Gain professional insight about the 2019 EPSO Graduate Administrator (AD5) competition's Assessment Center from two EPSO experts who know the ins-and-outs of the EPSO exams and selection processes.
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2020 EPSO Assessment Centre Q&A TRANSCRIPT
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[00:00-04:50 - Information about the recording, sound check, introducing trainers, agenda, poll]
Andras Baneth / Anna Schmidt
THE EPSO ASSESSMENT CENTRE[00:04:50]
Anna: It is pretty normal to be stressed out about your upcoming Assessment Centre. We just want to reassure you that it’s normal. And if you need help with that aspect of the preparation at the end of this we are happy to give you some tips on that as well because it is relevant not only to be in top shape on the day, but during your preparation as well.
Andras: I see there is a question here - "What is the difference between AD (administrators), AST (assistants) and SC (secretaries) assessment centres?"
Anna: There is a difference to some extent. What I would emphasize more is that there’s a strong difference between generalist competitions and specialist competitions. In specialist competitions you would have an interview in the field of the competition itself. While in the generalist competition you don’t have that, but instead, like in the case of the AD5, there is a motivational interview. So there are, to some extent, different interviews and exams on the day of the Assessment Centre.
Another difference is that with specialist competitions, sometimes the computer-based tests (numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning) are done on the day of the Assessment Centre. But this information is always in the Notice of Competition.
What I would advise as the very first step is to always rely on the Notice of Competition, because that includes all the relevant information in regards to all the particular exams you will have to take on the day.
THE ROLE OF THE BEHAVIORAL COMPETENCIES [00:07:00]
There are 7+1 competencies that are tested by the EU Assessment Centre. What is important, and I’m replying to an earlier question, is that Leadership applies to the AD competitions only). The rest: Analysing & Problem Solving, Communication, Delivering Quality & Results, Prioritising & Organising, Learning & Development, Resilience and Working with Others, are tested for any group, whether it’s an Assistant level, SC level or AD level competition.
The idea behind these competencies is that no matter which position you’re applying for within the EU Institutions these general competencies are needed to do those jobs well. When the competency framework was established by the EU Institutions, these were identified as crucial soft skills, or general competencies, that are needed to do your job well in any kind of profile. These are always tested with different exams. Here is a matrix for the current AD5 Assessment Centre and as you can see each competency is checked by two examinations. Let’s look at Analysing and Problem Solving this will be checked with the Oral Presentation and it was already checked with the E-tray Exercise which some of you have passed already. All of these are checked by two tests. The only exception is the Motivational Interview which does not check general competencies, but as the name implies it checks your motivation, which is only assessed with this one interview.
These competencies are assessed through the different exercises using indicators. The assessors will look at your behaviour throughout those exercises. The indicators can be positive or negative. These positive and negative indicators will be evaluated during the examination. Working with others, for example, is usually assessed during the group exercise. If, for instance, you are including others in your decision-making during the group exercise, you are collaborative, asking others’ opinions and instead of only proposing own ideas you are integrating the team’s ideas, then this is definitely showing this positive indicator for Working with Others and you will receive high marks.
Andras: Here is a question from Constantinos who is asking "whether this is an official assessment grid?" It is not. The official assessment grid is confidential and we don’t have access to that. This is something we reconstructed with our occupational psychologist who understands what EPSO is looking for very well, and he created this based on his professional knowledge of assessment centers. It is probably very close to the real thing because this is how they would evaluate your behaviour.
To back up what Anna was saying, this is about observable behaviour. This is an extremely important part where you need to visibly demonstrate, in an observable manner these behaviours. If you consider yourself a great team player but you keep quiet for 30 minutes during the Group Exercise - well, you can be the best team player in the world, but if the assessors cannot observe you in action then you will get a very low score. It really is that sample, that time that you spend at the Assessment Centre that they take and extrapolate your behaviour on that basis.
Anna: As Andras said, it really needs to be demonstrated. Sometimes I get feedback from clients that have already been through an Assessment Centre, they are very surprised when they get their competency passport, because they thought they were strong, for example, in Leadership, however they got average feedback. All it means is that, on that day, throughout the different exercises, you didn’t manage to show it very well. It is very important, therefore, to demonstrate those competencies.
It is important to think through each competency and how you would actually show it, demonstrate it in front of others, make sure to visualize this and practice this.
This is a picture (0:13:02) of the Competency Passport, or overview that you would get. Once you have been through the Assessment Centre and you have been informed of the results, you will get this picture and also the points that you received for the different competencies. The scoring scale is 0-10 and you pass if you reach 3, that is the pass mark. It is pretty easy to reach this pass mark, but you want to score higher and be well above the average because that’s what counts, which, I would say, is the biggest challenge. It is very rare to get a 10 point score, this would mean you are absolutely outstanding. The 5-7 range tends to be the typical points scored.
