Register a SA Forums Account here!
JOINING THE SA FORUMS WILL REMOVE THIS BIG AD, THE ANNOYING UNDERLINED ADS, AND STUPID INTERSTITIAL ADS!!!

You can: log in, read the tech support FAQ, or request your lost password. This dumb message (and those ads) will appear on every screen until you register! Get rid of this crap by registering your own SA Forums Account and joining roughly 150,000 Goons, for the one-time price of $9.95! We charge money because it costs us money per month for bills, and since we don't believe in showing ads to our users, we try to make the money back through forum registrations.
 
  • Post
  • Reply
Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

SWATJester,

First of all: Do go, Awesome jobs, Die well traveled.

I have spent almost a decade as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with the State Department, and it is one of the very best jobs out there. Travel the world. Work issues those International Law Pandas can only dream about. Get paid to learn languages. Make good money (along with a great retirement plan!)

There are plenty of JDs around State (we sometimes refer to them as "recovering attorneys"), so you will be in good company. As others have said, having had a previous clearance won't help with the process, but your veteran's status will.

In addition to State's career page, there are a couple of other really good resources out there:

For the FSOT (written test): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fswe/

For the FSOA (oral assesment): http://groups.yahoo.com/group/fsoa/

I don't want to go into too much personal detail here, but do PM me with any questions you might have -- I'll fill in the gory details (background, places I've worked, etc.) there. I'm happy to answer any general questions in this thread, too.

Adbot
ADBOT LOVES YOU

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

quote:

What is your background?

I joined the Foreign Service directly after graduating with my undergraduate degree. Prior to that, I had quite a bit of volunteer work but no full-time employment.

quote:

What is the background of other people you worked with?
Do most people come from certain schools/academic backgrounds?

It's all across the board. I know folks who, in prior lives, were oceanographers, archeologists, botanists, NGO workers, Peace Corps volunteers, military (both enlisted and commissioned), law enforcement, teachers, comedy writers, lawyers, etc.

When they say no specific major or field of study is required, they really mean it.

My classmates and colleagues come from a full range of colleges and universities -- some I've heard of, and some I haven't. Graduates of good international studies grad programs tend to be well represented, but by no means a majority.

quote:

What is the average age of a new hire?

Most are late 20s to 30s, but oldest dude in my class was 56. Youngest was 21. You have to join before you turn 60 (to allow a minimal pension to vest).

quote:

Can people transition from a FSO position to an CIA type position?

One could always make a formal job application, but there is no mechanism within the Service to do so; they are two separate organizations. If you're talking about analysis, the State Department has its own intelligence bureau in Washington where FSOs can work for periods of time as analysts.

quote:

I've always thought being an FSO sounded like a great career. If I ever get accepted into the Peace Corps I've thought about giving it a shot.

Why not just skip the Peace Corps and go straight for State? The diplomatic lifestyle is much more comfortable.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Knowing a language reasonably well will improve your chances of getting hired, but is not necessary. That said, it seemed like most of my classmates knew at least one foreign language, and lots of folks knew more than one. If your language is a "critical need" (see State's recruitment website for more info) like Arabic, Hindi, Chinese, or the like, you will get a bigger bump than, say, proficiency in French or Dutch.

PCV experience always looks good on the resume, so that is a good way to hedge your bets (though I don't know how competitive Peace Corps is these days). At the same time you should apply (and keep applying each year) to the Foreign Service; the initial test is free and you are not penalized for repeated attempts (lots of FSOs took the tests more than once).

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Liface posted:

I'm very interested in foreign cultures, but I've heard that the foreign service encourages its members to keep their distance to prevent them from becoming too attached. This discourages me, because I'm a fan of living in foreign cultures just as the people in those same cultures do.

Can anyone say anything about this?

Not at all the case. You're basically able to integrate as much as you please into your host country's culture. Now, in many places you will be wealthier and live in nicer housing than many of the locals, so that could get in the way of living "just" like the locals. Or maybe you would be living just like the local elite.

psydude posted:

Have any of you FSOs worked with US military Foreign Area Officers before? If so, what exactly was your relationship with them like?

I have worked extensively with FAOs from the Marines, Navy, Army and Air Force. They have almost all been sharp, impressive folks. As far as the relationship goes, when our work brings us together, we work together and, in the places I've served, at least, we have consulted frequently with one another. I really like the mil folks, personally.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

TCD posted:

As best as I know for Officers, you just need to have your resume and application packet make it past FSOT the QEP process. Once you get past that point, it's all about you at the Orals, not your resume and that's where it gets hard.

