this can take 3 or more months, so postponing anything is just not a good idea.

András Baneth: To emphasize this point - the whole CAST process serves a very specific and timely need for the given unit / department. So, if you postpone it by 1 or 2 months, the need may no longer be there.

  • The interview - where does it take place?

Anna Schmidt: Usually the interview takes place at the place of recruitment. But if it’s in the Delegation, for example, then it might be a Skype interview. Also, if you are located outside of Brussels and the position is in Brussels then they might prefer to use Skype. But very often, for instance if it’s an Agency running a large recruitment process, then they are willing to pay the cost of travel fees. Most often the interview is with the recruiter in person.

  • András Baneth: Another fairly technical and practical question: Once a person is hired as a contract agent, is the first contract for 1 year or 3 years? And is it renewed year after year? 

Anna Schmidt: It’s hard to give a definitive answer because it depends. I do know that in the case of indefinite contracts there was a recent change in the implementation rules, which means modifications of the staff regulations. Before this change you first signed a two-year contract, then a one-year extension and after that you were given an indefinite contract for the lifetime of the agency. But this has changed to 1 year + 1 year extension and then an indefinite contract. You do have to serve a 9 month probationary period as well.

  • András Baneth: Another question that came in and then we’ll look at a couple of resources we recommend: In the application form there are a couple of questions about your general interests, your contribution to the EU, your strengths. If there is no specific vacancy yet how should you answer these questions?

Anna Schmidt: Yes, you are right, it’s not easy to give specific answers at this point. But what I would suggest is that for example when you list your achievements use generic competencies that would work for any competition. Also really think about your motivation to work in the EU. What makes you stand out from the crowd? How are you different than the others? These general answers should cover any vacancy that comes up.

András Baneth: We have a webinar about the Motivation part of the EPSO competitions, complete with a transcript and everything. So definitely check that out for some great tips. 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PREPARATION RESOURCES [01:12:23]

Let’s look at a couple of resources and come back to the questions in a bit.

Here are the preparation resources we suggest. Anna mentioned the EPSO CAST Facebook community. If you’re on Facebook join this group to engage with other candidates, learn from their experiences, hear about rumours with the caveat that they are rumours. You can get very technical information from those who have passed the exams and have been in your shoes.

There is also Application Assistance. We offer this as a service for your CAST application, for your CV. You can send a request to us for these. This is a paid service because our experts pay dedicated focused attention to your profile. We’ve received positive feedback about how this is a very helpful way to tailor your application and have it stand out from the pool of candidates.

Then there are many webinars to help you prepare.

You could also do some simulated practice tests, including the field-related competency test which helps you focus on the topics you need to understand when you are preparing for the specific tests.

The mantra is ‘Practice makes perfect!’ Watch this space and join the next CBT training session: Master the EPSO Computer-based Tests

We also offer personal coaching for the CAST computer-based tests and also for the interview.
One-on-one coaching sessions with an EPSO expert
Sessions are tailored according to your needs, but can include:
- Highlighting improvement opportunities
- Exam strategies development and best practices
- Exam methodology clarification with practice tests
Coaching sessions available via Skype, or in person at our training venue in Brussels

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

QUESTIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS:

  • What about Blue Book traineeship, does this help make you more eligible?

Anna Schmidt: This is something recruiters will always value, if you already have some experience and understanding of how things work. It’s not a key selection criteria for them but it definitely gives you an advantage.

  • When we are lobbying for ourselves, to what level is it best to send our ‘spontaneous applications’? Policy officer, head of unit, director? What is your advice?

Anna Schmidt: Definitely try with the Head of Unit level and maybe HR services as well. I wouldn’t really go higher than that because I don’t think it makes any sense. They will not have the time to look at your application. A Director General will not read the CVs.

András Baneth: I agree with that. There was a question earlier about How can one find the HR services? There are transparent and easily accessible  organisational charts for each department, the Commision DG, any agencies, or any other EU Institution. There is also the Who is who in the EU? You can look up any head of unit, etc. Just remember, they may not get back to you if it’s a spontaneous application, but it is worth a try, especially if your profile matches.

  • Is it smart to refuse an invitation to take the CAST exam if there is a very short preparation period given? Will you be blocked from taking the exams later? What are the risks?

Anna Schmidt: My advice is never to refuse an invitation to sit the exam. It is not easy to get to the point of being invited. If you were selected from the thousands then go for it. But if you for some reason decide not to go for it, you will not be blocked and you will stay available in the database.

  • In terms of the difficulty of the tests, is it similar to AD level? When you’re preparing for FG III or IV, would that be comparable to the AD level abstract, verbal, numerical? 

András Baneth: I would say yes. And make sure that your practicing at a level that will be more difficult than the exam, otherwise you will be quite surprised.

Anna Schmidt: I think the main difference between the two tests is what I’ve already said - that with the CAST you just have to reach the minimum threshold, and the actual final marks do not matter. Otherwise, the style of the tests is similar.

