This inaugural post attempts to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the process of becoming a foreign service officer and what lies ahead. In the future, I promise to share my thoughts about less esoteric and byzantine topics--all without divulging any state secrets. You can go to Wikileaks for that!
To begin, getting a job in the Foreign Service is an exercise in patience and persistence. Tens of thousands of people apply every year but only a couple hundred are hired. The spaghetti flow chart below illustrates the long and windy road that many travel. In reality, few reach the final destination of becoming a diplomat.
What stage of the process am I in now?
Fortunately, my path has not been too circuitous and I am tantalizingly close to the "blue star" at the bottom left! As of January 19, I am on the official register of candidates awaiting appointment to the Foreign Service. I am a register for those in the Political Affairs track, which currently has over 200 other eligible candidates. There are four other tracks, or "cones", each with their own rank-ordered register. The ranking on the register is extremely important in determining when (or if) I receive a formal job offer from the State Department.
What is my rank on the Political Register?
My rank is based on the score from the Oral Assessment (OA) I took back in October plus bonus points for any language proficiency or military service. In my case, I passed the OA with the minimum score (5.3) but am very fortunate to receive a .5 boost for my dormant Arabic which is obviously in high demand these days. With my combined score of 5.8 (ka-ching!), I expect to be ranked in the 20s on the Political Register. It is important to note that the register is dynamic and my ranking will change based on incoming/outgoing candidacies on the register. Only a select number of candidates receive a "call" to join the Foreign Service based on the State Department budget and hiring needs. Sadly, people with lower rankings often languish on the register for months and some candidacies even expire.
When do I expect a call?
As far as I can tell, every candidate with a score of 5.8 on the Political Register has eventually received a "call" to join the Foreign Service. My score and rank will likely result in a call for the next class for incoming Foreign Service Officers, tentatively scheduled to begin at the end of May. The calls usually go out 2-3 months before the class so that means I should expect a call within the next few weeks. Yikes! But wait, hold off on that going away party. My perch at the upper end of the register gives me the luxury of deferring my start until later.
When do I plan to start?
I am still weighing various factors and considerations about start dates but I am leaning towards accepting a call to begin in September. In my next post, I will probably share my ongoing thinking about this matter. In short, my heart wants me to start as soon as possible but my head tells me to wait until the fall. After accepting the long-awaited call, I begin a 6-week orientation class in DC known as A-100. Regardless of when I start, I will be going solo to A-100 until I find out my first assignment.
When do I get my first assignment?
In the first or second week of A-100, all members of the class are given an identical list of all the posts that are available for our first tour. Using guidance from a career development officer, the language restrictions (I need to use my Arabic in one of my first two tours), and other considerations, I will "bid" on the available posts, ranking each as a high, medium, or low. I think about this constantly. It is obviously a source of considerable anxiety but, for me, this will be the ultimate "kid in a candy store" moment (assuming the bid list is not entirely comprised of Mexican border posts). The climax will come at a ceremony known as Flag Day, during which all first-tour assignments are given out along with their corresponding departure dates.
When do I (we) leave?
I have already learned that "it depends" is the most common refrain of life in the Foreign Service. My first assignment will entail some training after A-100 concludes in October. I estimate the departure date could range anywhere between 1-9 months from then. As for when I and/or the family is leaving, "we" is in parentheses because there is the possibility that I leave by myself for the first post and the family follows sometime later. I promise to provide more of my thinking on that later too.
Well, that should suffice for this first post. I hope it addresses the many questions out there. It was largely informational and hopefully not too boring for inquiring minds who want to know about "what kind of food they eat over there." I've still got a ways to go before I'm comparing curries but I will try to "spice up" future posts. Stay tuned!