Though the process has changed since I went through it, I think there is a "structured interview" section of the FSOA where a resume plays a role. The idea, though, that strong performance at the FSOA is key can't be ignored; you have to pass the FSOA before things like language or veterans preference can bump you up.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

If State has one real strength from a training perspective, language instruction is it. My comments pertain to generalists, since I am not up-to-speed on opportunities for specialists.

All training, language or otherwise, is tied to one's current or onward assignment. So, if you want to learn, say, Arabic, the key is to find a job that requires Arabic proficiency with enough time to complete language training before the job begins (this timing is usually worked into the position start date, so it is normally pretty straightforward).

State has three broad categories of languages:

  • "World" languages generally take six to nine months of full-time instruction to go from no knowledge to a "3" level on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale (http://www.govtilr.org/). World languages basically include the Romance and Germanic language families.

  • "Hard" languages are allotted 44 weeks (one academic year) of instruction to reach the 3 level. With a few exceptions (see below), any language not a World language falls in this category.

  • The "Super-Hard" languages, which are Arabic (including several dialects), Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Japanese and Korean, have courses up to 88 weeks (two academic years) to get students to the 3 level. The second year is usually done overseas at a field school or contract program. There are U.S. Government field schools in Tunis, Taipei, Yokohama and Seoul, and I know of contract programs in Cairo and Beijing, at least.
While in language training you have no other work responsibilities. Most of the training for programs up to one year occur at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center/Foreign Service Institute (FSI) located in Arlington, Virginia. Classes tend to be small (usually one to four students) all all teachers are native speakers of their language. The FSI website says that more than 70 languages are taught there. Naturally, some programs are big, while others accomodate only a few students. If you are in between overseas assignments while in language training, you will receive per diem (with some exceptions that aren't worth going into here).

There are regulations limiting the number of times an FSO can receive a full course of Hard or Super-Hard languages (twice, with the possibility of a third), and entry-level officers (ELOs; these are officers on their first or second tour) often don't receive full courses longer than six months because training eats into the clock for achieving tenure (a career requirement). Overall, though, most officers do two or three foreign languages, with many focusing on one or two during their career. Time spent in language training is not considered career enhancing, so most people never bump up against the regulations once they leave the entry level. There are also pay incentives to serve repeat tours using certain languages which encourage officers to to focus on one or two languages.

There are also opportunities for self-study and language maintenance and improvement. These are handled on a case-by-case basis, but are usually pretty easy to get if needed or wanted.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Omits-Bagels posted:

Is there a fight to get the "good" locations (London, Paris, etc...)?

For generalists, this is very much the case, particularly after leaving the entry level. Nice places with few constraints for language proficiency or medical issues tend to be very heavily bid. From recent lists, I recall a single position in Sydney with 48 bidders and one in London with 29 bidders. These days, just about the only way to get to Paris, London, Brussels, Rome, (insert desireable European capital here) is to first go to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

What if you already have a background in a superhard language, does that reduce the training time? For instance, I'm between a 2 and a 3 in both Chinese and Japanese. Would I be starting at my current level in these languages and then advancing from there, or would I be starting at day one as if I never had any exposure and progressing through with a whole class of people.

A number of factors could come into play in this case. For entry-level officers (ELOs), training for Hard and Super-Hard languages is usually abbreviated to about six to nine months. To reflect this, the required level of proficiency for many ELO positions is only 2 (instead of the normal requirement of 3). So if you joined and had between a 2 and 3 in the language of your assigned post, you might not receive any training for that tour because you already meet the 2 prerequisite. Sometimes, if timing works, ELOs will get enough language training to bring them up to the next level (such as if you were close to 3 but just not quite there). In any case, you would always start from where you were. FSI is quite responsive to students with uneven language levels.

For mid-level jobs an above, you would get whatever instruction needed to get to the 3 level. Timing remains tricky, though; if you have 3 level Spanish, you will probably not be able to bid jobs that would leave you with a six-month gap where language training would otherwise be. So, depending on the case, timing can hurt you or help you.

As Vilerat points out, you may or may not get an initial posting somewhere you already speak the language. In that case State would give you the instruction necessary to reach the language requirement for your job, if any.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Haji posted:

Do any Eastern Bloc countries have large posts?

As far as former Soviet states go, Moscow is probably the largest embassy. Due to GWOT and Afghanistan issues, Tashkent also has a very large embassy. The smallest staff right now might be in Minsk, where Belarussian authorities expelled much of the mission several years ago. Not sure if they have re-staffed yet.

