(This blog post was written by Joanne Fry in her private capacity. 1st part is here)
The Assessment Centre (intro)
Following the CBT tests for the AST1 competition, I was extremely surprised and happy to receive a letter in my EPSO account inviting me to attend the assessment centre. However, when I looked at the date, my heart sank as I realised that I was not going to be available.
The Exam Date
At that time I was extremely busy, as I also work as an examiner for the OCR exam board, which means that once a year I have to mark 300 GCSE English exams in the space of about 3 weeks in May or June. The original assessment centre date coincided with one of my marking deadlines, so there was no possible way I could go.
Fearing the worst (that it would just be ‘tough luck’), I emailed the EPSO candidate contact service to explain the situation and ask if I could attend on a different day. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they understood and offered me the date of the 6th June instead. This was much more feasible, and I was able to get a reasonably priced Eurostar ticket and a very good deal on a hotel.
A quick word about expenses – this is not as straightforward as it might seem, and in my opinion might even contravene some sort of equality rules as it would exclude anyone who could not afford their own travel and accommodation expenses up front. Although candidates are reimbursed eventually, it is not based on what you actually spent, but is a set amount, based on how far you’ve travelled. The info is available here.
So basically because I had to travel between 501 and 1000 km I was entitled to 250 euros. Altogether, my travel, accommodation and subsistence costs were around 300 Euros, which I would not have been able to afford if I did not have a credit card. And it’s not even as though you get reimbursed straight away, or shortly afterwards (which nobody informed me about, I had to ask, and I’ve been told that they have no idea when we will be refunded, but they are currently working on travel claims from March!!). This could be a real barrier for some candidates – I can’t imagine many people being in a position to be able to fork out for a 2 day trip to another country without knowing when they would some of the money back!
That aside, I then had to get myself over to Brussels and find my hotel, hope that it was clean and as comfortable as you could expect for 30 Euros a night, and try to get some sleep!
When in Brussels...
The hotel itself was a very large place close to Avenue Louise, but I didn’t realise how far it was from the nearest metro station, which was almost 10 minutes walk – not fun when you’ve got heavy luggage and you’re in heels (I had to pack my whole bathroom, hairdryer, straighteners etc, there was no way I was going to turn up not looking my best!). I was woken by the noise of the bin lorry at about 5.30am on the morning of the test, and although I was tired from travelling and didn’t have to be there until 10am, I decided to get up, get ready and do some last minute revision.
I’d had about a month or so to prepare for the exercises, however the only one that I could realistically prepare for thoroughly was the structured interview. Luckily, one of my good friends is French and works as a translator, so I was able to enlist her help in preparing answers to questions about competencies, which I could then practise. In doing this, I found András Baneth’s book (The Ultimate EU Test Book 2010) extremely useful. The invitation letter listed the competencies that candidates would be asked about, and so I used the questions and follow-ups in the book as the basis for my preparation.
The Assessment Day
Having gone over the question responses in my head over breakfast, I left the hotel and arrived at Avenue de Cortenbergh (the EPSO assessment centre building) about an hour and a half early, with a massive feeling of dread and anxiety in my stomach making me feel physically nauseous and the onset of what was to become an epic migraine. The only consolation was that there were about five other candidates there already, who looked as though they were feeling exactly the same way.
(to be continued...)
Questions? Comments? Post them below!
About Joanne: It has always been my ambition to work on a European level; during my MA studies in Public Policy and public Administration I found that the area I was most interested in was European Integration; the role of the Commission in European Public Policy is fascinating, and is the subject of great debate. I would relish the chance to work in such a fast-moving political arena. European Integration formed part of my MA Public Policy degree and I have written several Master’s level essays on the subject. In terms of having a familiarity with the European Union and its institutions, I worked in the European Parliament in Strasbourg for a year during my undergraduate degree, which gave me some insight and first hand experience of the way EU politics works.