  • Here’s a question about the  CAST of 2007. Those who have been in the EU system long enough to remember that version, is this still searchable by recruiting services? That was the old system which as far as I’m aware has been replaced and overtaken by the new one. Anna, do you have any experience with that, or did you use that old version? 

{Response submitted by a webinar participant: The CAST 2007 database is still searchable but can no longer be updated and the CAST is valid.}

  • Is the CAST valid regardless of the institution that invited you? So, if I pass the test after I’ve been invited by the Commission can I later participate in an interview with the Parliament?

Anna Schmidt: Absolutely, yes. This is something that is valid for everyone after passing the CAST exams. In the recruitment portal, under your name all the competitions and CAST exams are visible. So, if you have passed a functioneer exam, that will be visible as well.

  • What about language? In which language are these exams? Is it mostly English or other languages too?

Anna Schmidt: Very good question. I strongly suggest if you are more interested in the French services then fill out the application in French, if you are more interested in the English services then fill it out in English. Unfortunately, the system is not able to translate. Therefore, if the recruitment services is searching in English, and you chose French for your application, then your CV will not come up in the search even if it is a perfect match. If you are interested in a delegation in a French-speaking country, then use French. So, this depends on where your language interests lie.

András Baneth: In formal terms, what the law requires according to the Notice of Competition for Language 1 you need minimum level C1 so that’s pretty much native level in one of the EU’s 24 official languages. For Language 2 it’s English, French or German, as long as it’s different from Language 1.

Anna Schmidt: It’s important not to be shy about your language knowledge. It’s a clear mistake to indicate you only have a B1 level, when you are right on the cusp of B2, just fill in B2 because you may get excluded otherwise. 

  • What about recruitment services? Are they obliged to give information to successful candidates in the CAST exams regarding the process. Or are candidates only allowed to contact HR services of the institutions or perhaps EPSO?

Anna Schmidt: Before testing you will not receive any information, you probably won’t even know who has sent you for testing. Once you have a successful CAST exam then you will receive further information about the recruitment process. So, yes, then they have to give you information on what the recruitment process is about. Sometimes there is only the written test required, sometimes the interview too, they also have to inform you about the panel - so there is plenty of information they are obliged to inform you about after you have passed successfully.

András Baneth: I think this is an important point to emphasize. It’s a bit of a black box at the beginning of the process. You do get an invitation to sit the test without actually knowing who’s behind it. 

Anna Schmidt:  Right. To sum it up, this process is more transparent than it was, but still not totally clear. 

András Baneth:  Just to zoom out a bit to look at where this comes from, this is essentially a hybrid of the classic EPSO selection system where they are looking for eligible candidates and there’s a pool of eligible candidates and on the CAST side they are looking for candidates for specific tasks, specific vacancies. So it’s a bit of a hybrid where they want to see your general eligibility showing your overall knowledge and skills while at the same time trying to place you in a specific job. Hence this semi-secrecy or lack of full transparency. They may test what your eligible for and you may go into a specific job interview and if that doesn’t work out you are still eligible for other posts in different EU institutions. 

  • How is language knowledge tested?

There’s no direct test on linguistic knowledge and you don’t need to show a certificate either, because ultimately you’ll need to sit the tests and ultimately you’ll need to go for the interview and that is when your language skills will be tested. 

  • Does speaking more than two languages make you a more interesting candidate? Or does this not matter so much?

Anna Schmidt: This depends on the profile of the job being offered. For example, if you are applying to the Delegation then speaking the local language is a big asset. In other cases it’s not that important. It really depends on the job you’re applying for.  In general, the more languages you speak the better it looks.

András Baneth: The question regime is that the Abstract, Numerical and Verbal reasoning tests are taken in Language 1. I’m proud to say EU Training has 17 languages available for verbal reasoning. The competency tests are in Language 2 (English, French or German).

  • There’s no lawyer-linguist profile in the CAST so is it wise to apply for the Translator CAST or Law CAST as a step towards long-term goals of working as a lawyer-linguist.

As a former lawyer-linguist I would say in this case it’s probably better to go for the linguist side, though I don’t have a very strong opinion on that because if your goal is to be a lawyer-linguist then you need to eventually apply for the EPSO AD competition. Showcasing your experience as a linguist or lawyer or translator would help you in any case.

  • There’s a question about RELEX (External Relations) Exam, my guess is that this is also still available but not active, and it’s not just for the Delegation but also the Agencies and other larger organizations. 

András Baneth: We will stop right here then. We have covered a lot of ground and we hope it was useful and informative for you. We relied on Anna’s insider knowledge and she has helped many, many candidates as a coach and trainer. 

Please reach out and send us a message if there is anything else we can help you with. 

Make sure to share this webinar with your friends who are also applying to CAST competitions.

Thank you for joining us and your active participation!