Jobs throughout the FSU are still reasonably easy to get, though spouses might have a tougher time. Each host country has its own policy on this issue, and there are not always enough jobs -- good or not -- to go around at post for spouses. As was noted earlier, spouses wanting to work within the mission (often the only option for employment) may find themselves with the options of working outside their specialty or not working at all.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

I'm one FSO who really, really did not enjoy consular work. I am definitely not alone in this. A few reasons why some folks dislike consular work:

  • It is not what they signed up for. State does a pretty good job letting applicants know that they are likely to spend one to four years doing consular work during their first two (two-year) tours. I believe the average these days is something like two to three years, though some only do one year, and others spend their entire first two tours in consular. (Some lucky few actually dodge the bullet altogether -- the "consular requirement" is actually an HR policy, not a regulation -- but these are very few and far between.) Assuming some time in language and other training, if you are not a consular track officer you could very well spend your first five years in the Foreign Service without even working in your chosen career track. And that sucks.

  • Visa work is pretty monotonos. Though workloads vary by post, real visa mills -- Manila, Lagos, Mexico City (and some Mexico consulates), some China posts, India, etc. (list is not comprehensive) -- will have enough work to keep visa officers doing nothing but visas, eight hours a day, every work day. Some posts allow officers to work overtime on weekends due to the high number of applications. After you have done 5,000 or so interviews, it really doesn't take too much mental effort to correctly adjudicate 99% of applications you see. The other one percent might be interesting, but those are bad odds any way you cut it.

  • Visa work is often adversarial. I have had colleagues remark, "The interview doesn't really begin until after you say 'no'." It is no fun refusing a visa, and even if your country/post has a reasonably low refusal rate, high numbers of applicants mean that you're saying "no" a lot. Many applicants choose to argue, assuming the officer didn't understand their situation (this is almost never the case). Also, in some cultures it is common to falsify documents or statements even when completely unnecessary, so officers spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is true and what isn't. It is no fun to be lied to for eight hours a day.

  • ACS work gets mixed reviews. American Citizen Services (ACS) is cited by many officers as their favorite part of consular work. ACS is the place you go when you have lost your passport, or need new pages put in, or need a notarization, etc. It is also the office that deals with arrests and deaths of U.S. citizens abroad. Lots of officers really enjoy ACS work. I found it more like being a social worker with no training and no budget. Also, though there are times when truly down-on-their-luck folks come in after being mugged, etc., most ACS cases tend to be from a very self-selecting demographic. "Wow, so who do you think might have put that heroin into your bag before you left Thailand? Really? No idea???"
That said, there are plenty of officers who spend their whole career working in the consular field, and they love it. Some reasons why:
  • The hours are good. With the exception of ACS (which by definition deals with emergencies), consular is almost always an eight-to-five job. Also, the visa process is very IT heavy, so you're not taking work home from the office. (This helps to avoid malfeasance issues, too.) There are generally fewer representational requirements for consular officers than for traditional reporting officers, thus leaving one's evenings free.

  • People quickly move into management. Once you move into the mid-levels (after your first two tours, usually), consular positions become much more about managing and supervising people, money and programs. Whereas an economic officer might supervise one or two ELOs and an office manager, a consular peer might very well be managing ten or more ELOs and dozens of local foreign nationals. The other plus side is that consular managers rarely spend time on the visa line, which is generally disliked by all (even career consular managers).

  • Better opportunities for a career with true geographic diversity. At State, the geographic bureaus (East Asia & Pacific, Africa, Western Hemisphere, Europe, South and Central Asia, Near East) each "own" most of the overseas jobs in their respective regions. So, if you are an economic officer looking for a job in Cairo, you will need to get the Near East bureau to sign off on giving you the job. After the initial two tours, getting jobs is basically a function of your reputation and whom you know. Therefore, FSOs need to spend significant time in one or two bureaus in order to make the connections necessary to get good jobs. This is especially true as one advances through the mid-levels.

