The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) has been announcing more and more specialised competitions. These "Specialist Competitions" are looking for candidates that are highly skilled and experienced in certain areas. Therefore, the structure of these competitions can differ only slightly or rather drastically from the general EPSO competitions you might be familiar with.
This webcast will answer your frequently asked questions with the help of our two leading EPSO experts Anna Schmidt and Andras Baneth.
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Everything You Need To Know About EPSO's Talent Screener - webinar recording
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EPSO Case Study Exam Insights - webinar recording
EPSO Group Exercise Insights - webinar recording
EPSO Competency Based Interview Insights - webinar recording
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EPSO Specialist Competitions Information
Transcript Quick Links
HOW DO EPSO SPECIALIST COMPETITIONS DIFFER FROM OTHER COMPETITIONS?
HOW TO FILL OUT THE TALENT SCREENER EFFECTIVELY
EPSO TALENT SCREENER TIPS
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE COMPUTER-BASED TESTS?
WHAT DOES THE CASE STUDY LOOK LIKE?
HOW DOES A GROUP EXERCISE WORK?
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FIELD RELATED INTERVIEW & COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW?
COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW
QUESTIONS YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK ABOUT THE INTERVIEW IN THE FIELD…
THE GOLDEN RULE OF PREPARATION...
[00:00-06:35 - Information about the recording, sound check, introducing trainers, agenda, vote]
Andras Baneth = AB / Anna Schmidt = AS
HOW DO EPSO SPECIALIST COMPETITIONS DIFFER FROM OTHER COMPETITIONS? [00:06:35]
AB: This is an important question to get a couple of baseline ideas, core facts to make sure you have a clear understanding of what makes a specialist competition a specialist competition.
AS: Exactly. What is very interesting to see is that in 2019 out of 34 selection procedures only 1 was a Generalist competition. All the rest of the competitions were specialist. Which means this is something that EPSO organises more and more frequently.
The aim is to select people who are operational from Day 1. What this means is that they don’t want to invest a lot of time training people in a particular field any more. What they want is people who already have some amount of experience, for instance in the area of research, security or taxation just to name a few of the more recent specialist competitions.
This process is used to select officials at both assistant and administrator levels. Looking forward we can already see that there will be IT selections announced both at assistant and administrator levels.
Usually these are smaller selections, in the sense that the number of candidates put on the reserve list is much less.
What we can also say about these specialist competitions is that there are usually fewer number of applications than in the generalist competitions. However, please do note, this does not mean you have a higher chance of getting on the reserve list. Because in comparison to an AD5 Generalist competition where you could have up to 30 000 applicants, for a specialist competition there would be maybe 3 or 4 thousand, but there are fewer spots on the reserve list and of course, for a specialist competition, most of the applicants are very well prepared and qualified with a very specific knowledge of the particular field that they are applying for.
Which brings me to the next point, in specialist competitions there are often more targeted, well-prepared candidates.
These competitions also include tests for assessing competency in a particular field. This is a major difference in comparison with the generalist competitions. There are two specific parts that assess competency, because usually the Talent Screener is already targeting competency in the field, and then the interview also assesses a candidate’s knowledge in the field related to the competition.
Almost always it includes an assessment of applications via a Talent Screener. In these selections, as the very first filtering of candidates, in other words pre-selection, there is a Talent Screener. This is to already assess how relevant your CV and profile is to that particular competition.
AB: Just to add to what Anna was just saying, that there is a test to assess competency in a particular field, this is what makes the specialist competitions unique. And somewhat… perhaps easier, dare I say? Because you are being tested in a field that you know best, where you qualify and have the background knowledge. That makes this kind of exam a little more relevant. There is a question related to this:
AS: “My question relates to the written test in the field of the specialist competition in legal research. Do you have any information to share about the format of this test and what is expected of the candidates?”
AB: Usually you are given a scenario which you need to look into and provide some short analysis. Please email us directly with the question and we can expand on this very targeted subject. Let’s move on to talking more about the competitions.
AS: Depending on the application numbers the computer based tests will be either before the Assessment Centre or it can happen that the tests take place on the day of the Assessment Centre. Just to give you an example, in the very recent Taxation Specialist competition, the latter was the case. Candidates had to take the Verbal, Numerical and Abstract Reasoning tests on the day of the Assessment Centre.
AB: Which makes it even more difficult than it already is because you need to do it as part of your assessment centre.
AS: Candidates usually only need to reach a pass mark in their Verbal, Numerical and Abstract reasoning tests. Therefore you are not competing with the other candidates, you simply need to reach the minimum amount of points needed to pass. So you are not selected on the basis of these scores, you just need to pass.
Okay, I see another question: “If you only have a Graduate Degree are your probabilities lower of entering the EPSO test than when holding a MA?"
It depends. You will always see essential criteria required in the Notice of Competition. The number of years of education are also always clarified. You will know from this information whether you qualify for the competition or not. However, I would say this is not the main source of selecting between candidates. Usually a BA or MA will not make a big difference. It all depends. Just as an example, at a research competition which recently finished, but there are no results out yet, those candidates with only a Masters Degree had no chance to pass the pre-selection, because the NoC specified candidates had to have PhDs. Therefore, it always depends on the unique requirements for each competition.
AB: Another question - “Does the CBT included a Situational Judgement section?”
Usually it doesn’t.
AS: It depends. It’s important to remember that your source for information should always be the notice of competition. Because, as I just explained, the procedure can differ from selection to selection.
