IMPORTANT: this article refers to the previous EPSO exam system before March 2010 and may only be partially relevant for the new one
Know what to expect: the oral exam is not a job interview but as its name suggests, it is a broad evaluation of your knowledge and presentation skills that does not relate to a specific job offer. You will face a panel of 3 to 5 (or even more!) EU officials, some of whom may represent various institutions as observers. The exam will last about 45 minutes where you must first present your CV, then answer EU and domain specific questions from the panel. Finally, you will be offered a chance to ask questions yourself from the panel.
Rehearse with a friend: most applicants think they know their stuff and they can easily present them in front of the jury. Yet even Tom Cruise rehearses before a show, so you may use a bit of practice as well. Ask a friend to ’interview’ you in English and ask you tough questions. Your friend should take notes without interrupting you, so you can discuss all comments together once finished. You’ll be surprised how much easier it will be when the real exam comes.
Your own CV:The first few minutes of the oral exam will deal with presenting your resumé. This is the easiest and best part: you can prepare a five-minute monologue beforehand and say anything you wish to – you’re in control so you won’t be interrupted! Make sure you make the most of this time to create the best possible impression about yourself. Needless to say, make sure your CV is up-to-date, contains no typos or any information you may not be able to elaborate on if asked.
Identify core and hot topics: the oral exam jury will ask you questions on EU integration (’Why was the Maastrich Treaty so significant?’), on EU policies (’Can you mention a recent proposal on consumer affairs?’) or recent political developments (’Which major issues did the last European Council deal with?’). Try to identify core topics from the news, latest events and milestones in the European integration process. Chances are you will not get overly detailed technical questions like the ones you had in the pre-selection MCQs, so focus on the big picture instead.
Check the jury: the name of the jury panel members is always published on EPSO’s website before the exam. It is of course strictly forbidden to contact any member in any way, but by trying to identify their background and the issues they deal with you may be able to identify questions and fields where they may test you in-depth. For instance, if a jury member works in DG Agriculture, it may be advisable to revise recent developments in the Common Agricultural Policy.
Be confident: the oral exam, as opposed to the previous stages of the selection procedure, is only partly about what you know. The other part relates to how you present it, and the impression you make on the jury members. Therefore it is vital to project confidence in yourself, emphasize your motivation to work in an international environment, indicate that you are flexible to work in any field or to move to Brussels or elsewhere if and when offered a position. Dressing up elegantly, using the proper body language, eye contact with each jury member and other small but crucial techniques can significantly boost your rating.
EU jargon and language: similarly to the essay, using EU expressions, words and jargon can help you project an expert image. However, mentioning’subsidiarity’ and the ’community method’ in every second phrase may easily backfire. On the other hand, reading recent Commission documents, white papers or press releases can put you in the right mood for the oral exam day. Make sure to browse through the Europa website and its sub-sections regularly during your preparation.
Ask a question: At the end of the interview, the panel offers you the chance to ask a question from them. This may be a question regarding when can you expect the results (as every other applicant asks this, you may wish to come up with something more original), or it may relate to something more philosophical (’Are Eurocrats really living in an EU bubble?’, though this may raise a few eyebrows :-). A nice or well thought-out question can leave a positive final impression even after you leave the room, and as scoring generally takes place immediately, an appropriately targeted question may yield a few extra points. (Hint: avoid questions like ’When can I expect my first expatriation allowance?’).