Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Diplomats in Residence

I contacted my regional Diplomat-in-Residence earlier this year, and had the opportunity to meet with him/her at an introductory seminar given at a nearby university. Out of a group of twenty to thirty, I was the only one not attending that University. Although the information given was geared primarily toward individuals & students who had not yet decided to take the fswe, there were a few valuable nuggets that encouraged me to be a little more open-minded when preparing for the OA later on (yes, I'm being optimistic). Disclaimer: I have not yet taken the OA, and will abide with the non-disclosure agreement as required at that time. Several of the examples cited were significantly different from past (pre-NDA) preparatory materials found on the both the State Department or Yahoo-FSOA sites; additionally, as they were freely mentioned in an open setting, then it is obviously outside the realm of confidentiality, and should be taken at face value.

Upon opening, the Diplomat (hereafter referred to as D.) stressed that there were no educational prerequisites to joining the Foreign Service, but that individual interest in language and regional studies were key components to success, irregardless of cone or track. [Notice they said "interest in", not "education in" or "experience in". Think 13-D's]. However, a background in certain areas could be beneficial in whichever cone is selected.

  • Political Cone - degree in Political Sciences, International Law
  • Economics Cone - International Business, Law
  • Public Diplomacy Cone - International Relations, Public Speaking
  • Consular Cone - Social Work, Psychology, Criminal Justice
  • Management/Administrative Cone - Business Management, Accounting

Last year (2004), D. stated, approximately nineteen thousand people (19,000) took the fswe, out of which roughly three thousand (3,000) went on to the fsoa. From those that passed, 538 were hired. These numbers are quite close to the 2002 statistics quoted in an earlier post.

Preparing for the FSWE, according to D:

Although "the list" is extensive, there are three focus areas which are key:

  1. The World Since 1945; Cliff Notes are good. [+1 point for Renato!]
  2. English Composition & Essay. Two words to describe your writing should be "clearly" and "well", and it shold not be too long. In the FSO world, if you are in Peru and four Americans are injured in a bus accident, you will have to cable an incident report to the State Department. They don't care about the history of the bus company, or Peruvian accident statistics since 1673, just what happened, why, and what is being done. In other words, Keep To The Point: Intro, Body (2-3 supporting paragraphs), Conclusion.
  3. U.S. Government (branches, structure, history, etc.)

Then on to FSOA:

The applicants should find out in late July if they are eligible to move on to the Oral Assessment (it takes a long time to grade nineteen thousand hand-written essays), which would be scheduled between September and March of the following year. The Diplomats-in-Residence generally plan on conducting prep sessions in September and October; as that is when most people try to take their orals. The OA is comprised of three sections:

  1. The Group Exercise - it could budget or financial, or even a crisis or contingency planning that needs to be dealt with. They want to see how well you work together with others.
  2. The Structured Interview - Why do you want to join the FS? How do your skills and background make a good fit with the FS? What would you do if twenty-five American citizens were arrested for demonstrating? What would you do if a [noticeably] deranged individual came in demanding to give up his citizenship and passport?
  3. Case Management - you are given a mess/mass of information and you have to make sense out of it: So-and-So (the Ambassador, the Secretary of State) wants to know...
Another Way In:

Another option for students is to apply for the Pickering Fellowship, which assists with college, pays a salary/stipend, and requires a five year commitment to serve as a JFSO, during which you must take and pass the FSWE. Traditional hires (via The Register) are not held to any contract or time commitment other than the regular tenuring limitations.

Summer internships are also available, for Summer 2006, but most positions are not paid, although they do generally pay travel and housing expenses.


I would estimate that a majority of the information was not new to me, but it was definitely a good thing to have introduced myself to D., associating a face with the email address, and knowing that they would be able to answer any additional questions that I might have further down the road. Assuming a passing score on the written exam (fingers crossed), I will be remaining in contact with him/her with regards to Oral Prep Sessions.