AB: To reinforce that point, the competition may include other field-related tests such as a written exercise. But again, it may also include as part of the pre-selection test, or even the Assessment Centre, Situational Judgement. But this is rather unusual these days. There is typically Abstract, Verbal and Numerical Reasoning, but not Situational Judgement.
To reinforce Anna’s point, always read the Notice of Competition very carefully, because then you will understand the authentic information relating to that particular competition.
AS: Here is another question - “Are the CBT at the AC in the specialist competitions easier than the ones pre-AC for the generalist competitions?"
In the Generalist competition this is one of the first steps to passing. They specifically select on the basis of highest marks on the CBT tests. Therefore I would say, yes, the tests are somewhat harder in the Generalist competition than in these specialist selection procedures. They are not easy in the selection procedures either, but maybe a little bit easier than in the AD5 Competition.
AB: Just to clarify a few abbreviations for those of you that may not know:
CBT = Computer-based Tests (essentially the Verbal, Numerical and Abstract Reasoning tests)
AD5 = Administrator 5, entry level for the Generalist competitions.
Here is another question for you Anna - “How is the pass mark defined?” Referring to the 3rd slide here “The Interview in the Field has the highest overall importance: Assistants 100 points out of 170, Administrators 100 points out of 180.
AS: This doesn’t relate to the pass mark. What it means is that in the Notice of Competition they always explain the total possible points for all the tests that comprise the Assessment Centre. For the General Competencies (e.g. Leadership, Working with Others, Resilience, etc) you can get up to 80 points at the Administrator competitions. Meaning for the Interview in the Field you can get up to 100 points. This means that the Case Study, the Competency-based interview and the Group exercise all together are worth up to 80 points. That is why I emphasised that the Interview in the Field is of very high importance in the selection process.
AB: Another question - “What is the pass mark for the CBT, which may or may not be part of the Assessment Centre?”
AS: Usually you have to reach a minimum level. On the Verbal Reasoning you need to reach 10 points out of 20, and then on the Numerical and Abstract Reasoning combined you need to reach 10 points out of 20. Of course, this may vary from competition to competition, always check the Notice of Competition.
AB: Yes, just to reinforce that point, the Abstract, Verbal, Numerical Reasoning tests minimum pass mark tends to be 50%. And as she said the Abstract and the Numerical have a combined score and you need to have minimum 50% from those two combined. So if you scored perfectly in Abstract Reasoning and you absolutely failed in Numerical, you will still be able to go ahead with the competition. Verbal Reasoning is usually stand-along, and there you need to have at least half the points to pass. Again, this is generally true but the Notice of Competition may state otherwise for certain competitions.
This is quite different from the Generalist competitions, you are not scored on the Abstract, Verbal and Numerical Reasoning. In Specialist competitions all you need to do is make sure to reach the minimum marks for you to be eligible. And you are not competing on this computer-based test against other candidates. That’s good news for those not so good at one or the other reasoning tests, it doesn’t matter as long as you reach the minimum score.
HOW TO FILL OUT THE TALENT SCREENER EFFECTIVELY [00:17:55]
AS: I saw a question related to this: Do they take your experience into account? - Yes!
It’s an online questionnaire. In the Talent Screener you will cover, in a very structured manner, your CV and your past experience. It is a very detailed and alternative way to provide a CV.
AB: But not necessarily the CV format as we will see in a second.
AS: The talent screener is a pre-selection tool. Something on the basis of which they do a preliminary selection among the candidates. It is a structured framework to evaluate candidates.
AB: Which means there are very pointed questions that you need to answer. It’s not a random comparison of different CVs. It’s a very procedural, structured, systematic manner of evaluating your background. This is good news, because then no one is at the mercy of the subjective opinion of the assessor. The system is in place to remove as much bias as possible, to ensure that all the candidates, who are all specialists in their field in the given competition can be compared to each other. For example if you are an expert in Development Aid and spent some time in Angola at the EU’s mission, while another candidate may have spent time in the US at the EU Mission. These are quite different experiences while having a lot of commonalities as long as you are eligible for the competition, so how can these two profiles be compared to each other? This is what the talent screener aims to help. The way you provide your answers matters a lot, be as specific as possible - we’ll look at a couple of best practices in a moment and how you can make the most of it.
AS: The questions are based on the ‘Selection Criteria’ in the Notice of Competition. And this brings us to an important point. When you are preparing your answers for the Talent Screener it is very important to have the Notice of Competition at hand so you are basing your answers on the ‘Duties’ section of the NoC.
Best matches will be invited to the next phase of the competition. As I mentioned this is a pre-selection too and you need to be among the best on the basis of the Talent Screener.
All candidates are checked against the same questions in an objective way. As András has explained already.
Selection is based on qualifications. There is a section related to education, there is one related to professional experience, in some cases they ask about publications or special courses you may have participated in. It depends on the nature of the competition, the different sections may vary.
You are forced to stick to measurable figures. This is very important because you are not just evaluated in a more subjective manner but these questions are very targeted. There are less options to put a favourable gloss on the reality of your situation. The motivation of candidates are indirectly checked because it is a very lengthy process, filling out a Talent Screener, you will need at least a couple of days to do a thorough job. In a way they want to exclude candidates who are not that motivated, who do not take the time to fill out the Talent screener thoroughly. Therefore they can immediately disregard those applications.
