Monday, February 13, 2006

FSWE\BIO -- Management Experience

The Biographical (BIO) section is perhaps the most enigmatic section of the Foreign Service Written Exam (FSWE). None of the available FSWE Study Guides address it adequately, and the non-disclosure agreement disallows any systematic attempt to reconstruct it. Perhaps the best source for sample practice questions at present is the FSWE Study Guide.

The BIO portion of the actual exam, however, is much more in-depth (and stressful) than the sample question might indicate. According to the Registration Guide, "The biographic information questionnaire measures the candidate’s experience, skills and achievements in school, employment and other activities." As such, the only real way to prepare for this area is to actually take the exam.

For myself, I found myself stumbling over managerial-type questions--not due to the lack of experience, but because I lacked a familiarity with the technical terms/jargon and their associated concepts and techniques.

The best source I found was a book entitled Principles of Management. This CliffNotes Quick Review quickly and succinctly provided the overview I was needing (you can view the table of contents on Amazon). On the 'real life' level, (lacking true management 'training'), I found it to be extremely useful in improving our departmental productivity and problem solving.

The section on 'Staffing and Human Resource Management', interestingly enough, appeared to parallel the FSOA to some degree, as well as the entire candidacy process. Let me excerpt a few sentences, and see if they sound familiar [skip the FSOA parallels]:
  • "Application forms provide a record of salient information about applicants for positions, and also furnish data for personnel research." (pg. 105)
  • "Testing is another method of selecting competent future employees." (pg. 106)
  • "Knowledge tests...measure an applicant's comprehension or knowledge of a subject." (pg. 107)
  • "An assessment is a selection technique that examines candidates' handling of simulated job situations and evaluates a candidate's potential by observing his or her performance in experiential activities designed to simulate daily work." (pg. 107)
  • "Assessment centers...evaluate candidates as they go through exercises that these candidates would confront on their jobs. Activities may include interviews, problem-solving exercises, group discussions and business-decision games. Assessment centers have consistently demonstrated results that accurately predict later job performance in managerial positions." (pg. 107)
  • "Another...technique is the interview, a formal, in-depth conversation conducted to evaluate an applicant's acceptability." (pg. 107)
  • "Reference checking and health exams are two other important selection techniques that help in the staffing decision." (pg. 108)
  • "Once employees are selected, they must be prepared to do their jobs, which is where orientation and training come in." (pg. 108)
  • "Supervisors complete the orientation process by introducing new employees to coworkers and others involved in the job. A buddy or mentor may be assigned to continue the process." (pg. 109)
Thoughts? The SD website states that OA "is an examination, not a job interview"—which, although it parallels typical staffing strategies, both are significantly more intensive than a simple interview.

Additionally, I did find a few websites to be helpful in rounding out my management terminology. Googling the term 'management' will return over three billion hits! You could narrow your search terms, but I'll save you a little time:


Value Based Management

Beginner's Guide to Management

Harvard Business School (with newsletter)

If you stumble across any sites or references that have been useful to you, please include them in the comments. Thank you!