I can’t believe six months have flown by since my last blog post! So much has happened in that time – I’ve been working hard preparing UK negotiating positions for my EU and international policy areas, including a couple of impact assessments. Impact assessments are needed for all new policies, so that policy officials can advise ministers of the various costs and benefits attached to a range of recommended options. Our starting point for EU product regulations is to decide what options we have: we usually take the European Commission’s proposal, then consider a more ambitious option (usually in line with what environmental NGOs would like to see happen) and a less ambitious option (usually in line with what our industry stakeholders would prefer). We then work with economists who model the respective impacts (costs and benefits) of each option, for example how it might affect carbon emissions, small businesses or air quality. Different policies across Whitehall look at different impacts as needed, for example it’s often necessary to look at social impacts, such as equality, disability or race. It’s on the basis of these quantitative and qualitative analyses that policy officials make recommendations to ministers. In my case, it’s really hard to strike the right balance between delivering energy and carbon savings while keeping the cost to business down, but it can be a satisfying test of innovative thinking to come up with a compromise that is acceptable to 27 EU Member States, supported by UK government ministers and welcomed by UK stakeholders. You can look at the Impact Assessment Library online if you’re interested in what these documents look like.
My progress through the European Fast Stream has also been keeping me busy. I took the first round of the Concours in April – the Computer Based Tests, or CBTs as we like to call them. This took place at a test centre in London, where people are sitting all sorts of different exams at the same time. I was given ear plugs, ear defenders and shown to my computer booth where the test got going automatically. I did the verbal reasoning first, followed by numerical reasoning, and a quick 10 minute break before the computer launched into the abstract reasoning and situational judgement tests. You can find examples of the tests on the European Personnel Selection Office website. I found the strict time limits tough – a similar challenge to the Fast Stream computer tests. You have to work out what the question is asking really quickly so you don’t waste precious ‘working out time’ finding irrelevant answers. I found it useful to have a grid in front of me, with question numbers down one side and the multiple choice answer letters across the top. That way I could work by a process of elimination on tough questions, e.g. if I found question 4 tough and wanted to move on, but knew that options B and C were definitely wrong then I’d cross them out on the grid - when I returned to it, I could immediately see that I had to choose between options A and D. This worked for the hardest questions, but generally it’s important to answer as many as you can as you go or you risk running out of time.
I heard this month that I’d got the pass mark to progress the next Concours stage – the assessment centre. The first task is a case study, which takes place in September. You’re given a large amount of different documents and you must prepare a summary and make recommendations. This is similar to policy exercises tested on the Fast Stream, but for the Concours it’s in your second language (French for me). Without letting the language barrier phase me, I’ll have to pick out the key bits of each document and get to grips with the task quickly, as you only have 90 minutes to read and write the whole thing. I will try to stop myself reading every word – practising some speed reading techniques should help me.
The second stage is an assessment centre (like on the Fast Stream), which should take place around October. We had a mock assessment centre last week to practise, with a group exercise, structured interview and presentation all in French. The general tips we were given by assessors for being successful at an assessment centre were really useful – for example, most groups in the group exercise either pass together or fail together. You should look at the other members of the group as your team mates, trying to reach an effective compromise together. It’s a common mistake for people to try to ‘win’ a group exercise, and they fail because they’ve not shown they can build relationships and listen to other people well. Also, for your presentation and the questions you’re asked about it, it’s more realistic to behave as you would in a work situation – if you don’t know an answer, say how you’ll find the information and get back to the person, rather than making something up or just apologising. Finally, we were advised to use the STAR technique for the structured interview. You explain a Situation, describe the Task, Action and Result. I realised that I find it easy to tell someone about a situation and a task, but don’t put enough emphasis on the crucial last two parts – these are the parts where you need to ‘sell yourself’!
I’m coming up to 12 months in my current post and will being going off to Brussels for the National Experts in Professional Training (NEPT) programme. I did my application in April and it went on the Commission’s database, where all the different Directorate Generals can view it and those you’ve selected as your preferences can have priority to choose you. You can see a list of the different Directorate Generals on the Commission’s website and this is where you can find contact details of people in areas where you might want to work. It’s quite acceptable to call them up and alert them to your interest and online application. I received an offer from the Spokesperson Service and I’m really looking forward to working for the ‘official voice’ of the European Commission – I’ll be involved in creating briefings and statements for daily press conferences and will be part of a team keeping on top of all press covering sustainable and global policies. It should be a really exciting 5 months and a great opportunity to get to know Brussels well.
Summer months tend to be quieter in the EU institutions – August is most people’s well-earned holiday. In the UK, though, our departments still work hard to keep up with the flurry of proposals sent out by the Commission before they go on holiday, as well as the day-to-day stuff. The Summer Diversity Internship is about halfway through now, and I’ve been lucky enough to manage one of the interns. The interns come into departments to work within policy teams for 8 weeks. They get given real responsibility and challenging work, which gives them a fantastic insight into the Civil Service. There are also learning and development opportunities, such as visits to Parliament, seminars with Senior Civil Servants and the chance to take part in a Fast Stream coaching programme. It’s also pretty sociable – with opening and closing drinks at the Cabinet Office acting as enjoyable bookends to all the other events that go on during the 8 weeks. If you’re eligible, it’s definitely a great way to decide if the Fast Stream is for you.