AB: Here is a question about ‘measurable figures’ and what you mean by that. Measurable figures are anything that you can justify, or that you can back up with evidence. For example if you fill out the application claiming to have 12 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals because you are applying for nuclear research, for instance, then you need to present the evidence backing up this claim. Or if you say you are an IT specialist and you conducted security audits, 48 government contracts in Germany, 22 in Belgium, and if requested you can provide evidence for that claim. Anything that is measurable in terms of the impact, the number of people involved or any other figure you need to be able to prove that.
We very strongly urge you to use such figures, to be as concrete as possible. Simply saying you have had management responsibility or that you dealt with a high-level project as a project manager is very vague. It’s very hard to see what is high-level for you and what is high-level for the person doing the evaluation. That is why you need to be more concrete and more specific otherwise they just won’t get the message that you’re trying to convey.
AS: Another question I see here: "How is the Talent Screener taken into account during the Assessment Centre?"
The assessors will read through your Talent Screener before the field-related interview and to some extent will adapt their questions on the basis of what you have written. They may ask you to elaborate on some of the examples in your Talent Screener. Therefore, it is absolutely taken into account and make sure that anything you mention in the Talent Screener you are able to elaborate in depth because they do base their questions on what you include.
One more question: "Does the score obtained from the Talent Screener count at a later stage at the Assessment Centre?"
It does not. Not anymore. When you go to the Assessment Centre you are all starting from zero.
AB: That is why it is called a ‘screener’. It’s a selection tool used to decide who is eligible to move on to the next stage of the competition. The score you get for the screener, however, no longer affects your final score.
EPSO TALENT SCREENER TIPS [00:27:15]
- Be short and precise. Get to the point. Whatever the question refers to don’t try to cover any other subjects, stick to what the question is referring to.
- Follow the exact order EPSO requires. For instance if they ask you to provide the name of the place where you worked, then start with that. Then if they ask you to provide the period of time you worked there, then give those details next. Simply follow the exact order that they request the information.
- For structure: number the different points, use spacing (bold, underline, italics will not work in the system). It is important to structure your answers very well. This is because the evaluation is very quick, it is done very rapidly, therefore a well-structured document is much easier for the evaluators to read through. Please do yourself a favor and do make it easy to read. So if they are easily able to find the information they are looking for you will get a higher score. If not, it’s pretty difficult to ask for a review after the fact. It is much smarter to pay attention and take your time with the structure, to provide the information the way they ask for it.
AB: Just to clarify a question here: Can the Talent Screener take place after the Case Study?
AS: No. It’s always a pre-selection tool. As I said, it reduces the number of candidates chosen to go to the next phase. The Case Study is a part of the Assessment Centre, which usually means three times the number of candidates that will be put on the Reserve List get invited to do the Case Study and the Assessment Centre.
- Bullet points are appreciated, because of course it's straighforward.
- Be specific (as explained earlier)
- Make sure to cover the duties that are mentioned in the Notice of Competition. The duties that they define for the particular selection are the ones that they consider most important. You may not have an example from your past experience for all of them, but if you do have one try to make sure that they correspond with the duties mentioned.
- Make the life of the Selection Board EASY
AB: I often like to say in presentations ‘Don’t make them think’. Perhaps a more specific piece of advice would be ‘Don’t make them wonder’ - don’t make them wonder if you have a given experience which is obligatory based on the Notice of competition. Don’t make them wonder if you have the relevant knowledge, which, again, is a prerequisite based on the Notice of Competition. Make sure to spoon feed them every little piece of required information in structured, clear, easy to scan manner so they can evaluate it quickly and give you the best possible score you can ever hope for.
- Create a document where it is simple and intuitive to find all the relevant information.
AB: In that sense, it is very comparable to a CV where you want to present yourself in the best possible light. But the layout, the clear writing, the word choice, the use (or lack) of jargon, etc - all these things are important factors and will matter in your final score. Because after all this is a human evaluation and despite all the checks and balances we mentioned before to make it as unbiased as possible, it is still humans who will give their best judgements based on the information you provide.
AS: And we do have a full webinar all about just the Talent Screener itself. We recommend watching this webinar if you are preparing to do your Talent Screener to get even more in-depth details and advice about the Talent Screener because it will be very useful.
AB: And we offer Application Assistance, Anna often scans CVs and Talent Screeners giving professional advice and guidance on how to optimize these. So you can request assistance through the website here.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE COMPUTER-BASED TESTS? [00:32:58]
So what are these? Well, these are the dreaded, good old Abstract, Numerical and Verbal Reasoning tests. And as Anna mentioned before, you might be required to sit these at the start of the competition, so where it becomes an effective pre-selection tool. Or it might be part of the Assessment Centre phase. This is usually outlined in the Notice of Competition, but there they foresee two scenarios which essentially depends on how many candidates turn up for a given competition. So if there are a fixed number of candidates and the number of applicants goes beyond that then they use the Abstract, Numerical, Verbal Reasoning tests as pre-selection. And if the numbers stay below a fixed number then EPSO, or the Selection Board,will have the reasoning tests as part of the Assessment Centre. So these are the two possible scenarios, but it cannot be known which one it will be until the number of applicants is known.
PRACTICE - is obviously the best method to improve your scores. Nobody is born an abstract, numerical, verbal reasoning expert. Most people have one of these as their strength and one as their weakness, and one of them possibly on a neutral level. Make sure to practice, even a little bit the one that is your strength because the point is to reach the minimum score. But definitely focus on your weakness - this tends to be Abstract Reasoning, but then again this really depends on the field because some candidates with a more engineering mindset might be very strong in Algebra and Mathematics and weaker in other areas.