THE CASE STUDY [00:14:15]
This is part of the Assessment Centre even though it is always on a separate day. It is a written simulation exercise in which you receive an assignment, a task to work through, accompanied by questions. These questions have to be answered in an essay format and you need to have a final written response, a properly formatted document, before the deadline, because this is done under strong time pressure.
I saw Giovanni’s question related to this – "Is the time limit 60 minutes? How to manage writing a nice, coherent text based on this realistic scenario within 60 minutes?" – Indeed it’s a challenge. We can provide tips on what we think works well in preparation for this. The biggest challenge is definitely the time limit. This is a task that normally you’d have five hours to deliver something acceptable. But under time pressure, within 60 minutes, this is a challenge for all of us.
As I already mentioned, this is usually an assignment related to a realistic scenario. For example, the scenario might be that you work for one of the DGs and you have to prepare a briefing for your Head of Unit. The task is to brief the director on the different aspects of the topic provided. This could be for example that the director is travelling to another member state and needs to be briefed on the topic unemployment in that country. Maybe you’ll have to list pros and cons about a possible new piece of legislation, give an overview of the existing legislation and provide recommendations. These are very typical questions that are asked on a case study, to provide pros and cons, recommendations, overviews.
What is important is to remember not to work on the basis of your background knowledge. Only use the information that is provided within the framework to complete the task.
What is assessed on a case study is different competencies. Any, or all, of these may be assessed, depending on the competition: Analysing & Problem Solving, Communication, Delivering Quality & Results and Prioritising & Organising. For these year’s AD5 three of these will be assessed.
And as mentioned, you need to complete the task in an essay format.
Andras: There was a question about the simulation exercises that you can buy on our website whether they are 90 minutes, they were but we’ve adapted them, and they are also 60 minutes.
And then there’s another question from Julianna "Should we include data, subject,recipient, would it be a hint to identify who we are?”
Anna: Recipient is actually one of the indicators for Communication. Therefore, it is very good if you address the note to the reader. It’s good if you show that you know who your audience is and if you adapt the content from that perspective, e.g. if it’s the general public you will write something different than if it’s a specialist.
You should avoid making it identifiable. For instance do not give yourself a fake name and never, ever use your own name because you will be failed immediately. But is okay to put the subject, recipient and even data if it’s from the background documents provided.
I see a question here - "Does the Audit Case Study also test knowledge?” No, the Audit case study only checks those general competencies.
Andras: Here is another question from Clara - "Do we have to use specific template depending on the type of document requested (note to the file, briefing...)?”
Anna: There are some common elements that I would advise you to use. For instance, it is a good idea to have an introduction and a conclusion. Unless it is a really particular assignment that would not allow for you to prepare an introduction or conclusion because you have to give three completely independent points. But usually it’s a very good idea to have a proper introduction and a proper conclusion. Also, they don’t really test the formatting. I would advise as a general format to include a proper title, date, maybe a cover email if you have the time for it. Then an introduction, conclusion and usually there are three questions, sometimes four, sometimes two, and those would be your headers within your text.
Andras: Barbara is asking what essay format actually means - "When you say 'essay' format - should we include journalistic style? or more a briefing style?"
I think the answer to this is briefing style. It’s more professional, you shouldn’t use a lot of metaphors, or an informal style, certainly keep it professional and formal. In terms of formatting using bullet points and a very clear structure will help you a great deal. Use relatively short paragraphs, segment your text into logical building blocks, highlight, although you cannot truly highlight, you can use all caps or numbers or dashes for formatting. All of this helps the reader understand the logical sequence in which you build up your arguments.
Anna: A couple more things: I would advise to use a more neutral format, so instead of using a lot of „I” statements, or „in my opinion” phrases, try to use more neutral language because in most cases they don’t expect you to form an argument.
Another thing I’d add is that according to our sources this year’s AD5 the old text editors will be used. You may have received different information because EPSO is actually updating their text editor, but as far as we know the old one will be used.
Andras: What is the difference?
Anna: The main difference is that there are more formatting options in the new one. There will be bold, italics and underline, which you don’t have in the old one.
Andras: Ok, and yes, this is a little plug for all the Simulations that you can access on the EU Training site, along with the Case Study Insights webinar. Just this week we are adding one case study in each of these languages German, Italian and Spanish, along with our usually case studies available in English and French. You can do just the simulation online, or you can also get an evaluation from one of our experts, and get personalised feedback on what you did right and where you need to improve. And in line with EPSO’s new format, EU Training’s Case Study Simulations are also now 60 minutes.
Anna: Here is one last question related to the Case Study - “Can we copy / paste from the background documents?” No, the copy / paste only works within your own text. Also, keyboard shortcuts are not available in the editor. What I would suggest is to try and summarise the information that is in those background documents.
