Friday, March 18, 2011

How I Passed the FSOA (Foreign Service Oral Assessment), Pt 1

After failing my previous OA in 2006, I spent a significant of time contemplating where I was in relation to where I was going and where I wanted to be.  In this regard, my experience failing the FSOA was critical, as it gave me a much better perspective on what was expected of a Foreign Service Officer, and what was required to pass the Oral Assessment.  Without that baseline, I would had difficulty putting everything into perspective.

My first realization was that I needed more 'people' experience: collaborating, managing, networking, etc.  The job I had at the time was extremely limited in this regard, and the easiest way (for me) to bridge this gap was to investigate a career change.  I had three primary criteria that a potential job offer would have to meet before I would accept it: it would have to be 1) intellectually challenging and/or demanding; 2) enjoyable should the Foreign Service option continue indefinitely; and 3) a logical step toward the FS in terms of requirements and expectations.

In May of 2007, I received and accepted a job offer (it was actually the only application I had submitted) to fill the position of XXXXXXX with XXXXXXXX supervising XXXXXXXXs.  Without going into specifics, I can say that it exceeded my job search requirements.  This position required a significant amount of training and shadowing before I could be given my own caseload, and I made the decision to put the FS on hold in order to focus on maximizing my experience with this new job.  Despite being a good fit with my educational background, the job's learning curve still left me feeling as though basketballs had been repeatedly slamdunked into my skull.

I realize that career transitions are not an option for everyone, but it made sense in my case, and it definitely paid off.  At my most recent FSOA, I could feel a noticeable improvement in my performance that I attributed directly to my experience with this new job.

If you are in a similar situation, but don't have this option, there are lots of other opportunities to develop your skillset without changing jobs: volunteer for a non-profit organization, volunteer for various committees in your community or workplace; get elected to a municipal committee to discuss cultural issues, take a leadership course, etc.  Think through the 13Ds: which ones do you most frequently demonstrate, and which ones do you have to think about?

In my next post, I will discuss some of the books I used to identify my own strengths and challenges, and how I utilized that information in my personal life, my [new] career, and in the FSOA!

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