Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thoughts on the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA)

After one passes the FSWE, he or she is able to progress to the second stage of their candidacy, the Foreign Service Oral Assessment, generally shortened to FSOA or just 'OA'. The State Department careers website provides an extensive overview of what one can expect to encounter at the OA. Alternatively, the Yahoo FSOA Group assists with preparation for the OA, as well as providing a valuable support network to help deal with the frustrations and stresses inherent to the process.

Both of these sites contain far more detailed information than I could possibly include here, so you'll definitely want to persue them at your leisure.

Although the process is described as being competitive, each candidate is scored on their own demonstrated merits, and is not compared to any other candidate past, present, or future. The process can also be a long, arduous one. Many FSOs have had to take the Oral Assessment three, four, sometimes eight time before passing. Passing the OA is attributed solely to one's successful demonstration of the 13-Ds (Thirteen Dimensions). Conversely, not passing is attributed solely to a failure to demonstrate the appropriate dimensions.

This does not mean that you aren't cut out for the job (heck, you already passed the FSWE, which in itself is an impressive feat), nor does it mean that you are any less of a person. The exam does not reflect on your humanity, your self-worth, or your life experiences--it simply looks to see if you can appropriately demonstrate the characteristics needed to perform well as a Foreign Service Officer.

Many people would make good FSOs--it's not denied that the OA often screens out worthy candidates. Quite a few become disinterested, distracted, frustrated, etc., and simply give up instead of trying again; the real filter of good candidates is not the OA itself—rather, it is the rate of attrition that gleans them from the process instead of encouraging them to keep pressing on. Thus, the ones who finally make it usually have the true motivation and desire to serve as opposed to those who take the test on a whim, and get in on their first attempt, only to discover it wasn't what they had expected.

Anything worth having is worth the effort spent to obtain it. If you don't pass on this attempt, take some time to decompress before reevaluating how this fits with your life goals. If this is something you really want, then get back in line. You're not alone, nor are you a masochist, although it certainly can feel that way at times.

As an FSO you will have to be both resilient and bulletproof--consider this practice for the position. ;)