THE COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW [00:25:15]
The next component of the Assessment Centre is the CBI, or the Competency-based Interview or the Structured Interview.
Anna: This is a type of interview where you will always be asked to give examples. For instance, for Learning & Development: “Tell me about a time when you needed to learn a complex new skill or procedure." You should always respond with one example, one real example from your past.
Another example, Resilience: “Tell us about a time you had to deal with a stressful situation at work” or Leadership: “Describe a change or achievement where you had to drive a team through or convince them of a change. How did you achieve this?”
Andras: I’d just like to point out two things before you come back to this, Anna. One is the Leadership competency. For those of you who are not that familiar yet with the EPSO system, Leadership is not management skills. It’s not about you managing a team or having any sort of authority over others in any of your previous jobs or in your current one. What Leadership is about in this context, as you see in this question, is persuasion, about showing an example, it’s about getting others to follow your example or your ideas without you having any formal authority over them. Leadership is something you can easily possess as a trainee.
The other thing is a question to you Anna, what is your opinion about using private, or not necessarily purely professional examples, as a reply to these questions. For instance, can I use the example of how I learned to dive for Learning & Development? Is that acceptable?
Anna: I strongly advise you to use more examples from a professional setting. But if from time to time, you mix in a non-professional example, for instance something sport-related, or for example if you play in a band and through that you want to show leadership about how you organised and coordinated your band’s participation in a music festival, this could be okay. It can sometimes be entertaining, especially if you have to give 15 examples from your past, then one or two could come from a private life experience. In general though, I would completely avoid anything related to your private life, although mixing it up a little bit is okay, it’s best to stick to professional experience. The main thing, however, is to demonstrate the competencies. So whatever the setting is, and of course it’s better if it’s professional experience, but you can demonstrate Leadership with a different example, not just professional, especially if you don’t have a lot of work experience, and here in the case of the AD5 competition, where no prior work experience is needed.
Andras: Here is another question - “Can the candidates use the same answer for different questions?”
Anna: You can use the same setting. For instance if you refer to a case you worked on at a law firm and it was a several months long case, you can use this example several times, just showing it from a different angle depending on the competency. For example for Learning & Development you could describe how/what you learned from a senior associate during this time, then you could show Resilience through describing the long hours working on this same case to meet deadlines, or maybe you can use the same situation to show Leadership by describing how you worked in a team and how you coordinated your team with the associates. So using one case you can always emphasise one, different aspect depending on which competency is being indicated. But, just to add, it is actually important to use different examples, it is not good to repeatedly use the same experience, from the assessors point of view as well.
Andras: And here is another question -: “Do all candidates get the same questions?”
Anna: Yes, they get the exact same questions. It’s a structured interview, and they make sure to compare oranges with oranges, and not oranges with bananas - if that makes sense?
Andras: Yes, it does. And it makes it relatively easy to prepare for it. In terms of what to expect there are no major surprises. Many candidates don’t score very high if they don’t prepare for it properly, because you need to have the examples at the top of your mind. You need to immediately be able to tell a story about your experience and frame it in a way that relates to the competency in question. This requires practice and a very deliberate study of these examples, otherwise it’s very hard to do this on the fly. If Anna asked me right this moment tell me about a time I had to deal with a stressful situation at work, I could probably recall something, but finding the most relevant example that truly demonstrates the point I want to make that’s the difficult part.
Anna: It’s not just finding the right example, it’s also being able to emphasize your actions demonstrating the competency. That is the key.
I think many of you already know this approach, the STAR method. With this methodology you build up your response to an example based question using STAR:
S = Situation, T = Task, or I also call it Trigger, so something that triggers your action, A = Action, R= Result.
If I was coaching you right now, I would definitely ask you what you think is the most important out of the four?
Andras: Actually, why don’t you type in which one you think is the most important?
Anna: Fantastic! I see lots of ‘action’ and a few ‘result’. Actions are the most important, because that is what demonstrates the competencies. You will not be able to demonstrate the competency through the result. It’s more about the ‘How?’ than the ‘What?’. The most common question to give an action answer is “How did you tackle that situation? What did you DO in this particular situation?”
Result is important as well, but it becomes a little more important with negative questions. For instance, if they ask you about failure, here your actions will not be sufficient, something will be missing. Here you can turn it positive by describing your results, by showing what you learned from the experience. We all have negative experiences, it is important to use them as a learning opportunity. So, in this case, ‘Result’ can be quite important. Otherwise, your main focus should really be on your actions.
Andras: To underline this point, many candidates intuitively describe a situation in too much detail. Over the years we’ve seen candidates say things like, following the earlier law firm example “I was working for this law firm, a Fortune 500 law firm, a huge company, with 50 employees, and my boss, who was just recently hired…” and I could go on and on and on. This is pointless, because your role in this situation will only be highlighted during the Action. Make sure that the ‘Situation’ and ‘Task’ part of your answer is very brief, and your personal role in the situation, your ‘Actions’ are the most important.
