Friday, January 29, 2010

The Foreign Service

I realize that I have mentioned the Foreign Service a couple times now and understand that probably the majority of you don’t know much about FS, or about the process it takes to become a FSO (Foreign Service Officer). This could potentially become our future in the next couple months so I thought it might be appropriate to write a post, educating my fellow readers... or at least about the parts that I do know thus far in the process. (Becky, or any other FSO, feel free to correct me if I get something wrong.) Much of my info are direct quotes from the U.S. Department of State website.

Foreign Service Officers are employees of the U.S. Department of State. FSOs “strengthen peace and support prosperity as they promote our business interests and protect American citizens throughout the world. Since the work of the U.S. Department of State affects the world and is carried out in every country around the globe, FSOs are posted at any one of over 265 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions in The Americas, Africa, Europe and Eurasia, East Asia and Pacific, Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia.”

FSOs follow one of five career tracks:

Consular: Consular Officers protect Americans abroad and strengthen U.S. border security
Economic: Economic Officers promote economic partnerships, development, and fair trade
Management: Management Officers run our embassies and make American diplomacy work
Political: Political Officers analyze political events
Public Diplomacy: Public Diplomacy Officers explain American values and policies

Jake chose the Political track, which is fairly competitive, along with the Public Diplomacy track.

Becoming a FSO

Let me just warn you, this process is not for the faint at heart. It is long and grueling, which I suppose is a comfort, to know those representing our country overseas have been through the ringer and are surely capable and qualified to do their job.

First you choose a career track (as mentioned above.) Then you register for and take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). The test will measure your knowledge, skills and abilities, including writing skills that are necessary to the work of a Foreign Service Officer. The test includes three multiple-choice sections:

Job knowledge *,
English expression,
and a biographic information section that asks you to describe your work style, your manner of interacting and communicating with others, and your approach to other cultures.
* Job knowledge questions will cover a broad range of topics including but not limited to the structure and workings of the U.S. government, U.S. and world history, U.S. culture, psychology, management theory, finance and economics, and world affairs. In addition, you will be given 30 minutes to write an essay on an assigned topic.

The test will be given during eight-day windows, three times a year. (Jake took the FSOT in June.)

After you pass the FSOT, you move onto the next step which is the QEP or Qualifications Evaluation Panel. You then submit a Personal Narrative (PN) in which you answer questions describing the knowledge, skills, and abilities you would bring to the Foreign Service. You should provide examples from your previous experiences that show you have the skills to be a successful FSO. This is an important part of the application and is read carefully by each member of a Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) made up of trained Foreign Service Officers. The panel assesses your PN based on six precepts that are predictors of success in the Foreign Service. These precepts include:

Leadership: innovation, decision making, teamwork, openness to dissent, community service and institution building
Interpersonal Skills: professional standards, persuasion and negotiation, workplace perceptiveness, adaptability, representational skills
Communication Skills: written communication, oral communication, active listening, public outreach, foreign language skill
Management Skills: operational effectiveness, performance management and evaluation, management resources, customer service
Intellectual Skills: information gathering and analysis, critical thinking, active learning, leadership and management training
Substantive Knowledge: Understanding of U.S. history/ government/culture and application in dealing with other cultures. Knowledge and application of career track relevant information.

If you pass this step, you then are invited (on your dime) to the Oral Assessment (OA) which is conducted in Washington, D.C. and in various major cities around the US. This day-long program seeks to determine whether you have the 13 dimensions that are essential to the performance of Foreign Service work. The OA includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise. If you want more info on the OA, click HERE. Jake flew out to DC in November, nervous and uneasy about the test. He didn’t call me until close to 6pm DC time, elated that he had passed. There were 16 testers in his group, and seven passed. The Dept of State website says to pass the OA you need a 5.25 (although I’ve never heard of someone getting a 5.25, only a 5.3.) Anyway, overall scoring is on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being very poor and 7 being a near perfect performance.