    Consular jobs, however, are all "owned" by the Bureau of Consular Affairs (abbreviated CA). This means that, instead of focusing on a specific geographic area, consular officers need only cultivate contacts within a single bureau. A consular officer could do tours (in good, career-enhancing jobs) in every bureau, something exceedingly difficult for non-consular colleagues.
So there is good and bad to consular work. My career consular colleagues almost universally love the work and the lifestyle. It wasn't for me, but don't let me dissuade people from considering a consular career; it could be the perfect fit.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Happydayz posted:

Political officer stuff

As you correctly surmised, portfolios depend a lot on the size of the post and the number of officers in the Political Section. In a large embassy, a Political Section could have 15-20 political officers, so portfolios would be correspondingly narrow. At a post with a sole political officer, he or she would cover everything. While a small post can provide opportunities for reporting and activism on a wide range of issues, it does make it difficult to really delve into one or two areas; there is always something else demanding one's attention. Conversely, working in a large section means that one might only have one or two issues to work. You might become the resident USG expert on issues such as Trafficking in Persons or a specific political party, but that is basically all you will be working until the portfolios get reshuffled (usually every year or so).

As TCD noted, Pol-Mil work is vital, important work. There is an entire Pol-Mil bureau at the department that focuses largely on relations with DoD and manages foreign military sales programs. There are also opportunities to attend mid-career and senior-level service schools or to serve as a policy advisor (POLAD) to major military commands around the world. Also, if you are the adventurous type, there are great liaison opportunities at Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Suntory BOSS posted:

One negative that I've heard, and that would probably bother me quite a bit, is that there's something of a Cone Hierarchy, with the elite Econ/Political cones on the top, and (the somewhat easier to get into) Consular on the other end of the spectrum. My ego is a fragile, sensitive little creature, and I'd hate to be looked down upon because I enjoy doing the work that everybody else gripes about. Any truth to that?

You might see some of this, but I think it is overblown. Most people across the board seem very satisfied with their jobs, and realize that others feel the same way. And every career consular officer I know is fully aware of how advantageous that career track can be (covered above).

Besides, anyone crazy enough to post on SA probably has a pretty resilient ego. . . .

Suntory BOSS posted:

Pol-Mil is another area that I can see myself really enjoying; once somebody enters the political cone, how do they guide themselves into that line of work?

To work in Pol-Mil you just seek out and bid on Pol-Mil jobs. Larger embassies tend to have several slots within the Political Section, and if one or more is open, you can bid and lobby aggressively. Places like Baghdad have an entire Pol-Mil Section separate from the Political Section.

Few officers will make a career exclusively in Pol-Mil work. More common is a variety of Pol-Mil and traditional political reporting jobs, with perhaps a tour or two outside of one's own career track.

This is worth highlighting. There is nothing to keep an officer in one career track -- take consular, for example -- from serving multiple tours in other specialties, such as public diplomacy, econ, pol or management. This cross-pollination is another reason why you don't hear too much talking down about other career tracks; your colleagues might just be from the other track. Once one gains a reputation for competence in a job, it is relatively easy to secure multiple jobs outside the home career track. The main drawback is that promotion boards tend not to promote officers who spend significant time out of their track. Once every few tours is considered career enhancing, while multiple back-to-back tours out of track will slow the promotion prospects.

So, if consular looks really good to you, but you would also like to try Pol-Mil work, that is very realistic. There is great flexibility in a Foreign Service career.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

NPR has a radio program about foreign affairs called America Abroad, and recently they had a show about the future of the State Department. In it they discuss DoS programs run in the field to help host governments solve law enforcement and social issues. "Plan Colombia" was the project they focused on as an example. Which career track puts you most directly in line for participating in that sort of program?

Here's a link to the program.
http://www.americaabroadmedia.org/programs/view/id/132
Besides the geographic bureaus, State also has a number of "Functional" bureaus that cut across geographic areas. Included are the bureaus of Political-Military Affairs (PM), International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL; also known as "Drugs and Thugs") and Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), among others. These bureaus partially "own" and fund certain positions overseas, with titles such as "Narcotics Affairs Officer" or "Labor Officer." Depending on the country or even the post, these positions might reside in the Political Section, Economic Section or even (as in Bogota) in a standalone Narcotics Affairs Section. These positions generally welcome FSOs from any career track.

xanthig posted:

Also, how do the DoS Econ offices and Commerce Department overseas offices differ?

Econ officers are basically reporting officers. They will meet with knowledgeable experts in banking, trade, finance, regulation, and any number of economics-related topics. Then, they will compile reports to send to Washington. They also work to advance U.S. policy, such as the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) or market access issues.

Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) FSOs tend to focus on trade and investment promotion. They serve as matchmakers to put businesses in the United States in touch with potential partners or clients in the host country. I'm sure they do a lot more, too, but I'm not intimately familiar with FCS operations.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

Do you have to obtain SLI level 2-3 in the language for every country you serve in?