Anna: One important aspect I’d like to mention before I forget, is that you have to respond very rapidly. Competency-based questions are very common in other interviews as well but what is unique in the EPSO setting is that these are rapid-fire questions. You have approximately 90 seconds to respond. This is a rough estimation, but this is another reason to prepare and train yourself to answer quickly, but also well. “Will they stop you if you go on for too long” , yes Julianna, I can confirm that they will really stop you if you go on for too long. By the way, the assessors will constantly be interrupting you. They ask the very same questions from every candidate throughout the whole competition, but what may vary are the follow up questions. For example, going back to the law firm situation, and as Andras was describing it he got stuck on the ‘Situation’ part, as an assessor I would stop him and ask ‘Okay, but what did you do in that situation? What was your actual task?’. So an assessor will interrupt you and will not let you go on and on. What you should also know is that what may seem like a bit annoying, interrupting questions, is actually the assessors’ way of guiding you through the interview. It’s not always easy to follow their logic, but they will interrupt a lot.
‘How should we react if we’re interrupted?’ Just go with the flow, because they are in the driver’s seat.
Andras: And don’t lose your calm, because your Resilience points may suffer. :)
And then just to highlight, obviously there is far more to say about the Competency Based Interview, all the tricks and tips, how to create good stories to share with the assessors, and the specific words that are good to use in your replies to optimise your performance and get the highest scores - we can help with that. There is the EPSO Competency Based Interview Insights Webinar, there are EPSO AC CBI Simulations in Brussels with our experts.
Anna: One question that pops up a lot - “How many questions should we expect per competency?” Usually they ask roughly five questions per competency, and you get about 10 minutes per competency. For example this year’s AD5 competition will have three competencies checked during the CBI, plus a short introduction at the beginning, so it will be approximately a 30 minute interview.
And another question - “Will they introduce the type of competency they are testing?" No, this was the practice in the past, but last year I didn’t hear of any competitions where they announced which competency they are testing. The board can choose to reveal this information or not, but the practice these days is to make it as difficult as possible, so they usually don’t announce it anymore. Another practice which I saw in the most recent competitions is that they don’t follow any kind of order, which is how it was in the past, but now they mix up the competencies.
Andras: Here is a question about the role of the competition. The Competency-based interview starts with the assessors’ request towards you, the candidate, to introduce yourself. “What is the role of the introduction? And what are some best practices?”
Anna: First of all, it’s an icebreaker. You will not be scored on this part. Before you go into that room, the evaluators don’t know anything about you except your name and your ID picture so they can identify you. They have no idea about your background. The reason is they don’t want to form a bias by reading your application form. You will need to give them a rough idea of your background, so that when you are giving examples you, and they, can tie it in to that little bit of information they received from the intro. What is important to remember, of course, is that this is a first impression. It is hard to estimate the value of a good first impression, therefore, even though it’s not scored you should be very well prepared for your introduction because it will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Also, being well prepared helps reduce the nerves and tension you will definitely be feeling at that point. You know in advance that it will be happening, so why wouldn’t you prepare?!
Andras: Also make sure to sound as natural as possible when you do your introduction, not too rehearsed. It’s a bit like the best actors don’t sound like actors. This is important to remember for your intro.
Just a final question to clarify, from José: “I am confused, you said below we had 90 seconds per question, but then you say they spend 10 min on each competency. Can you clarify?"
Anna: It breaks down to approximately 2 minutes per question. That’s including the question being asked and your response, so you have about 90 seconds to answer. You will have roughly 5 questions per competency, so if it’s 2 minutes per question that is 10 minutes per competency. Therefore the length of the interview really depends on how many competencies are checked.
Andras: Just to give an example, one competency would be resilience, then they may ask you a lot of questions relating to resilience, they may ask for a second example, or even a third example. And they will ask for more details about those examples.
Anna: Exactly, for instance they may ask you about Resilience “Can you give an example of when you needed to go through a major change in your professional life?” then they may follow up with asking for an example when you had a failure. They will ask several questions and measure how resilient you are through the responses you give.
Andras: We’ll address this question quickly before moving on: “For resilience, how do you avoid the trap of giving a too negative example?”
The most important thing here, is not so much the example or the situation, but what you made out of it. It’s really your role in it and the outcome. If you failed your driving test or you missed a major deadline at work and you lost a major project as a result. What is it you learned, and how did your learning experience help you later on - if you add this it will ultimately become a positive story and it reflects well on you, because you may have messed up but here is how you demonstrate that you turned it around for your benefit through what you learned from that experience.