AS: Here is a question: "If the CBT tests are part of the Assessment Centre will it be on the same day?"
Yes, it will be on the same day, but you won’t know when exactly on that day. It may be the first exercise of the day, it may be the last one. But it will be on the same day you have the Group Exercise, the Field-Related Interview or Competency-based Interview, so it will be a really long day, it’s imperative to prepare for that.
AB: Anna, correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know candidates are given the agenda for the Assessment Centre day in advance.
AS: You will receive the agenda on the morning of the Assessment Centre. In your invitation to the Assessment Centre you will only receive the date and time you should be at the Assessment Centre. Usually the start times are 8:30, 9:30 or10:30. Accordingly if you start earlier you will finish earlier, if you start later then you will finish later.
Here are the different webinars related to these Computer-based tests:, some are free, some are paid:
FREE - BEGINNER'S GUIDE WEBINARS:
Beginner’s Guide To The EPSO Verbal Reasoning Test
Beginner’s Guide To The EPSO Numerical Reasoning Test
Beginner’s Guide To The EPSO Abstract Reasoning Test
PRO TIPS WEBINARS:
Pro Tips For The EPSO Verbal Reasoning Test
Pro Tips For The EPSO Numerical Reasoning Test
Pro Tips For The EPSO Abstract Reasoning Test
Maths Refresher For Numerical Reasoning
WHAT DOES THE CASE STUDY LOOK LIKE? [00:38:10]
AS: We will cover this very briefly, for a full, in-depth look to help you best prepare please check out our Case Study Insights Webinar focusing solely on this aspect of the EPSO Assessment Centre.
What you should know is that this exam is always on a different day than the rest of the exercises at the Assessment Centre. This takes some of the pressure off from that full day, at least there is one part of the AC you can prepare for a bit separately.
AB: Anna, you’re actually raising an important point. The Case Study is on a different day and happens before the actual Assessment Centre day. Sometimes it’s weeks, perhaps even months earlier. Given this timing you can focus on the Case Study specifically. When you’re preparing for the Assessment Centre always focus on the next challenge. So if it’s the Case Study, focus on the Case Study. And only afterwards should you start really turning your focus on the rest. Anna is not entirely in agreement I can see… :)
AS: Sometimes the Case Study and the rest of the Assessment Centre are actually very close to each other timing-wise. You may have your AC one week after the Case Study so you won’t have time to prepare properly for all the other exercises, so I suggest preparing for everything in parallel. It has also been known to happen that the Assessment Centre is BEFORE the Case Study. Just to use my own experience, when I passed my specialist competition I had my Assessment Centre first and the Case Study afterwards, some three weeks later. So your study plan depends on the timing of your AC exercises.
AB: The Case Study is a written simulation exercise, pretty straightforward, but with a couple of unique features. One is that it is based on a realistic scenario, meaning it’s not completely made up in the sense that it is rooted in reality. There’s multiple background documents included, so you need to go through a large number background files when answering a case study question. You need to answer the questions in essay format, so it’s not multiple choice or a quiz of any kind, it is an essay.
AS: The Case Study is done under time pressure. Sometimes it’s 60 minutes, but that usually applies to the AD5 Generalist competition. Otherwise, it’s 90 minutes.
I see a question: "Is the Case Study related to the field competencies?"
No, 99% of the time the Case Study is only testing general competencies. The exception could be lawyer-linguist for instance, or usually any linguist-related positions where they do to some extent assess your knowledge in the field.
It is on the same day for everyone. I always try to emphasize that you must make sure to be there on that day. If you do get sick, unfortunately it does happen, make sure to get a medical exemption certificate and send that to EPSO as soon as possible, because they don’t really allow the re-taking of this test.
Another question: "Do they test knowledge in the specialist field?"
No, not at all. But what I can confirm is that the content of the Case Study is related to the field of the competition. For instance if you are applying for Competition Law most likely your Case Study will be related to this field, using familiar language and jargon.
AB: I think the question also relates to how the specialist knowledge is tested. It is tested and it is something we’ll come back to shortly. When we talk about the specialist interview and other unique types of tests as part of the Specialist Competitions. But the Case Study does not check your specific knowledge in the field. If you are a Competition Lawyer then in your case study you will not be tested on mergers and acquisitions or the role of state aid, it will be testing your competencies in assessing information: Analysing and Problem Solving, Prioritising and Organising, Communicating, etc. So you’ll need to analyse the background documents and write a sensible essay on that basis. But it will not be directly checking how well you know the subject matter in question.
AS: The Case Study has relatively lower importance compared to the other tests. It usually checks for 4 general competencies: Analysing and Problem Solving, Prioritising and Organising, Communicating and Delivering Results, compared to the Competency-based Interview and the Group Exercise which check 6 competencies. Therefore it counts for 20 points - usually. This is based on past Notice of Competitions, which is public knowledge. Make sure to check the current NoC, but this is almost always the case.
A couple of more questions here that we’d like to address:
"Can you describe how the interface works for the Case Study?"
This is something you can test on the EU Training website, although I’ll add a small disclaimer that there has been some minor changes made to EPSO’s interface which is something we will be adapting to, but the one on our website is very close to the kind you’ll see at the exam. So you can test it out on our website and get a feel for it.
Here is another question about the content of the Case Study: "According to what Anna said the AD7 should be something common to the five different profiles of the Notice."