If after your first two tours you have to get hired into your new assignments, and that usually happens on a regional basis, can you end up serving in the same country for several assignments? Does having too many assignments to any one country hurt your ability to advance?

Each individual job has its own language requirements. Plenty of jobs require no language proficiency. Some will only require a 2 level, or a 3 level (3 is as high as formal requirements go, though officers with higher skill levels are sometime more sought after for specific positions). Some requirements are not necessary intuitive -- there is at least one Russian-designated consular position in Tel Aviv, and there are Farsi-designated jobs scattered around the world acting as Iran-Watchers.

Opportunities to serve repeat tours in the same country depend alot on the size of the U.S. diplomatic mission there. Countries with lots of posts or large embassies, such as China, Russia and Japan, tend to have pleny of folks coming back several times in a career (the difficulty of the languages are also a contributing factor; once you are proficient in Chinese, it makes sense to make use of it). Taking too many jobs in a single country might not slow down a career too much as long as plenty of good jobs are available, but at the senior levels one could run into problems -- after all, there is only one ambassador to a country, and plenty of ambassadors are political appointees anyway, not career diplomats.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

What percentage of ambassadorships would you guess are career diplomats? Does that number differ greatly by administration?

Over the last forty years or so about 70% of ambassadors have been career FSOs, with the balance political appointees. Here is a decent article on the phenomenon.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

In the spirit of my comments on consular work, here is some of the bad/good of political work for the OP.

So, what is bad about political work?

  • The hours can be long and unpredictable. I'm fortunate to be at a post where my work day is pretty regular. Friends of mine at a large embassy, however, regularly get home at nine or ten at night, even when they don't have evening events. I'm not completely sure why this is the case, though time differences from Washington could necessitate later hours. Regardless of where one is, during VIP visits or crises you'll be to the office (or out on the road) early and back home (or to the hotel) very late. Naturally, lots of people like this kind of lifestyle just fine, but if you are not into irregular or long work hours, political work is probably not for you.

  • There is a lot of writing. If you can't write, or do not enjoy writing, political is not the career track for you. If you are uncomfortable having others edit, change, or "correct" your writing, this work will make you miserable. You've been warned.

  • There is a lot of carrying bags. When U.S. government officials come to visit a country, there is a good chance a political officer will serve as the visit's "control officer," responsible for all aspects of the visit, or as "site officer," in charge of a particular event part of a larger visit. Cool! you say. Yeah, it is pretty cool. The first time or two. When the visitors are nice and professional. And when they don't cancel the meetings you spent weeks arranging just so they can go shopping. Lots and lots of shopping. At least I've never been asked to arrange "adult" entertainment for a visiting delegation. . . .

  • You are the Pinstriped Cookie-Pusher. You know all those disparaging stereotypes about diplomats? Those are all about political officers. Yes, we spend time seriously discussing grave issues over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Some of us wear French cuffs. We ride with our bosses in cars with little American flags fluttering. Overseas, we clear customs and immigration swiftly through the "diplomatic channel." We often know more about host country current events than those in the USA. We have diplomatic immunity. (Lots of USG officials overseas could fit this description, but the stereotype tends to be aimed at political, methinks.)

Ok, I admit it. That is a pretty weak list. The problem is, I really, really enjoy political work. Here is why:

  • This is the prototypical foreign affairs career. You get to travel the world, getting paid to meet with interesting people and report their views back to your government. You study and use foreign languages as a tool to promote the USA to foreign nationals. You deal with issues like human rights, religious freedom, rule of law, military cooperation, and local and national political leadership trends.

  • There are real opportunities to influence policy. Even at lower levels, political officers inform policymakers through normal reporting or through the preparation of annual reports for Congress, such as the Human Rights Report. At the mid-levels, officers provide extensive input to briefing papers and other official recommendations for leaders. At the senior levels, many of the day-to-day decisions about how to implement policy will be made by career FSOs, many of whom at that level come from the political track.

  • Lots of once-in-a-lifetime experiences (sometimes more than once). Some of the things I've done are far beyond anything I imagined before taking this job: being one of the first Americans to see the inside of (and ride in) a foreign military's new amphibious assault vehicle; helping a political dissident by bringing the USG's interest in his case to the attention of his captors; being the only official American on the scene of a brutal suicide bombing, and having to navigate through the dazed crowds and rattled security services to provide the embassy and the State Department with an on-the-ground assessment.


There is more than just that, but I'm tight on time right now. I'll edit content in or out as it comes to me.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

I just looked at it (http://www.act.org/fsot/) and it let me get as far as the account registration page before I stopped.