Anna: I would just add to what Andras said that everyone has negative experiences, experiences failure, missed opportunity and conflicts - this is part of life. What is important is that you learn from these things and you can say I would not repeat that again because of what I’ve learned. This is where you can turn it into a positive. Because we are all human, we all have negative experiences, but you can reflect on it and gain new knowledge from it.
Andras: And here’s a related question about the Interview in the Field: “Any tips for the Interview in the Field? Does it test your knowledge [in that field]?)”
Anna: What’s important at this interview, is that especially on giving a technical example, maybe they will ask for an example of a time you failed in your field, what they are looking for usually is Resilience, so they look for things like ‘I didn’t take it personally’ and ‘I took responsibility for my mistake’ - it’s more about how you behave in your reaction to a mistake or failure. Assessors appreciate honesty, for example if you say something like “I admitted to to my boss that I made this mistake” - and that’s it, you’ve taken responsibility for it.
Andras: Yes, it’s not so much what you did, but HOW you reacted afterwards.
THE MOTIVATIONAL INTERVIEW [00:47:40]
This is a relatively new addition to the EPSO universe and the Assessment Centre.
Anna: This interview only pertains to the AD Generalist competition. It was introduced in 2018. The first time people were actually doing this interview was just last year (2019). It is a 20 minute interview and it has a relatively lower importance because it is only 10 points out of the maximum 90 points that you can get for the Assessment Centre. There are a limited number of questions, and what I know is that last year it was something like 16 questions in 20 minutes. What is absolutely sure is that it is very, very fast-paced.
Personally I am a big fan of this interview, because I think it is crucial to check people’s motivation and why they are applying. The main topics covered are
- The origin of your interest in working for the EU
They ask very personal questions, like ‘Why do you want to work for the EU?’
- Awareness and commitment to EU values
For instance, last year they asked candidates which value they relate to the most? Which one, out of the six EU values, would they choose as the most important to them personally? And why? Of course...
- Understanding of present and future challenges of the EU
What are the most important priorities? We have a lot to speak about with a new Commission in place, and a lot going on these days. And what are the challenges? Which, again, there is plenty to discuss these days.
Andras: Just a quick question from Esther - "Is any critical viewpoint of the EU acceptable?" Yes, as long as it is constructive and presented properly. Nobody thinks everything is shiny and perfect in the EU, e.g. saying that the EU has not delivered on its original plans is a nicer way of saying for example, The EU completely failed on this project with a terrible outcome. Choose your words carefully and be diplomatic. This is not the place to vent your personal critical views, and you’re definitely not there to persuade the jury members. It is more about showing your knowledge about, and your interest in working for, the EU institutions.
Anna: And they actually do ask you about this: What frustrates you about the EU? Which is a great question. Because of course, there are things that are frustrating. For example, for me something that is irritating is that the EU fails to communicate it’s achievements, which gives rise to EU skepticism.
- Expectations regarding an EU career
- Knowledge of the EU and its origins, the EU institutions and main EU policies
They just want people to know the basics. For instance, last year they asked about the Lisbon Treaty. This is something that is in place, so it’s simply a matter of knowing how it works today. They also asked for a very brief overview of the decision-making methods of the EU institutions. And you don’t have to answer too in-depth, you only have 1, max 2 minutes to answer, what they want you to demonstrate is basic knowledge and that you are ‘in the loop’, even as an outsider. So make it obvious that you follow the hot topics and read the news.
Andras: Maybe sign up for Politico’s daily newsletter and read the news daily a couple of weeks before the exam, that should be sufficient.
Also, on our website we have some free E-learning courses, a little outdated maybe, but the basic info is there and it’s a good resource to get to know each of the EU Institutions, and the Lisbon Treaty, etc. That should be helpful in your preparation.
Anna: Giovanni is asking “where can we find information about the EU values?” There are the short fact sheets of the European Parliament. Here you will find one page overviews of different policies, The Lisbon Treaty, decision-making mechanisms, etc.
They probably won’t ask about the Lisbon Treaty again this year. But what is important is to devote time to think about your own motivation and what type of position you’re looking for within the EU. Also, it’s important to pick a challenge to the EU that is unique, don’t just say Brexit, everyone will say Brexit. Try to pick something related to your background perhaps, or even some big topics could be okay, like Climate Change.
Andras: Here is a technical question - “Are the interviewers going to be the same for the MI as for the CBI?”
Anna: No, you will have different assessors for each interview. The setting is the same, with two people, but you will have two different people interviewing you for the other interview.
Andras: Next question - “To what extent will they ask about specific EU policies? How much in depth knowledge do you need including data and statistics?”
Anna: They will not go that in-depth. It’s only a 20 minute interview and they want to check all those five main topics. You won’t have time to go that deep. Those five topics were confirmed through feedback from candidates and the questions that they were asked.