AS: To be honest, I’m not sure about that, because there are very particular profiles. This is for the AD7 Competition Law, Financial Law and other profiles as well. My guess would be that you will have the same tests, but I’m not sure. What I would guess is that it will be vaguely related to some type of legal setting, with familiar legal language, but nothing more and not testing your knowledge.
AB: Let’s look at a couple of Case Study Tips and then we’ll move on to more substantive parts. As a reminder, we also have a Case Study Webinar that I encourage you to check out.
Here are a couple of pointers for you to bear in mind:
- Make sure you manage your time properly because you are under time pressure to draft your essay
- Pay attention to how you structure your document, include an introduction, and some take-away points at the end
- Focus on the core questions, perhaps using titles. You can address those core questions with a couple of bullet points, You have very limited ways of formatting your document, visual tools are limited, but you can still use dashes, line breaks or numbering - these sorts of tools you can definitely apply.
- Don’t get distracted by unnecessary information, which will be part of the dossier, to trick you a little bit, to mislead you.
- This you need to filter out and focus on the essential points, striking a balance between detail and being concise, which is a measurement of your good judgement.
- Base yourself only on the background information. Try your best not to contradict it even if you know the subject matter, or especially when you know the subject really well. If you know information which is not in the background documents use it if it is common sense and works with the rest of the info.
AS: EPSO also usually says that based on the background documents you can make some assumptions, while still relying on the background information given. Just to give an example, very often they ask for policy recommendations, or especially if you take the example of Law, maybe you are asked to give a background on what legislative documents are already there related to that particular field and then you might have to give recommendations on what needs to be improved. Maybe this will not be really written down, but, of course, on the basis of what you have read in the background documents you can make some recommendations yourself. And the last tip:
- Do some practice simulations under time pressure, because you will see the biggest challenge is the 60 or 90 minutes, usually 90 in the Specialist Competitions. So it’s very good to have a strategy on how to divide this time and you need to develop it throughout your practice.
We highly recommend the EPSO Case Study Exam Insights WEBINAR RECORDING
This webinar offers a detailed overview of the Case Study component of the EPSO Assessment Centre and explores the methodologies to get the highest scores, offers practical advice on how to structure your time and manage difficulties.
EPSO CASE STUDY SIMULATIONS - Available in English and French
You can actually also have your Case Study evaluated. Receive feedback with comments and suggestions for improvement. Evaluation within 5 days or less. Send a request any time.
Let’s answer a couple of questions now:
"Is it possible that the different tests of the Assessment Centre, including the CBTs, are organised on different days? I’ve only been invited to Case Study thus far."
Yes, so as we said the Case Study is always on a separate day. I guess that in your case it is on the 10th of January and you are going for the Case Study related to Financial and Competition Law. Then yes, only the Case Study date has been communicated to the candidates.
"How long does it take from the publication of the results based on the selection of the Talent Screener and the invitation to the Assessment Centre?"
AS: This differs between selection procedures. In general, however, I would say it can take about three months for EPSO to announce the next phase. These days EPSO very often sends you an ‘intention’ that you have passed to the next phase, but they have not yet given a date. For instance if you passed the Talent Screener, they will only notify you that you have passed, inform you about your results and that you can go to the next phase. But they don’t yet communicate when. Later on you will receive additional emails about the exact dates for the exams.
"I’m participating in a competition where the Case Study is before the CBTs. (So from this we know that the CBTs will be part of the AC). So is the Case Study in this case eliminatory?"
AS: No. It will simply check the four competencies mentioned earlier. The result will be a part of the Assessment Centre. This means that if you pass this phase you will have the opportunity to take all the tests in the next phase.
"Is the Case Study always in Brussels?"
No. There are test centres all around Europe and you can sit the test at any of these.
HOW DOES A GROUP EXERCISE WORK? [00:53:57]
AB: Anna can say a few words about this because she regularly runs courses with a Group Exercise. So what can you tell us about it?
AS: I think most of you know that in the Group Exercise you get assignment and you have to work in a group, usually 6 people. EPSO usually gives you different options, most of the time it’s 3 options.
- You will get 15 minutes to read the background briefing materials
- And then 40-50 minutes to run the whole exercise
- The background documents stay with you during the exercise. This is very important because you will be sitting around the table with the five other candidates who are participating and you will have the background documents with you and some paper to take notes, which you can keep with you for the duration of the exercise.
- You can take notes, write directly on the documents themselves, underline things and so on.
- Everyone gets the same briefing - but this is only true 95% of the time.
- Because everyone gets a different last page. This is important because in the 15 minutes you have to concentrate and understand your assignment very well. And make sure to read the last page. This is absolutely basic, the rest is there only as the cherry on top of the cake, but you concentrate on these two pages: the first page and the last page.
- There is no hierarchy, everyone participating in the exercise is equal.
- Everybody has the same assignment
- The group’s task is to reach a conclusion by the end of the time given
AB: Just to add to that, there is no negative impact if you do not reach a conclusion. It is more the process of discussion and the group dynamics that they are observing. If you reach a conclusion that’s great, if you don’t that’s still okay as long as you did your fair share.
- This is an exercise about collaboration and cooperation.
- It’s a good idea to start with a round table discussion when you kick off the group exercise to see what everyone’s unique perspective is based on the last page Anna mentioned, and also to clarify that there is a common understanding of the task.
- Make sure to demonstrate all the competencies in the course of your participation - listen to others, propose solutions, don’t be overbearing, possess enough self-awareness to demonstrate all these qualities but not to overdo it either.