Was your problem after that point?

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Happydayz posted:

If you want to give yourself maximum flexibility and options upon graduation here is what you need to do. Learn a useful foreign language (Mandarin, Arabic, Farsi, French (for Africa), Korean, Russian, etc). Take a hefty dose of rigorous quantitative economics and statistics classes, try to obtain the highest possible security clearance from the Army, if possible spend a summer abroad at a relevant country (i.e. don't just go to western Europe to get drunk). If you still have time and want to also keep academia open as a possibility than do a senior thesis or get published someplace. If you want a career in foreign affairs those steps are probably the best thing you can do as an undergraduate to set yourself apart and give you maximum flexibility. The key is the rigorous econ/stat and the foreign language. Taking yet another class on generic international relations, or international law III, or human rights II, or whatever follow-on specialized IR course, is going to yield diminishing returns in comparison to developing your quantitative or foreign language skills
This is some of the best advice I've seen for getting interesting jobs in the government.

Or even in the private sector, for that matter.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Grr8 posted:

I got past that after about 30 mins of trying on and off to get the site to load. After putting my name and address in and setting up an account name/password, I tried to hit "launch" to start the application. I got an error message saying the site was down for maintenance.

20 mins later I receive an email stating:

"Dear FSOT applicant,

Thank you for your interest in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Your registration application has been successfully submitted.

You will receive a separate email when scheduling begins for the October 2009 test window that will provide instructions on scheduling a test appointment. Scheduling begins approximately 5-6 weeks before the test window opens."

Smeef posted:

I completed the entire registration form without problems, but I also got confirmation of receipt before I'd even finished registering. Subsequently got no e-mails after full completion.
This sounds like wonderful practice for dealing with pretty much anything personnel or travel related at State.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Of my FSO colleagues who are reservists, they are often able to do their weekend drill in the local Defense Attache's Office (DAO). For annual training, one friend serving in Europe spent his two weeks in London, while another serving in Asia did two weeks in Hawaii at PACCOM.

Keep in mind that being in the reserves while an FSO could have substantial economic consequences. Most of the reservists I know have been called to active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan while at State.* During that time you are paid by your military rank, so if you are pulling down six figures as an FSO and get called up as a sergeant, there could be some economic stress involved. As was mentioned before, you get something like two or three weeks of "Military Leave" time each year, so you maintain your State pay for the duration of that.

* This is not necessarily to say that most or all wind up being activated, just the ones I know of.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

How do couples in the foreign service handle pregnancy? Pregnant FSOs? Pregnant Spouses? Infants?

If you are Stateside, you handle everything through your normal insurance provider.

Overseas, there are several options. Some people choose to deliver at post. Naturally, this usually only happens in countries with excellent medical care. I would estimate that most decide to be "medevaced" to a location in the United States or (more rarely) another country. The latter tends to be the case when one has family, friends or some other pre-existing support structure in a third country (such as when a spouse is a foreign national).

The medical evacuation usually takes place six weeks before the due date. The pregnant woman and accompanying dependents will receive per diem for up to 12 weeks (usually from six weeks before until six weeks after delivery). FSOs may take Annual Leave (vacation days), Sick Leave (with some limitations) or Leave Without Pay (LWOP). I'm no expert on this, and the regulations are reasonably involved, so I'll stop there. Suffice to say that you are taken care of pretty well when you have a baby in the Foreign Service.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Cointelprofessional posted:

Is it inadvisable to choose one of the less popular cones in the hopes of changing it later? I've read about people changing cones and picking at the low hanging fruit seems more ideal. Especially because I assume they're flush with applicants due to the situation with the economy.


Also, if you do change cones, are you sent to the bottom of the hierarchy and have to work your way up again?

Please, please, please don't assume you will be able to change your cone after you enter on duty with the Foreign Service!

(I really need to figure out how to use Sparklee.)

To change cones there first needs to be a deficit in the target cone. If there is no deficit at your grade (you usually apply for a switch to your current grade), you basically will not have a chance to change. You will also need to have worked in the target cone for 30 months during the previous six years. But that is just the minimum -- you also have to convince a board to recommend you for a change, and they generally prefer to see 40-50 months of experience, at a number of different posts or jobs. I know one guy who took 16 years to switch from a low-demand career track to a high-demand one. And all that time you spend doing work in the target cone will count against you every time you come up for promotion in your original cone, since you are competing against others in your cone who have been demonstrating excellence in your track.

So, there are no guarantees that you will even have a chance to switch, and you put yourself at a marked disadvantage for promotion while doing the work necessary to meet even the minimum requirements.