Andras: Another one “How can we prepare for knowledge about the EU and how thoroughly?” I think we answered this partially with the resources provided earlier. (Free E-learning courses and Fact Sheets on the European Union)
Anna: We will also have a live webinar about the Motivational Interview on the 19th of March. We will go more in depth about this interview and how you can best prepare.
Andras: Here is another question - “For the motivations do you use the same ones as written in the Talent Screener?” So what is the relationship between the Motivational Interview and the Talent Screener? If any?
Anna: Usually, you either have a Motivational Interview OR you have a Talent Screener. The talent screener is usually used in Specialist competitions, and in those competitions there’s no Motivational Interview.
But you may mean the initial application form you filled out where there are motivational questions, then it’s important to know the answers on your application form are only read once you are in the recruitment phase. So what you answered on your application form will not be evaluated in the pre-selection process, but only once you’ve made it onto the Reserve List and whoever wants to contact you for an interview - they may read your answers, and more about your background and aspirations.
Andras: Here is another question, a very nuanced, yet important one - “Do we shake hands [with the assessors] when we enter the room?” Give a high five - hey, what’s up?! :D Just kidding! Don’t do that.
Anna: It’s best to pay attention to their signals. One of them will open the door for you, it may be easier to shake hands with that person. Sometimes the panels prefer to keep a distance. Perhaps take a moment to assess the situation and how they are acting. I don’t think this is a crucial question and whether you do it or not will not change anything. But one of them will be sitting at the table and one will open the door, you can probably shake hands with the one opening the door. The other one will be further away and of course, you can go there and shake their hand, but honestly leave it up to what you feel better about.
Andras: What about the dress code?
Anna: Dress respectfully / appropriately, but bear in mind that it’s a full day, so dress comfortably.. If you are used to wearing a tie and suit, then of course dress up. But it’s a long day so what you should also manage are your energy levels, it’s important to feel comfortable in whatever you wear. So go without a tie, or jacket, if you hate it.
Andras: I agree with that, in general being elegant is okay, and whatever that may mean to you is okay. I wouldn’t bother too much with this.
Anna: Yes, especially these days there are a lot of IT people applying and they are not used to dressing up and usually dress informal, they should dress comfortably but respectfully.
Andras: Let’s look at a couple of tips and tricks. Anna what are some good ways to approach preparation for the Motivational interview?
- Make a list
I know most people are freaked out about the knowledge-based questions, but I think the most important thing is to really think through what motivates you. Not just that you are devoted to the EU, but why. Why is this something that is important to you? Motivation is a really personal thing. You don’t need to get overly personal, but your motivation will be unique from other candidate’s motivation. Sometimes this is not always clear in your head, so it is good to talk about it with someone else, asking each other ‘Why do I want this so much?’ This interview is an opportunity to show a little bit of yourself and your personality, more so than in the CBI.
Prepare a narrative to explain your motivation and colour it with real-life events.
Andras: As an example, for me personally, (and this is not made up) when I was at university I organised exchange programs some of which were financed by different European youth funds. This was my very first encounter with what the EU does, that it helps these international exchange programs, and it gave a lot to me personally, to the participants, and many others. I could build that into a nice narrative on how I got interested in European Affairs, International Relations and how that eventually landed me at the Court of Justice. I could build this example into a motivational story to make it resonate.
Anna: And as we mentioned you need to be up-to-date. As Andras said, it is important to read the news, like Politico, sometimes it may be enough to read the headlines but just be in the know about current events.
- Learn More
Listen to our webinar on the Motivational Interview.
Andras: There are many resources. There are webinars, e-books, tips & tricks, and various articles. Make sure you do your homework and your reading so you’re up to date as possible.
THE GROUP EXERCISE [01:05:40]
Anna: This exercise you do in a group, of course. It is usually a group of 6 people, but EPSO will do the exercise with a minimum of 4 people. With this group you need to work together towards some kind of an outcome. You get a realistic scenario and an assignment. A bit similar to the Case Study, usually you are coming from one of the DGs or institutions, sometimes it’s a known one, or real one. Usually there is a topic that needs to be discussed from different viewpoints, or options given in the scenario. You have 15 minutes to prepare from the background documents, then the exercise itself is 40 or 50 minutes depending on the competition. By the end you need to resolve the issue, find some kind of a solution.
For AD5 the Group Exercise usually assesses Learning & Development, Working with Others and Leadership. For specialist competitions that list could be longer, and could assess up to 6 competencies. For the AD5 it’s a 40 minute exercise because it’s checking less competencies.
The set up is everyone sitting around a table and it’s like a meeting where you need to discuss the given topic. The assessors are sitting on the side observing, they are not a part of the exercise, and they can observe you, how you act, what you say, your body language and so on.
The last page of the packet you’re given is different for everyone in the group. That is the information that you have to share, or communicate with the others during the exercise. It could be from an institution, or a lobbyist group, sometimes it’s information coming from a trade union.