- Body language, therefore, becomes very important. Make sure you engage with others verbally and demonstrate cooperation with your body language, these are all important aspects
- Make your voice heard regularly, in regular intervals, not like you are very active in the first 10 minutes then you realize you were too much then you remain silent for 30 minutes and in the last five minutes you try to catch up. Try to even it and balance it out as much as possible.
AS: Here is another question: "You say the last page is different, is it possible that what you get on the last page contradicts the assignment given?"
What you need to know is that on your last page you have information that the others don’t have. You have to make sure that you provide this information in a neutral way to everybody. Yes, there may be some contradicting opinions between stakeholders, but it’s not really about fighting for the last page’s idea because usually it’s neutral information given to you and not something you need to fight for.
AB: Here’s another relevant question: "Will the Group Exercise include candidates of different profiles?"
No, this is not the case. Usually you always do the Group Exercise with your profile in the language you have chosen. What can happen sometimes, for example if you do it in Italian, then it can happen that there are not enough people in your profile to do it in Italian, so there may be only 4 people to do the Group Exercise.
- Managing your time
- Make sure to reach a conclusion, or at least aim to reach one, because as I said before, there is no negative impact if you don’t.
EPSO Group Exercise Insights WEBINAR RECORDING
This webinar offers a detailed overview of the Group Exercise component of the EPSO Assessment Centre and explores the methodologies to get the highest scores, gives practical advice on how to prepare for this exercise and how to navigate the complexities of this test.
We run Assessment Centre Simulations regularly, and even Master Classes where we only focus on the Group Exercise, where there are two simulations during the half day session, everyone gets a chance to participate in one. Practice makes perfect - join the next EPSO AC Group Exercise Master Class.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FIELD RELATED INTERVIEW & COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW? [01:00:00]
And here is perhaps the most important part of this webinar where we discuss the differences between the Field Interview and the CBI, the Competency Based Interview. So, Anna, you being Europe’s foremost expert in this area why don’t you share with us.
AS: What you need to know about the Interview in the Field
- This is an interview only used for Specialist Competitions. This is something that would not be part of an AD5 Generalist competition.
- The interview is between 40 to 60 minutes. But if you have a 40 minute interview then please know that it is 40 minutes for everyone in your field. And if it is 60 minutes, then it is 60 minutes for anybody in the same selection. So what I mean is that there may be variation between different competitions but not within profile selections.
- As I explained earlier this interview has higher importance compared to the other tests. As mentioned, just by itself this interview in the field counts for 100 points as part of the Assessment Centre. While the whole of the AC itself, in the case of AD competitions is 180 points, in assistant competitions it’s 170 points.
- Assessors will read your Talent Screener before the interview. This is very important. You already asked me about this, whether Talent Screeners will be taken into account. The answer is yes because it is a source for the questions for the Interview in the Field.
- You may or may not start with a short introduction. For the Competency Based Interview there is always an introduction. While in the Field Interview you may or may not have the opportunity to briefly introduce yourself, your background and qualifications.
- It’s a structured interview. They do have a set of questions that they ask every candidate. Of course you might wonder how that is possible when one person is working on mergers and the other on state aid, how can this have the same structure? Some of the content will be the same for all of the candidates, meaning, for instance, that they will ask a procedural question, how you do things step by step. But maybe which procedure they ask about will be different. Maybe they will ask you about the checklist, but which checklist they ask about might differ person to person depending on their background and qualifications.
Another question related to this: "Do the assessors only read the Talent Screener beforehand or the whole question including the motivation questions."
AS: They might read the motivational questions, however those are not taken into account. The motivational part is more for serving recruiting services once you are put on the reserve list. But the assessors base their questions on the actual Talent Screener.
- It assesses competencies in a particular field. They simply want to assess how much you know, if you are someone who can really perform those duties mentioned in the Notice of Competition.
- It usually measures applied knowledge. This doesn’t mean there will be no theoretical questions, but most of the questions will be applied theory.
AB: Let’s talk about what applied theory actually means. So it could mean versus knowledge-based questions. So let’s say you're an IT specialist, and you are in IT security. So there could be a question on how you deal with securing Open Source software, and you could answer this is the method, these are the ways that you can deal with it. Then there could be an applied knowledge question asking what if there was a data breach and confidential information has been leaked? What actions would you take once you are notified? You then need to present a solution in this hypothetical case. Both are to assess your knowledge in a given area
- The questions are often example based.
AS: Similarly to the Competency Based interview, which we will speak about in a moment, very often in the Field interview they do ask example based questions.
- It’s a rapid interview, also similarly to the Competency Based Interview which is very fast-paced. There are many follow-up questions, so you won’t have a lot of time to go into deeper detail with a long response. For example when explaining your experience you have to get to the point quickly, and not go on for too long.
THE EVALUATORS [01:05:55]
- They are specialists in the field BUT they may come from a related area. I wanted to explain this because I get feedback from people, very often, about how someone had an evaluator only vaguely related to their field. This can happen. Be prepared to add an additional layer to your explanation. As an example, if you are working in Competition Law make sure that whatever case you are describing can also be understood by somebody with a legal background but not specialised in Competition Law.
- Similarly to the Competency Based Interview you will have two assessors.
- They are all trained by EPSO.
- They are at minimum the same level as the competition or a higher grade. So if it’s an AD7 competition they will be at least AD7 themselves. This is a formal requirement in every competition.