Choose the cone that is the best fit for you, not that is easiest to get in with!

From a practical standpoint, it would be disappointing to choose track B just because you thought track A was too competitive, only to earn a high score at the FSOA that would guarantee you entry into any cone.

Now, if you are totally split between two cones there is no problem applying for the easier one, as long as you are comfortable with the idea of spending 70-80% of your career in that track. There are plenty of opportunities to work outside your career track from time to time, but actually effecting a cone change is exceedingly difficult.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Azars posted:

For the economic track, do they look specifically for applicants with economics background? I've currently got a BA, but I'm working on an MA in economics and considering my options for when I get out.

A solid economics background will probably help you, but there are plenty of Econ officers who didn't major in economics. This shortcoming is mitigated in two ways: first, the majority of overseas economic positions don't involve economic analysis -- the officers are really like journalists focusing on political economy, and thus spend their time interviewing knowledgeable experts about a wide variety of economic issues (in this their job is similar to political officers); second, State gives a "mid-career econ course," which is a six-month full-time course of study at the Foreign Service Institute touted as providing the equivalent of a top-quality masters-level education in economics. Most of the serious economic analysis takes place at the Department in Washington, D.C.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

camoseven posted:

I'd also like to know about advancement opportunities. I assume that political officers are assigned to more important policy areas as they advance. What about consular officers? Do they literally do visas and American citizen services their whole career?

From here (pdf); each track has a similar description. Here is the scoop for consular officers:

FSO Selection Process Guide posted:

As a an entry-level officer, you will probably supervise several locally-hired employees as you manage the crucial work of adjudicating visas to determine who may enter the United States. You will assist American citizens in living or visiting overseas who find themselves in emergency situations involving arrests, hospitalization and major accidents, or who have routine U.S. government matters to complete, such as reports of birth, passport issuances and notarial services. You will respond to inquiries from a range of sources including attorneys, congressional offices, business contacts and host government officials. You will also work to combat consular fraud. Your diplomatic skills will be finely honed as you will be the first and, in many cases, the only contact many people have with the U.S. embassy or consulate.

As a mid-level officer, you will manage a small consular section or part of a large one, such as the American Citizen Services (ACS), anti-fraud, or visa unit. You will probably supervise American entry-level officers and Foreign Service National employees (FSNs). You will have the opportunity to make complex decisions regarding visas and services for American citizens and show your resourcefulness in resolving challenging management issues involving workflow and human resources. You will also provide guidance to entry-level officers in all areas of consular operations. If you work in the Consular Affairs Bureau in Washington, you will support consular officers in the field on visa, ACS, fraud and management issues.

As a senior officer, you may manage a large consular section, supervise a number of American officers and local staff members and be part of the embassy’s senior management. You might also be an office director or part of the senior staff within the Consular Affairs Bureau in Washington, which advises on all consular matters. In addition, you will engage in a variety of public outreach functions, such as speaking to the press or to American organizations. As with senior officers in other career tracks, you may be a Deputy Chief of Mission or Ambassador, or a Principal Officer at a large U.S. consulate.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

For the OP

How does the Foreign Service assignment system work?

For generalists (Foreign Service Officers)

An FSOs first two tours are directed, which means that, though the officer gives input, the assignments office has the final say of who goes where. The initial two tours each normally last two years. For an FSO's first tour, a "bid list" is distributed during the first day or two of initial training (called A-100 in State parlance). The number of jobs on the list will roughly match the number of officers in the orientation class. Often, some posts will have several jobs open, such as if Chennai, India had two open consular positions. The current practice is to have new FSOs rank every job on the list either "high," "medium" or "low." Officers are also given the opportunity to turn in a "bid narrative," which allows them to explain their bidding strategy and interests. Officers will discuss their choices -- and their rational -- with a career development officer (CDO). At the entry level, the CDOs get together and assign the new officers to positions. They usually try to get everyone one of their "high" bids, but that is not always possible, and the CDOs' first responsibility is to fill vacant positions. At about the fifth week of A-100 (the course was previously seven weeks, but I have heard rumors that it might be shorted by a week or two) there will be a "Flag Day" ceremony, where the whole class receives their assignments (and a small matching national flag, hence the name). Flag Day is also when the new officers find out how much and what kind of training they will receive before departing for post.

