Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Letter from the author to the EU competitions candidates

Today EU institution’s challenge is to recruit the best of the best. Knowledge of the process and adequate preparation is the answer to the basic question of candidates

Which is the recipe for success in the EU Oral Examinations?

Following the unavailability of a reference book concerning the EU Oral Examinations, I thought that it was important to share the guiding principles of the process with all candidates.

This book offers a pragmatic approach to the Oral Examinations…

… that will help candidates to overtake the last hurdle before being offered a position in the EU institutions. Built on the years of experience of the author & lecturer and improved from the comments of numerous course participants, it describes the specificities of the EU Oral Examination process.
Building on its sole intangible assets, each person needs to promote their “Unique Selling Proposal”. I believe that this publication will facilitate all candidates to find elements of knowledge …

… and help candidates to build their “Unique Selling Proposal”.

I take this opportunity to wish candidates all the best with their endeavour for a career in the EU Institutions and to encourage them to share with me their testimonials concerning their oral examination experiences.

Remember that only the best prepared candidates are succeeding.

Good luck
Christos Bezirtzoglou


Igor_Karkaroff said...

I had three oral examination in the EU commission, and I succeeded in all 3.

Many people asked me what was the secret (many of my EU commission colleagues failed in the same occasion):

First - "Be honest". If you don't know something, just tell them that you do not know, don't try to remember and to fail. Just say: "Sorry, I don't know".
Second - Try to demonstrate to think, not to know. In special challenges (emergencies) people must be able to think and not to remeber something far in their minds.
Third - Demonstrate your experience, sell what you have, not what is supposed you will have in the next future.

student said...

Hi Christos,
Thank you very much for your book and for this blog, both are great ideas. The first one is very helpful, I hope this one will become as useful as your book is.
I´ll have an oral exam for AD this autumn and I´m a little bit worried because of those "situation" questions.
I would like to have your opinion about one of them: what would you do if you have a colleague who is an alcoholic/drug-addict or smokes in a smore-free office/building?
Thank you in advance.

The Author said...

Dear Igor,

I fully agree with your three Tips for succeeding in the EU oral examinations. Practice (and your three successes) show that this attitude is cleary working.

However, you need to complete your first tips, b ypresenting your "escape learning way from deficincies". Saying only "No", is not enough. You need to explain what you should do (i.e. get some training) if the issue into question is a deficiency from your side.

Please do not forget to continue posting your experience from your three examinations.

The Author said...

Dear student,

Thank you for your nice words.

Before replying more in detail, let me stress that there is no good and ad answers and that all answers merit a proper understanding.

Concerning this type of "situational questions" in general, the jury will try to understand: you react to a "tricky" situation (are you surprised that an official has adopted such a behavior?)
2.what is your attitude towards the issue(s) into question [smiking, drinking, drugs, etc]
3.if you know the staff regulation (rules) that apply [are there any help programmes?]
4.what is your approach in such ethical issues [will you ignore the problem, will you report this kind of behaviour to your supervisor, will you try to help him personally].

Finalyy, do not forget to create your own reply. Do not copy my reply, but get inspired from it :-)

Of course you are more than welcome to share your thoughts and answers for this question.

Please note that all your comments and feedback will serve as thought provoking material towards enhancing the next edition of my book.

student said...

Dear Christos,
Thank you very much for your quick reply. You give me some very useful guidance regarding what the selection board expects from us.
As soon as I pass the oral I´ll post my experience here so that you and all visitors can make your comments on a real case.
Thanks again for being there!

Igor_Karkaroff said...

Dear Christos,

you are right but someone it is difficult to anser to some minor questions, such as "What will be the next 2 countries to be the head of EU Council?".
My question is: is it so important to determine if a candidate is good or not?
I mean, it is supposed to know the actual one, but I can suppose that most of the EU commissioners do not know what are the next...
Anyway, I suspect that a follow up could be a good idea in the interview procedure, just to give the jury a possibility to find improvements in all candidates and to evaluate attitude to solve our own deficincies. I suspect that the jury could find a lot of improvements that will not clear in the first step.

About situation questions, I must admit most of them are interesting, we have worked on them in the past (from inside the commission) and it was nice to see how, sharing a common view, you can reach good results. Then the answer must come from the real life: my suggestion is to try to be yourself.

By the way, could you explain how commissions are decided? There is something unclear in this, sometimens it seems to be just a casuality, sometimes it seems a clear picture.

Thanks a lot in advance.

Anna said...