- Just briefly about Conflict of Interest: people who work with you directly means a conflict of interest (because some of you might already be working with a different contract in the Institutions). Be prepared and take a look at the list of the evaluators when it’s published. It’s in the news section usually of your competition page on the EPSO website.
AB: Just to answer this question: "Are evaluators professors?"
Well, they might be, or they might not be. That’s not a relevant qualification. They are required to be EU officials, they need to be at minimum the same level of the competition and they need to be close to the field of the competition. Whether they have an academic qualification or they might be teaching somewhere does not come into play. Whether both assessors are specialists this answer covers the answer as well.
AS: And as I said the list of names is always published on the EPSO website in due time, but sometimes they only publish it right before the AC starts. But keep checking because this will not be sent to you via email.
AB: Let’s answer a couple of more questions.
"In the Field Interview will they also ask general knowledge questions about the experience mentioned in the Talent Screener?"
Depends what you mean by general knowledge. The Field Interview will not have questions about EU Policy, Institutions or that sort of thing. They will focus on your background and how that relates to the competition in question.
AS: But they might ask some knowledge based questions. Especially if your area is, for example, Security, you might need to be aware of some legislation related to Security, then you have to be able to name those legislations.
COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW [01:10:14]
AB: Again, to emphasize the point that this is different from the Interview in the Field. This is more general or generic and it looks at your competencies and not so much how your knowledge relates to the field.
AS: This is used at every EPSO competition. No matter which competition you are applying for you will have a Competency Based Interview.
- It assesses EPSO General Competencies, usually 5 for AST and 6 for AD competitions. These could be Delivering Quality and Results, Learning and Development, Resilience, Working with Others, and in the case of AD competitions, Leadership could be included and usually Communication which is checked indirectly.
- There are two assessors as I mentioned earlier.
- The assessors won’t read your Talent Screener before the interview. This is an important difference from the Field Related Interview, that in this case they absolutely want a blank page. When they meet you they want to assess you with knowing as little about you as possible. All the assessors receive before the interview is your name and a small ID picture of you which you have to bring for the day. This is all they know about you.
- Therefore, the interview always starts with a short introduction. This is not evaluated but it’s very important to make a good first impression. Be prepared for this. Be prepared to briefly describe your educational and professional background. Maybe add a couple of sentences about your motivation, because of course you know this is the first question they will ask of you and your introduction is setting the scene. So it is very, very important to make a good impression right away.
AB: Perhaps one piece of advice here, is you can and you should prepare for this. Perhaps even write down your introduction or memorize it. But when you present it you need to come across as naturally as possible. Don’t be very rehearsed, or too eloquent using words that you would not necessarily use in a spontaneous introduction. Try to find a way to present yourself so you don’t need to give your entire life story, which you shouldn’t, unless you have very limited experiences, it will be hard to summarise in 60 seconds. But definitely think carefully about how you present yourself in the Competency-based Interview introduction part.
AS: It’s a structured interview. This means that everyone who is participating in the Assessment Centre is getting the very same questions. However, you might have different follow-up questions.
- Each question is linked to an EPSO competency and you always have to give examples.
- We advise preparing your responses on the basis of the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. Since they usually ask for some examples like ‘could you please give an example of when you needed to deliver something on time?’. Then you would describe the situation, what your exact task was, what action you took and what the end result was.
AB: To underline one point here, the Action is probably the most important part of that. What did you personally do in that situation? Most candidates tend to talk about others, about the team, everything else but themselves. So make sure that when you present the situation use a lot of ‘I’ sentences which might be a little uncomfortable because you feel uneasy talking about yourself and what you did or didn’t do, but that’s okay, this is part of the tasks in the exercise.
You can also share negative experiences as long as you present what you learned from it as a result.
AS: And just to add to this, I usually try to emphasize while I’m coaching people for this interview, is that you should emphasize how you did things. They don’t check your technical knowledge here, don’t get lost in technical details, because they are not interested in that. What they want to see is how you do things. You have to demonstrate those generic competencies.
I see a question here: "Can you get general EU Knowledge questions at this interview?"
Not at all. Actually, there is no part of this exam where they would check your general EU knowledge. It is not part of the Assessment Centre anymore. About 9 years ago they changed the process of how they evaluate candidates and having EU knowledge is no longer a basis for selection.
- This is also a rapid interview, with many, many follow-up questions. So you should prepare to answer very rapidly, our suggestion is max 90 seconds. Be very brief, very much to the point and be prepared for them to ask a lot of, lot of questions. So it’s pretty obviously a stressful interview. I can say that. And I think it’s very good if you mentally prepare for this and you know that everybody is having the same style of questioning and you will not get something else.
AB: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And also, stress often comes from uncertainty. As long as you have good examples, you memorize those, you practice presenting them in 90 seconds using the STAR method, you can definitely be much less stressed and perform far better.
EPSO Competency Based Interview Insights WEBINAR RECORDING
This webinar offers an hour and a half of pure gold advice and a detailed overview of both the General Competency Based Interview, and the Interview in the Field components of the EPSO Assessment Centre. It explores the methodologies to get the highest scores, gives practical advice on how to prepare for these types of interviews and how to effectively present the information assessors are looking for.
QUESTIONS YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK ABOUT THE INTERVIEW IN THE FIELD… [01:17:35]
#1 IF I GOT ZERO POINTS FOR A QUESTION ON THE TALENT SCREENER, WILL THEY ASK ME FURTHER QUESTIONS ON THAT?