What is important for you to know, is that these points don’t need to be defended. Whatever information is on the last page should be communicated to the group, but you don’t need to defend the points within that information. It’s not a fist fight, or an argument to win to get a point. The exercise is really about communication, negotiation and finding solutions, not about strongly arguing one point.
Andras: It’s a collaborative exercise. You are there to work together, not against each other. It’s not about one person winning, it’s much more synergetic than that.
Anna: Here is a question from Julian - “Should we disagree if we are not happy with what the others say (in contrast with our note or opinion) or should we tend to be more 'friendly' and have as a goal only to find a solution?"
What you need to know is that you have all the freedom to have a different conclusion. Usually in the scenario you are an EU Official and you are discussing a question regarding food labelling. Maybe your information is from the food industry. You are independent of the industry as an EU official. You have to share this piece of information with your colleagues, but you don’t have to defend it. You have the freedom to go in a different direction from the information given. If in the example the food industry thinks one type of label should be used, and then the others convince you that another type of label should be used, that is totally okay.
Andras: Here’s a question related to this - “Are your ‘colleagues’ and you equals?”
Anna: The assignment gives really clear instructions on this, there is no ‘chair’. There is no hierarchy, everyone is equal. Anyone can propose ideas, anyone can take the floor and take on a little leadership role, and then the next time it switches to someone else.
Andras: And this question just came up “What if there are too many leaders, or wannabe leaders in the group?”
Anna: It’s important to know that Leadership is not dominance. You should not try to dominate the group discussion. It’s about cooperation, as you can see with the competency, it’s very much about working with others. It’s very much about respect, e.g. if you start speaking at the same time then pass the floor to the other person, and you will score for Working with Others.
If you do end up having someone very dominant in your group, try to gently point out to that person that this is not the goal of the exercise.
Andras: It’s good to stick to ‘I’ statements, not the kind followed by ‘I believe that you are this and this…’, but ‘I believe we are meant to collaborate more…’ This is less confrontational and effective in bringing back the attention to the actual task at hand.
Anna: What I would also suggest if someone is talking too much and dominating the conversation, is to first of all try to intervene by using body language, e.g. leaning forward, raising a pen in hand to get that person’s attention - but if that doesn’t work just assertively interrupt with “It’s really interesting what you have to say, but I haven’t heard the opinions of others, so if you agree, I would pass the floor to someone else now.” This is communicating a very clear message, without confronting the person directly and causing conflict.
Andras: Here is a question - “How do you make sure that you continue to be engaged and not go over into ‘just observing’?” Try to stay alert and aware throughout the exercise as much as possible and participate at regular intervals. So don’t feel you were too active in the beginning and then you just sit back and keep silent for a while and then towards the end you jump in again, that’s not advisable. Getting yourself heard at regular intervals, evenly through the exercise is what you want to go for. Sometimes just asking a question is enough. Just simply asking “Anna, what do you think about this…?” or “I’m not sure I fully understood your point, can you summarise it again please?” Or add an observation like “It seems that you are in agreement with the policy, and the rest are not…” These are all ways to help keep you participating in the exercise.
Here is another question, Anna - “Can leadership be demonstrated by content, i.e. when you summarise ideas, show the bigger picture and shared goal? Or is it more about setting the agenda, organising a wrap-up etc?”
Anna: I would say that Leadership is shown through idea proposals on how to organise the meeting. For example if at the beginning you propose a round table discussion that can be viewed as Leadership, or if you propose to list pros and cons for something. But it’s important not to focus on just Leadership, for example you also need to show Learning & Development and Andras just gave a good example: ask questions! It shows you want to learn and develop your skills. Another good way is to repeat something you heard from a colleague, that’s Learning & Development. If a colleague shares information and 15 minutes later you refer back to them, that is a clear demonstration of Learning & Development.
Resilience is my favourite because you have to be aware of how you react in a stressful situation. Evaluators are in heaven during a group exercise because they don’t need to do anything. They sit on the side, they don’t intervene except to say when the exercise starts and finishes. They are just observing and taking notes on everything. If you play with your ring, your nails, the pen or if you move your legs, these are all signs of stress and will work against you in Resilience. It’s really an exercise in Body Language so make sure you stay alert and aware the whole time.
Andras: Just to back up a bit, there was a question about timing earlier asking if there was a clock in the room, also for the CBI? Or do they tell you the time?
Anna: For the Group Exercise there are usually two clocks on the wall, and same goes for the CBI, you’ll see that the evaluators use it and quite often have their eyes on the clock. It is good to be aware of the time . In the Group Exercise they usually tell you ‘It is 18:18 now you can start and you will have 50 minutes’ Make sure to take a note of this because they don’t give reminders, you are responsible for watching the time.
