Tips to Succeed in Selections

I am currently working on a project for EPSO, the European Personnel Selection Office in Brussels, which is conducting all the competitions and selection procedures for the European Commission. As external expert for the selection of a high-level leadership position I have the great opportunity to cooperate with two very senior and experienced heads of unit and learn from them. EPSO has to cope with a great volume of applications 24/7 and is renowned for its extremely high professional standards and above-board ethics.

As part of this particular application process all three of us had to scan approximately 1000 pages  of applications in two days, score them, and come to an agreement whether the candidates reached the pre-defined criteria or not. One of my colleagues wrote to me before coming to Brussels: “Be prepared to forget the sun for two days.” And I did, but this was not because it was not shining…

Scanning documents for clues of resources is an arduous task, and my conclusions from it, which I want to formulate as tips for anyone who is applying for a job, a project or writing a profile, are the following:

Keep it simple!

I cannot emphasize this enough. Aim for simplicity both in structure, content and language. Create an easy-to-follow outline. Don’t confuse your readers with too many details. Describe concisely and pragmatically the stations of your career and what you have achieved in which function.

Show that you speak the language of the field.

Scanning docs under pressure often means that you need to look for key words that signal to you that the writer is familiar with a field. This is much like writing for a webpage. It  does not mean, however, that you should overwhelm your readers with acronyms that are understandable only to a few experts.

Write something fresh and original.

Do not repeat yourself. The details of the CV do not belong in the Key Achievements statement, for example, or the Motivation letter. Use each part of your application as an opportunity to communicate something new about yourself. Give them a clue to your personality and unique set of experiences.

Point out how you can compensate for gaps.

If you do not meet the criteria set up for a job, do not hide this. If the Selection Committee is in doubt, it will tend to fail you. Instead, a much better strategy is to directly address this gap and point out the ways in which you might compensate for it. The Committee is usually looking for your good points, so make it easy for them to find them. If you do not meet the required 5 years of leadership experience, for example, say: “I have been in an official leadership function for only two years, but have been leading teams in projects for x years…etc.”

I am sure I could do with a bit of my own advice as well in my profile! Anyway…

Good luck with your applications and profile writing!