AS: What they tend to evaluate during the Field Interview is the depth of your knowledge where you seem to be an expert on paper. If you got zero points on something then this means this is something you haven’t dealt with during your professional career and this is completely okay because if you pass the Talent Screener it means that on paper you are suitable, you are a good candidate for that particular selection. I would expect that they wouldn’t cover any topic where you got zero points. Definitely don’t concentrate on those low point questions when preparing. This only means that they can see clearly that topic is not your specialty and probably in the Field Related interview they will focus on that less.
#2 WHAT IF I KNOW AN EVALUATOR ON THE BOARD?
I briefly mentioned that this is something that can happen. Especially because usually these are small circles so if you are a Taxation Specialist you probably know many people in that field and you might end up having somebody in front of you that you know. I advise you to act as if you don’t really know each other, meaning you definitely shouldn’t use phrases like ‘As you know…’, never refer to personal conversations or meetings, a chat over coffee, etc. Treat them as a total stranger. Answer each question from beginning to end as if they know nothing about you.
AB: Even in formal terms Selection Board members are required to treat everyone equally and without any bias. It’s part of their professional, legal and moral obligations. I think if there is a true conflict of interest, let’s say you are in a lawsuit, or if there’s a harassment case, or anything like that, this needs to be indicated to EPSO immediately so they can deal with that. But then again it’s probably an outlier case, so simply knowing a person or having met a person in a different context should not be a problem.
#3 IF THEY ASK FOR AN EXAMPLE, CAN I ALSO USE THE STAR METHOD TO RESPOND?
Yes, if they ask for an example, the STAR method is a good way to respond. However, the content of the response should be different. As I said, in the Competency-based Interview is more about describing your approach on the whole. While in the Field Interview is more about describing what you did, focusing more on the technical content. You can use the STAR method, because it is in general a good way to respond to example-based questions, but the content of the response should be different.
#4 THIS IS AN INTERVIEW OF MY FIELD, DO I STILL NEED TO PREPARE FOR IT?
Yes, definitely. As I explained, this is by far the most important part of the selection process, so you should be very well prepared. We will mention more about good preparation sources later. But, as I stated earlier, the Notice of Competition defines the duties, so that’s the framework from which you can start preparing.
#5 IF I’M SPECIALISED IN ONE PARTICULAR AREA AND I KNOW THAT THE ASSESSORS ARE SPECIALISED IN ANOTHER, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Of course, you will try to find out beforehand who the assessors are because it is public knowledge. You might not know will be there on your Assessment Centre day, but you will have a list of names and you might see that they are all focused on Mergers and not on State Aid. You will not likely have to cover areas that you have not dealt with. I’m not saying it’s not good to review other areas that you may need a refresher on, but especially if it was clear from the Talent Screener that you haven’t really dealt with certain areas, maybe you received zero points for those, then I really wouldn’t worry too much. Focus more on the areas you know, have the knowledge in, and that you have experience with.
AB: To press one more point here, if you know what the assessors do not know that has an impact on the way you present your information, referring to the jargon or technical terms you would use. The level and depth that you go into explaining certain concepts will probably be different than having assessors who are specialists with a deep understanding of your subject matter area.
#6 WHAT SHOULD I REVIEW BEFORE THIS INTERVIEW?
AS: First review your Talent Screener. Make sure that you know the information you included inside out. Really dig deep into information about who the stakeholders were that you worked with, what kind of legal documents you used, which procedures you need to cover, what were the overarching goals of that particular policy you worked on. Really make sure that you are practicing and able to verbalise these things. It’s one thing to know it on paper but presenting it at the interview is very different.
AB: And then in terms of resources when we talk about the specialist field there are pretty good policy summaries if your area actually relates to the EU, which may not always be the case. But the EU Parliament has great summaries of various EU Legislation. You can certainly read through press releases and annual reports, these tend to be helpful resources in revising.
If your area is basically not linked to the EU, like IT Security, there might be aspects that you can find out about like what the European Commission does in this area or in data privacy terms. But there is a vast body of knowledge elsewhere. Try to look through as much information as you can to be completely up to date in your area of expertise.
#7 HOW CAN I PRACTISE FOR THIS INTERVIEW?
I would definitely recommend to practice with a specialist in your field. It is hard to practice with a generalist, although to some extent it might be similar, it is best to practice with someone who is a specialist in your field.
THE GOLDEN RULE OF PREPARATION... [01:26:05]
THE MAIN SOURCE OF PREPARATION FOR THE FIELD INTERVIEW IS THE OFFICIAL NOTICE OF COMPETITION
- It is a legally binding document, therefore they cannot really ask you anything outside of this context since
- This is the basis of their evaluation
- Whatever is mentioned among the list of duties could be a potential question, in one way or another.
AB: So that’s a great resource for you to get some orientation on what you should revise and the kind of questions that you might expect. So with that we encourage you to check out these further resources.
There is a Facebook page called EPSO Specialists Exams, we encourage you to join that group if you are on Facebook because there is always vibrant and intense conversation happening there.
Also we highly recommend you to use the many resources at your disposal on the EU Training site. There are classroom training sessions, personal coaching sessions, online resources like ebooks and webinars, online practice tests, I could go on with the list because there is a great diversity of services we’ve put out there to help your preparation.
The personal coaching, done by Anna and sometimes by our colleague Jan de Sutter, is a great, personalized way of finding your blind spots or finding areas where some improvement can work magic and get you higher scores.
Thank you very much