Andras: Here is another one - “Should you introduce yourself at the beginning?” Why not?
Anna: It depends. Usually for the assignment you are colleagues. If you are told you are from the same unit in principle you should know each other. One thing you could do is introduce yourselves before entering the room, chit chat a bit and get to know each other before entering the room.
Andras: Try to get a first impression of each person’s style, how they communicate and relate to others.
Anna: A good trick to remember names or get names if you’ve forgotten is to say, as part of the scenario or ‘game’, is to say ‘I see some new faces can you just introduce yourselves’ or ‘I’m new to the unit would you say your name please’.
Andras: We do a lot of simulations for the Group Exercise in Brussels, there is also a webinar, but given the nature of this exercise the best is to simulate it. You can also now request small group simulations with colleagues or friends through Anna via EU Training at the training centre in Brussels.
Anna: If you can, it’s also advisable to practice with those people going to the Assessment Centre on the same day as you are. --- If you know them---. Facebook groups can be useful for this, to find people going on the same day.
THE ORAL PRESENTATION [01:22:10]
This exercise is used for the AD5 competition. You will get to prepare for 15 + 5 minutes, which is very short, you’ll have some background documents on the basis of which you prepare your presentation. The 5 minutes is for preparing your flipchart. You then have to deliver the presentation in 10 minutes. With the help of the flipchart you prepared. Then there is a Q&A phase with the evaluators asking you questions for 10 minutes.
70% of your score depends on the HOW. How you delivered your presentation, how you prepared your flipchart, how you respond to the questions. Realistically you cannot go too in-depth with the background documents in 15 minutes, 20 minute preparation total, it is very short. This is why it is important to practice, so you can do a sufficient presentation with such a short preparation.
The competencies usually checked during the Oral Presentation are Analysing and Problem Solving, Communicating and Resilience. Analysing and Problem Solving is the most content related competency and the other two are more about how you deliver it.
Andras: Krzysztof asks "What background documents will we receive?"
Anna: It will be a mix of documents. Some of them are pertinent, some are just distractions. There could also be charts, there could be emails and press releases, all styles of documents related to the topic.
Andras: It’s worth reading fast, that’s for sure. And perhaps highlighting pieces of information to include in your presentation. For instance if there is a statistical chart, you may want to pick out two or three pertinent lines but not the entire chart. For example you could say this is the top performer, this is the worst performer, or something to that effect. Because you have very little time but you still want to say something concrete and you don’t want to be abstract in your presentation. Really focus on building the structure then presenting bits and pieces of information along the lines of that structure.
Anna: I see a question from Esther - "Resilience? Does that mean the assessors can ask horrible questions?" What you can expect is that they will ask questions that they don’t know the answer to. They intentionally ask those questions. There are a couple ways to answer. First one is that you tell them that you don’t really know the exact figure that they are asking for but you can lead them through some of the information you do know and give them a rough estimation.
In our Oral Presentation webinar I think we used the example of Dutch bicycles. How many bikes are there in the Netherlands? Of course you don’t know the exact number, how would you? Maybe it wasn’t in the background documents but you had skimmed over it and missed it. But instead of saying ‘I don’t know’, what you can do is give a rough estimate, e.g. ‘The population of the Netherlands is around 15 million, and maybe the very young and the vey old don’t have bikes, but maybe there are people who own two bikes, so my rough estimate is 20 million. But I will check this number and get back to you.’ This way you don’t just say I don’t know, but you are able to give some kind of satisfactory answer based on the background information you did actually read.
Andras: You walk them through your thought process. And we just go the figure from our team - 22.5 million bicycles in the Netherlands. :D So it was not a bad estimation.
“We should use our knowledge and not only info from materials?" No, just the info from the materials. The background documents are your number one source. You could use some of your own knowledge as long as it doesn’t contradict the background material information.
Explain more about the 15+5 minutes.
Anna: The last five minutes is for preparing your flipchart. You can’t use powerpoint, or Prezi or any other source, just simply a flipchart and marker.
Andras: Yes, there are no computers and it’s in a simple room with the two assessors and the flipchart. Generally we advise that you draw some structure on the flipchart making sure that it helps your presentation and helps the assessor understand your interpretation of the background documents.
There is much more information on this topic on the EU Training website. There Is the EPSO Oral Presentation Insights webinar, there are classroom sessions including the Oral Presentation and Anna does private coaching as well.
OTHER RESOURCES [01:29:05]
- Join an EPSO Community - Engage with other candidates and learn from their experiences:
- Practice makes perfect! Join our next full-day Assessment Centre Simulation
- Personal Coaching - one on one coaching sessions with an EPSO expert
- The Ultimate EU Test Book - Assessment Centre Addition
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- Free Tips & Tips articles
- Contact us! We are happy to assist you and answer your questions.
Good luck and we wish you all the best!