Friday, April 06, 2007

The Selection Process, revamped

As many of you know, the FSWE (and the process as a whole) has been largely reworked.

The FSWE is now going to be computer-based, instead of the traditional pencil and paper format that we have come to know and love. It's rumored that it will be somewhat shorter than before, and will still include the beloved essay; the only omission will be the cone-specific sections that State had experimented with during the past two years. I liked that aspect of the exam as it gave a very slight advantage to those candidates who were actually interested in the position and had done some preliminary research into what would be expected of them in the field. Alas, it is no more.

The biggest changes are in the Registration Process and the introduction of the QEP (Qualifications Evaluation Panel).

Now when the candidates begin to register, they will be required to complete and submit an Application Form, which includes "information about their schooling, work history, and volunteer activities", and a Personal Narrative, consisting of descriptions of the candidates' experiences and qualifications. After submission, the candidates will receive instructions about how to make a reservation to take the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test).

Here's where it gets interesting. The FS Careers Site states "Candidates must achieve a passing score on the test in order to have their essay scored. If candidates pass both the test and the essay, they will move forward to the next step, the Qualifications Evaluation Panel."

The first part is nothing new; every candidate knows that a minimum score must be reached to have their essay scored, and that onward progress is impossible without passing that critical section.

The QEP, however, is the big black box in the equation. Again, the FS site states: "The Qualifications Evaluation Panel will adopt a comprehensive Total Candidate approach in reviewing candidates’ test scores, essay scores, application forms, and personal narratives. In evaluating candidates, the panel will apply guidelines that are based on the actual knowledge, abilities, and skills required to effectively carry out the work of the Foreign Service. In the end, the Qualifications Evaluation Panel will identify those candidates who will advance to the Oral Assessment."

Until it becomes clear how the QEP will function, there will be some concern. In the past, there were two cutoff scores to the FSWE: the first was to score the essay; the second (and higher of the two) was to determine whether the candidate could progress on to the Oral Assessment.

It has been rumored that the QEP will use the Application Forms and Personal Narratives as "bonus points" to help bump up those applicants who display strengths suited to the FS, but whose test score may not have been quite high enough to move them along normally. If this is the case, it will certainly help the FS stem the high attrition rate of the applicant pool.

However, if they opt to use the Application Form and Personal Narrative as an additional Pass/Fail section (like the essay), then I am afraid we would see the end of the FS as being representative of the US population as a whole, and a return to the Ivy League Fancy Pants Cookie-Pushing Elite that characterized the FS of a century ago.

I may be wrong, but I don't see that happening. I'm confident that this process is changing to help the State Department streamline the hiring process, to minimize candidate attrition, and to continue to show the world the 'face of America'.

We'll know for certain before long.

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