(This blog post was written by Joanne Fry in her private capacity. 2nd part is here)
The EPSO Assessment Centre - (Part 2).
The day began with the candidates being taken into a large meeting room, where the EPSO representative sat down with us to explain what was going to happen and give us our individual schedules. There would be four parts to the assessment, as outlined in the invitation letter:
- a 40 minute interview based on the indicated EPSO competencies (second language)
- an inbox exercise (second language)
- a document drafting exercise (first language), and
- a second drafting exercise in the form of a mini-essay (first language)
I had been wondering about the second drafting exercise – there were no details given to us on the invitation letter or the outline of the day, which, when added to the general anxiety and nerves, had not helped the situation, so I felt a kind of relief to actually find out what it was going to be.
As there were probably around 20 of us, our interviews would be staggered through the morning, with the rest of the exercises taking place in the afternoon. I was one of the first to go in for the interview, which was fortunate for me, as my nerves had already reached fever pitch - to the point where I couldn’t actually hold a cup of water because my hands were shaking!
When I knocked on the door of the interview room I really thought I might black out, but then a strange thing happened: as I entered the room and saw the two kindly-looking interviewers, a strange calm descended over me, and I shook their hands firmly, smiled and sat down. They introduced themselves and asked me to do the same, in fact to give a brief one-minute summary of myself and my current job. This was absolutely no problem, I had rehearsed and prepared this with my French friend, and it really helped me to settle in to the interview.
The EPSO interviewers proceeded to ask the kinds of questions that I had anticipated, and I gave my answers in a focussed way, without panicking or faltering. It was an odd experience, but in many ways I felt more confident in this than I had in any previous interview. Probably because I didn’t feel like they were trying to catch me out, and also I knew what I was going to say before I’d even entered the room.
Having said that, the questions weren’t exactly what I thought they would be, but I found I could adapt the answers that I had prepared. Once or twice they did ask for further, more specific examples to illustrate what I’d said, but that wasn’t too much of a problem, given that I’d got my head around the kinds of things they were going to ask about.
Overall, I felt it had gone well; they certainly seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say (whether or not it met the criteria remains to be seen!) and I felt that I’d done myself justice, despite thinking that I was going to crumble under the pressure right up to the moment I went in.
I had quite a long time to wait until the rest of the assessments in the afternoon, so I went into the break area and chatted to the other candidates. What struck me was the similarities between us; although we all came from different countries, we were mostly around the same sort of age and had wanted to do this after graduating from university but for one reason and another had not done so, or not been successful.
For some of us, the issue had been confidence, but also lack of experience – it’s much easier to answer questions about work situations if you’ve actually got some work experience behind you! I also felt that we had similar goals in life, and felt the same way about wanting to work on European issues. I remember thinking that if I were to get onto the reserve list and get an EU job, I would be really happy to work with any of the candidates I met on that day.
After lunch, we were all taken into a computer suite and given instructions about the inbox exercise. I have to say, I didn’t really understand fully what I had to do, and as it turned out when I spoke to them afterwards, not many of the others did either. I didn’t feel it was explained clearly enough; the inbox contained a number of emails, and we had to respond to a number of multiple choice questions based on information contained in the emails, under quite tight time pressure.
However, it took me a while to ascertain the fact that the questions did not necessarily correspond with the emails, so at first I found it very confusing! Even after I’d figured out how the test worked, it wasn’t exactly plain sailing. In fact it was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t score very highly on this at all.
The next exercise was very straightforward – we were given a draft of a document, with instructions about things like font, spacing, bold, margins etc, and told to type up and print out the draft, under time pressure again. The hardest part was staying awake – I’m sure they gave us the dullest topic in the world (EU tax harmonisation!!!) as some sort of endurance test.
I felt that I’d done everything they had asked, however when I printed mine off, the table didn’t look right; it hadn’t printed out the way it looked on the screen for some reason. I alerted one of the invigilators, who just shrugged and said ‘tant pis’!! Infuriated, I asked to see another member of staff, who was much more accommodating, and agreed to put a note on it to explain.
Finally, the last exercise was to write a short, one-page essay on one of three questions. The main point of this was to assess our capacity for linguistic expression, and use of syntax, spelling and grammar. Despite the fact that I am a qualified English teacher and have two postgraduate degrees which entailed relentless churning out of long essays, by this point in the day I felt barely able to string a sentence together!
I suffer from relatively frequent migraines, which are triggered particularly by lack of sleep and stress, and I’d been keeping one at bay all day. However, I hadn’t been able to take my usual medication as it makes me feel vague and unable to concentrate, so I’d only taken ordinary painkillers, and I’d taken as many as is advised in 24 hours by lunchtime, so by the time the final test started my head was beginning to pound and throb. To compound matters, I was concerned as the day was over-running a bit and I had less than an hour to get to check-in at the Eurostar terminal!
So – I wrote as articulate an essay as I could muster in the time, and crossed my fingers that it would be enough. When the test ended and we were dismissed, I actually stood up and let out an involuntary cheer! I felt flooded with relief, and with my migraine starting to abate a little, I changed into my flat shoes and raced onto the metro, making it to the check-in with about five minutes to spare!
On the way home, I reflected on what a difficult but in many ways wonderful experience it had been. I had never done anything like this before, and I felt very proud of myself for even getting to this stage.
I also found out a lot about myself; I never thought that I would have been so nervous beforehand, but totally surprised myself by how well I’d coped. Whatever the outcome, it was totally worthwhile attending, and I’ll be really interested to see what my competency report reveals.
(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.