Thank you for your book and for the blog. Bravo!
I would like to know a bit more about the linguistic regime of the oral exam to which you refer in your book in chapter 3.E.I.b (page 25) You have mentioned that: "During the oral examinations the knowledge of a second and sometimes of other languages (for specific competitions only) will be evaluated." A standard statement to that effect can be found in the notices of open competitions in the OJ: "Knowledge of your main language will also be tested."
I have recently asked an EPSO representative what such an evaluation would actually involve? General knowledge of your main language? Knowledge of the professional vocabulary depending on the field of your competition(economic terms, legal terms, "jargon" of the audit...)?
I have been told that testing of the second language happens mostly in concours for temporary agents but hardly during the oral examinations for permanent posts. Moreover, the examination board is not even allowed to test the knowledge of the second language! The issue of high costs of interpretation from/to the language used by the panel has been mentioned too.
Well, my oral exam for the permanent position is in two weeks and the linguistic regime is a bit confusing. I would appreciate your comment on the subject. Thanks in advance.

Damien said...

Anna asks a pertinent question.

It is unclear, particularly for the New Member States competitions, which questions are asked in the main language (usually the candidate's national language), and which in the second language (English/French/German).

The only clarification I am aware of is that the convocation letter's heading specifies that the second language will be the one used during the oral test. But the text of the letter also states that knowledge of the main language would also be assessed (without further detail as to which kinds of questions, e.g. CV/EU/specific/multicultural etc).

Any ideas?

The Author said...

Dear Anna,

Thank you for your nice words.

Concerning your question on the linguistic regime of the competition, you have to check thoroughly what is mentioned in the OJ and second what is mentioned in your convocation letter, since for each competition the rules could change and the choices of the candidates vis-à-vis languagues are many. Please provide me with the above data and I will try to formulate a more decent reply :-)

Concerning the following statement from EPSO ...
"I have been told that testing of the second language happens mostly in concours for temporary agents but hardly during the oral examinations for permanent posts. Moreover, the examination board is not even allowed to test the knowledge of the second language!"
... you should interpret it along the lines of what I mentioned earlier. However, according to my knowledge, I do not subscribe to the conclusion on the differences between contractual agents and
permanent officials examinations.

Good luck with your exams. Please do not forget to come back in this forum and post your experiences.

The Author said...

Dear Damien,

Your reading of the situtation is indeed right.

There was a huge change in the "oral examinations" policy vis-à-vis recruitment for New Member States (EU10+2), which has at the same time simplified as well as complicated procedures a lot.

Concerning the testing of the "second language of the oral examinations", as I describe in the Annex III: Indicative structure of the oral examination, it is usually done in one of the following parts multi-cultural, EU or domain-realted questions.

The linguistic knowledge (with the exeption of course of translators/interpreters) is tested in what it is considered as an easier parts :-) of the oral examination.

Normally, since this is a structured and not a stress interview, the transition from one language to the other should be done smoothly with a proper announcement.

Please note that the picture is Annex III shows a "simplified and codified" version of the events candidates should expect to find during their oral examination.

Do not forget that, as in each interview, the jury would leave certain issues without further details in order to better "examine" the candidates.

It is YOU, the candidate, who should prepare yourself in the best possible way in order to reply correctly in all imaginable questions.

Best of luck with your oral exams.

Anonymous said...

I found the book very useful source of information. At the same time I have a question concerning the human resources knowledge to be tested in oral. I have around one 1 month to prepare and started with staff regulations, but would like to have concrete proposals or eventualy read others recent experiences. Thank you

The Author said...

Dear Anonymous colleague to be,

When we are talking about human resources policies in the EU, we have to think about HRM in a not-for-profit international (European) organisation with multi-lingual and multi-culture personnel.

Such policies, are training, harassment, linguistic, etc.

Which other policies do you think we should add to the above list?

Anna said...

Thank you for your reply concerning the linguistic regime of oral examination. Let me share my experience with all of those who still have to take it. Firstly, I must debunk the urban myth: !THE ORAL EXAM IS NOT DIFFICULT!
Here is what it looked like in my case: AD5 Law - The selection panel consisted of 10 officials representing the Commission, the EP, the CFI and the Economic and Social Committee + 2 persons on the side acting as a secretariat. They were sitting on one side of a long table, and a place with paper and a glass of water had been prepared on the other side for me. They were professional, friendly, informal. The chairman explained that the interview would assess my specialised knowledge in the field, my knowlede of EU,
my knowledge of a second language and my ability to work in European institutions. It was not just about them asking questions and me answering them. It was more like a pleasent conversation as my answers were interrupted with comments, light jokes (mainly from my side of the table), more comments or additional questions. Now, the questions were more or less as follows: 1.Warming up question: tell us a little bit about where you currently work and what are your responsibilities and duties. 2. A case concerning a deduction of school fees, direct taxation and freedom to provide services - what could be the possible decision of the ECJ? 3. The principle of proportionality, where does it originate from? 4. Two questions asked in Polish (to test the knowledge of my second language): tell me your 3 positive and 3 negative characteristics; what kind of people do you find difficult to work with? 5. What is ECOFIN? What are the other configurations of the Council? Who does prepare the Council's meetings? What is the European Council? Where does it meet? 6. Tell us about the European Charter of Fundamental Rights? What is its current status? 7. Do you think that the activities of human being have infuence on the climate change? 8. Does European Union have a legal personality? 9. Are you creative at work? Give us an example from your previous employment. 10 Tell us about the courts of the European Communities, how many are there? Could you go to the courts with a claim? To which court? What matters could you argue about? Why did you mention the Court of Auditors separately from the other courts? Who does have locus standi in the ECJ? 11. Explain us the procedure provided for in Art. 226. 12. Explain us the test of abstract terminology and the test of closed category used by the ECJ and the more modern approach of the ECJ elaborated in Codorniu case. 13. Is actio popularis possible in the courts of the EC? ... + a few additional questions which I cannot remember anymore.
After 45 minutes the chairman said that the exam was over and asked if I had any questions. I said that I would not impress him here ... which made them all laugh... the chairman - rightly guessing my question would be about the results of the oral exam - said that they would be available in November.
Well, I don't know if by writing this I comforted the stressed or stressed the comforted but I hope tha this will help to build a picture of what might look like your oral examination.
Good luck everyone!