After the OA you proceed to the next phase of the hiring process, including the language bonus point system, the medical examination, and the security background investigation. Jake was able to up his OA score by .17 to 5.57 by passing off his French in December. This score is very important and dictates if and when you will be hired. The medical examination is intense (I already posted about it HERE.) All of us had to be examined, to make sure we are healthy and worldwide available. The security background investigation is also intense. Your previous employment, credit scores, rental history, debts, international contacts, close friends, neighbors, etc. will all be closely investigated and scrutinized, making sure there are no skeletons in your closet. They do not mess around. They want to make sure the people they hire will not be security threats to our country, and will represent America in the utmost positive light. The security clearance can take two months, or sometimes MANY months. It just depends how involved your background is (how often you have traveled internationally, how often you have moved, debts, foreign contacts, etc.) Jake is currently in this stage of the game and we are nearly at week 11 since his case was opened. As of this past Monday we were told everything was turned in and we should contact them again later next week to see if there is any change. Crossing our fingers our file gets moving! Once you pass the security background, your file is then sent to Final Suitability Review and a panel reviews your case and gives you the thumbs up or down. If it’s a ‘go‘ you are then put on The Register. Remember those 5 tracks mentioned at the beginning of this process? Yep, there are 5 registers and you are placed on the register of the track that you chose months ago. You are ranked on that register based on the score you received in DC.

Next, you wait, and hope, and pray that your number is called up before it expires off the register in 18 months, when you have to start the whole process all over again (no joke, you really do.) Once your number is called, you are extended an invitation to DC to attend an A-100 training, and at that point you feel a sigh of relief because you are now on your way, really truly, to being a FSO.

Once you get to DC you spend approximately 5 weeks in an orientation program. The focus of the orientation is on introducing new employees to the structure and function of the Department and its role in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy; developing an understanding of the terms of employment; and enhancing core skills needed by all Foreign Service Officers. The A-100 course, based at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, is primarily a classroom experience. But it also includes trips to Capitol Hill and to other federal agencies, as well as a three-day offsite at a nearby conference center. In addition to presentations by guest speakers and U.S. Department of State officials, A-100 also includes a series of practical exercises and case studies.

At the end of orientation they have what is called “Flag Day” where each FSO is called up and receives a flag from the country in which they will spend their first assignment (which will last usually two years.) The adventure begins...

So, as you can see, it’s quite a long and arduous journey. It's crazy to think it has already been 9 1/2 months since Jake registered for the FSOT, and I'm betting we still have another month or so until he makes it on The Register, and who knows how much longer until we get an invite to A-100. Despite all the waiting, and the stress of the unknown, we are still optimistic and excited for what this would mean for our little family. An interesting fact: I heard a statistic awhile back that said only approximately 10% of applicants who take the FSOT will ultimately make it past the OA which is quite an astonishing statistic, and makes me again appreciate Jake and how totally smart and capable he is. He will make a great FSO.

Who knows what 2010 will bring for our family. This time next year we could be in Mauritania, or Tunisia, or Togo, or Quebec, or Madagascar, or the Congo, or ... Oh, the anticipation. Stay tuned.


Russ and Em said...

Flag Day was yesterday for my friend. She is going to China an hour away from the Hong Kong Temple. The other Mormon families in her group were going to Kuwait and Istambul! Crazy!

She is very excited and because she is learning Chinese will be in DC for another year. All the FSO end up in the same ward because of housing so you will likely meet her when you get there.

Ben and Melanie said...

Wow, that is intense, and I thought getting into med school was hard. Good luck

Anonymous said...

I think you did a great job! I would add that Kennan found skittles to be a great way to stay awake during the orientation. Just kidding. (They just throw info at you like mad. Super helpful but can burn you out a bit.) His orientation was longer though. Nice that they have shortened it. If someone you trust wants to see a slice of the FS life (your family, friends, etc.), send em over my direction. Just let me know. I use the password because I have so many pics on the site but if someone you know is interested in the FS, they are welcome to visit our site.
FS is not for everyone but I think you guys will do awesome. Good luck! We're thinking of you.
-Becky, Kennan and kiddos

Shawn O. said...

Quebec! Quebec! We're crossing our fingers!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...


Digger said...

I keep a blogroll of foreign service blogs, and have just added a second one for FS hopefuls. I have added a link to your blog there at

Good luck with getting the call!

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