Wednesday, 30 November 2011

How to work for the EU institutions? A guide to the selection process of EU officials

Are you considering participating in the concourse at the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) but you feel like you need a map? How to become an official? When to apply? How to prepare? And what are your options? This week, Lucia Mrazova talked to Diana Van Altena, Communication officer at the EPSO, to make all of this clear for you.

European Personnel Selection Office organises a wide range of open competitions every year. What is its role in the selection process?

We run open competitions, selection processes for contractor staff, and we publish information on temporary vacancies (specific profiles for agencies), which have their own selection procedure. EPSO's main task is to organise open competitions. The European institutions select officials through open competition to ensure that only the very best are recruited. The competitions measure competencies through a series of tests and assessment exercises. For applicants it all starts when the Notice of Competition is published in the Official Journal of the European Union, and from that day you can start your online application. Find it on the EPSO's website.

The Notice of Competition contains full details of the profile, eligibility criteria, selection criteria and the procedure. It is based on the personnel planning and needs of the Institutions. EPSO is in charge of organising the complete selection procedure and delivering the 'reserve list': a database of successful candidates fitting the profiles described in the notice. The EU institutions then go to that list and recruit people when needed.

People used to study really hard to prepare for the EPSO exams. Is that still the case? Did anything change?

You still can prepare for the tests and exercises, but you don't have to study the EU facts any more. Since 2010 EPSO's competitions are based on competency rather than hard facts on the EU. I will give you an example of what the selection procedure for a Graduate profile (AD5, bachelor diploma, no professional experience required) that fits a trainee profile in general: All competitions contain two stages. In the first stage, after submitting your online application, you will be invited to book a slot for a series of computer-based multiple-choice tests to assess your reasoning and situational judgment skills. These tests will be held in a testing centre in a city of your choice, depending on your availability.

Your reasoning skills - verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning – will be tested in your first language. Your situational judgment skills will be tested in your second language (English, French or German). Candidates who obtain the highest marks in these tests and satisfy the eligibility conditions are invited to the 2nd stage of the selection procedure: A day at our assessment centre in Brussels. We invite three times the number of successful candidates needed for a field. The competencies are tested by means of a group exercise, a structured interview, presentation, and a case study in your second language.

The top-scoring candidates in the Assessment Phase will be added to a database of successful candidates, the reserve list.

There are several ways to become an EU official. Could you explain the main differences in the selection process, and how to distinguish between open competitions, contractual agents and temporary jobs?

An open competition selects personnel for permanent contracts. The contractual agent selection procedure has similarities to the 'open competition' structure. You have has to pass both a reasoning tests in your first language (verbal, numerical and abstract) and a competency test (multiple choice) in your second language. The tests assess your specific knowledge for a profile and the level of the function group applicable. There is no assessment centre involved. Contractual staff selection procedures involve different types of contracts.

A Third type, the selection of temporary agents, is for a fixed term contract. This type really depends on what an institution or an agency is looking for, which is most often a very specific profile. Within this process, the application is addressed directly to the organisation involved.

The rumour has it that if you do not study for exams for several months, you might as well forget it. Are they that difficult? How much time do you need to prepare and what is the best way to prepare for it? 

On our website we have several sample tests that will give you an idea of the level of difficulty. Try for example the interactive test for the administrators profile. The most important is to practice on your timing. It is hard to say if and how much time you need to prepare, it is very individual. You have to make yourself familiar with the types of questions that we ask, practice them, time them and not get stressed about it.

If you don't practice the mathematical questions for example, you could end up just staring at a question and go blank. You might have had the same type of question at university or even in high school but you have simply forgotten how to answer it. That would be a pitty.

Abstract reasoning, numerical and verbal tests, are very common in selection procedures; you can find examples of these online. On our website you can also find links to permanent representations offering training courses.

Do you think that stagiaires have an advantage when it comes to the selection procedure by EPSO? 

No, I don't think so. Everybody is equal in the testing of competences. 

What are the best options for trainees right now? Is there any competition trainees can apply for?

The best thing you can do today is to join EU Careers on Facebook. It’s the easiest way to keep up to date with all the open competitions and contractual staff selection procedures published.

In March 2012 we will have the Generalist AD 5/7 competition that is very likely the best fit for trainees. You might think that it still a bit far away, but it’s not. Rather it gives you the opportunity to start practicing now. Another opportunity is to bookmark the page of temporary vacancies - you never know if there is something that might fit your profile.

Current open competitions on EPSO's website are a competition for secretaries (AST1) with certain languages preferences and an AST 3 competition for Finance & Accounting, Communication and Project, programme and contract management. I would advise you only to apply to these competitions if you really meet the eligibility criteria for these profiles.

By Lucia Mrázová

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