The Author said...

Anna welcome back to this blog,

It is extremely useful the feedback that you provide. I am conviced that all candidates will benefit from this detailed information.

However, this feedback highlights two issues:

1) If you really study, the oral examinations are easy :-)

2) Since the questions cover so divers issues, it is better to study in a systematically way and not leave it at the last moment.

It would be interesting if candidates reported on their concrete way of preparation (best practices, tips and tricks).

P.S. Anna if you are interested in writing some articles for this blog, please email me.

Thalia said...

In my opinion it is not only about studying, it is also a matter of attitude. While studying do not think that the oral examination it is an insurmountable peak; you passed already both pre-selection and written tests, so you are good. It is, after all, a mathematical problem ;-) Normally they will invite about [1.5 x (number of places on the reserve list)] candidates to the oral examination, so you have to show that you are better than half of candidate; the insurmountable peak is all of the sudden nearer than you thought.
This is valid not only for the preparation but also for the examination itself. The world does not go to an end if you cannot answer a question, so do not allow it to tear you down for the rest of the examination. If they ask me a question about what-so-ever and I cannot recall it I would say that unfortunately I cannot remember this very what-so-ever but I would say two sentences about the context of this what-so-ever; the idea is to try to convince the jury that it was an exception to the rule.
In my preparation period I made some simulations. I read for example an article in a newspaper about let say the milk prices getting higher. So I imagined that I sit in front of the selection board and having to comment on this and to describe the current situation with milk quotas and the way we’ve got here and so on. I found this exercise very useful.
But, of course that happened on a later stage of the preparation actually it was the third step. During the first one I went thoroughly through all issues regarding institutions, policies, treaties, and all this kind of stuff. The second step meant bundling related issues so I could see not only the trees but the whole forest.
Last but not least, I think it helps to try to enjoy the preparation phase. I know it sounds strange, but do not look to it as to something mandatory and annoying, but as to something useful, e.g. you learn new things, it ends up with a place on the reserve list :-) No, this is not a bed-time story, I have to apologize for the length of my comment and in the same time to say that this really was my way of doing it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christos

Where can I get your book from? The EU Bookshop indicates that they are currently out of stock.



The Author said...

Hello JF,

If you live outside Brussels, you could buy the English version of the book from an online bookshop like The European Bookshop - -
Sterling Books -

If you work inside the EU institutions, you could find the book in the majority of the internal Press Shops (Berlaymont, Justus Lipsus, Jacques Delors).

Finally, if you live in Brussels, you could also find it in the kiosques around Place Schuman, (i.e. 1992, Pericle) and Place Madou (i.e. Press Factory).

Thank you and good luck with your quest to become EU official.

Iva Mladenkova said...

I will have my oral examination in one month ( AD 5 Economics ). Can you please let me know if there are preparation courses just for oral part held somewhere in BXL ? Many thanks.

The Author said...

Hi Iva,

There are certain courses available in Bruxelles both from educational institutions as well as from private tutors, but for reasons of impartiality I am not in a position of suggesting anyone.

Please accept my apologies.

Anonymous said...


I am about to take an oral exam for translators and I was wondering whether the Author or somebody else had any good tips.

To begin with I was wondering if questions will be asked in all three languages. I have heard various opinions. Some people say that the languages of the oral exam were their first and second forreign language. The official notice on the other hand states that the knowledge of one's mother tongue will be examined, while the board reserves teh right to examine the candidate's other language skills as well?

Is there a set structure, which the oral exam follows, and which component (EU knowledge, personal motivation) takes up the bulk of the exam?

Thank You

The Author said...

Dear Anonymous,

The jury is bound by the OJ notice. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing different. I recommend to read it several times to be sure.

The bulk of the exams is usually linked with the domain and in particular the parts that could not have been tested in the previous phases of the competitions. Of course there are only conbinatorary questions, i.a. translate an EU related text from first to second language.

All the best with your exams and do not forget to report back your experiences.