Wednesday, June 15, 2005

FSO Mentors

The website has a email contact link for FSO Mentors, which puts you in contact with some of the recruitment team for DoS. They usually are the first point of contact for individuals who have heard of the State Department, or who are interested in getting more information about the structure and processes involved.

I contacted them out of curiousity a few weeks ago, and quickly received an emailed response, but they are frequently out of the office, and we had to play phone tag for some time (2-3 weeks) before we could actually speak to each other on the phone. They seem willing enough to do some basic preliminary communication via email, but prefer the fluidity and flexibility of a voice conversation. The individual with whom I spoke presumed I was at square one for the process, and offered to walk me through the website and encouraged me to sign up for fswe updates. He was quite friendly, and asked about my educational and experience backgrounds and made a few recommendations about possibly pursuing specialist or USAID positions in addition to the generalist one.

Although they are unable to provide you with specific preparatory infromation, their job is to 'demystify' the State Department as much as possible so that candidates will clearly understand about what they are getting themselves into. He stressed communicating your intentions with your family from the outset; that a number of applicants had passed the fswe, had received an ICO at the OA, only to sit down with the medical and security clearance personnel and say "uh, I'd better check with my wife first". That's too late. The individual with whom I spoke also pointed out a few things an applicant should keep in mind. He said that he never had any desire to follow the CON track, because he couldn't bear facing down adults crying, begging or threatening him whenever their app was turned down. Additionally, (and especially if you are in CON) despite your rank and position, and depending on which embassy/consulate you are posted to, you may NEVER be fully free of the visa line. Personnel rotate in or out, go on vacation, etc., and if you have only six FSOs in your department, you will be shouldering your share of the load.

Some of our older members might be interested in the bid process. As it was explained to me, you would be assigned/paired up with a CDO (career development officer) during the A-100 class. This individual would work closely with you to determine your goals and desires, and to recommend and advocate your post bids. As you progress through your career, and bid on various posts, your CDO will advocate for you before the review panels, "I believe M is particularly well suited for this post because X, Y, & Z." Competing bids will also be advocated by their corresponding CDOs. The panel makes their recommendations based on the applicants experience, references, previous posts, language abilities, etc. Usually the mission itself will have priority in selecting the final candidate, although the panel does have the right to override that decision (apparently they seldom do). A good CDO will take into account your goals and position in the Foreign Service and can recommend upcoming posts that might help to boost your career. Once your bid has been accepted, it must be determined which mission will take the loss, especially if language training is involved. Romance languages generally require about 4 months training; CNLs or other difficult languages may require a year or more. Let's assume your current post position ends on July 31 or this year, and the new position starts on August 30, but you need to learn Italian first. One month is not enough time to learn the language. Does your current post allow you to leave early enough, will the new post permit you to arrive late, or will there be a compromise between the two? It depends. Determining factors may include mission size and current personnel needs. Larger missions typically have sufficient resources to minimize the "loss" impact, whereas a tiny embassy may not be able to permit it, particularly if other FSOs are being rotated in or out during the same time frame. Also, if the language is essential to the post, then they may be more willing to allow you to come later, assuring themselves that the language training will enable you to perform your job more effectively than if you had come immediately sans language. Before you assume that this negatively impacts your file, you need to remember that this is pretty much par for the course for every FSO bidding on the next post. The State Department has people available to fill these short-term 'holes', if necessary: the 'Rovers' and the WAEs. The Rovers are usually higher level officers that are near retirement, and have made themselves available to stand-in as necesssary. I suppose it's possible that some have already retired, but allow themselves to be 'on-call', so to speak. The WAE's are individuals who are somehow 'contracted' to the State Department, and do not receive a regular salary. They are paid 'W'hen 'A'ctually 'E'mployed.

I seem to recall hearing recently that every third bid needed to be Stateside. Of course, the actuality of this will be determined by your career path, but I was told that everyone was required, at the minimum, to be posted in Washington at least once every fifteen years.

This is some of the information that he was willing to share with me over the course of an hour or so - I did not take a lot of notes, and the preponderance of this is taken from memory, and as such may contain a few inaccuracies. Their email link is located on (right hand column toward the bottom), or directly at FSOMentors at state dot gov.

BTW, he did mention that they heard this week that ACT still did not have all the scores ready, but that they expected them shortly. Apparently (he said), ACT scores all the exams and all the essays, and sends all scores to State for review. State then consults their hiring needs calculus and 'blesses' the cutoff scores. And then there will be joy. Or not. ;)

If you're new to the process, and not quite sure if or how you might be able to 'fit in', do contact one of these recruiters. If you're already jaded by the process, then you probably know most of this information already. :)