When bidding for one's second tour, there are more jobs to choose from, but also more constraints on bidding. The governing principle of second-tour bidding is the idea of "equity." Equity is calculated by adding the hardship differential and danger pay (if any) from the first tour, then giving officers with higher levels of equity priority for assignments. So people serving in Pakistan, for example, will have many more jobs to choose from than those in London . But there are other constraints, too. It is HR policy that all entry-level officers (ELOs) perform at least one year of consular work (the norm is more 2-4 years these days). What that means is that an FSO whose first tour is straight management work will only be able to bid on jobs with a consular component for the second tour. Also, ELOs may only receive one "full course" of language training during their first two tours. A full course is up to one year of training, but could mean the full six-month course of Spanish. So, if an ELO gets eight months of Korean in preparation for a first tour in Seoul, unless that officer has other preexisting language proficiency, he or she will only be able to bid on positions without a language requirement for the second tour. Keep in mind that Seoul is a "zero hardship" post, so you can imagine that this officer's choices would be limited. There are also language issues if an officer earned extra points for critical-needs language proficiency during the hiring process. I can address that in a subsequent post. Another factor is timing, which means that, even if you are fluent in French and otherwise qualified, if your first tour ends in April but that Paris job you want begins in October (to allow for six months of French study), you won't have a shot at it. The gap is just too large. Although there are many, many more jobs on the second-tour bid list than there are bidders, the extensive constraints mean that each bidder has only a small group of realistic bids.

In mid-level bidding, which is everything after your first two tours and before you get into the Senior Foreign Service around the 20-year mark or so, the core of the process is lobbying for jobs. There is still a bid list (this is how you find out what jobs are available) and you still have a CDO, but getting jobs is all about your reputation and whom you know. There are some rules about bidding in your cone and at your grade, but these are not onerous and are mostly a formality. You basically identify jobs in which you are interested, then put in a formal bid, then do everything in your power to convince the decision maker (usually a director on a country desk or in a functional bureau) that you are the best fit for the job. You will also ask colleagues and supervisors to put in a good word for you with the decision maker. If the job is popular, lots of other people will be doing the same. If you go after jobs far outside your reach, you run the risk of getting none of your bids and having to re-bid after most of the best jobs are already gone. The upside to this process is that officers have enormous control over where they won't go, even if they don't necessarily get assigned to their dream job.

I'm not familiar with the assignments process for specialists, so I will leave that explanation to one of my esteemed specialist colleagues.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

For goons with a serious travel bug, I thought I should note one specialist job: Diplomatic Courier. These folks escort official diplomatic pouches (which can range from a small bag to whole pallets) to destinations around the world. I spent the past couple of days serving as a non-professional (non-pro) courier; in the absence of enough couriers, cleared American personnel are sometimes asked to fill in. It is not the kind of thing I would want to do full time, but I could see how someone really into travel might like it. Check out the State Department website for details.

For those who are wondering how my trip went: the shipment of crystal skulls arrived without incident.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Yeah, I maybe should have termed it as being for "goons with a pathological need to live on airplanes," but I don't have a good grip on what courier work/life balance is like. You're right, though, that some of them really like it, and doubly right that it is a lifestyle that would drive a lot of people crazy.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

Regarding the medical clearance, what happens to FSOs that get a major illness, like cancer or diabetes, later in life? Do you get kicked out of DoS? Do they move you over to a civil service job in the US? Can you finish your career in posts that have adequate medical facilities?

To enter the Foreign Service you need a "Class 1" clearance, which means that you are "worldwide available" from a health perspective. If an FS employee develops a medical condition that would preclude service in some areas of the world, the most common clearance is a "Class 2," which indicates "limited availability."

For an applicant to be hired, only he or she requires a Class 1 medical clearance. Family members do not need to be cleared before entry on duty. To be able to travel to post and have access to post medical resources, though, all immediate family members need a clearance. If anyone (including the employee) has a Class 2 clearance, the Medical Office considers how potential posts would be able to support the condition (on a case-by-case basis). There are health units (including regional psychiatrists, too) around the world, so a moderate condition could likely be accommodated in many places. Those might not be places high on the employee's list, but there would be someplace to work in any case. Some FS employees with health issues in the family serve in Mexican border posts or spend a large part of their career in the United States. If an illness completely precluded leaving the United States, the employee might have to take unaccompanied assignments or convert to the Civil Service. Most of the time, though, some post, somewhere, can support a medical issue.

Incidentally, learning disabilities are dealt with in a similar fashion.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Anthropolis, SWATJester,

Though of course this is completely up to you, I would recommend finishing law school and seeking/gaining admittance to a bar somewhere. All the FSO lawyers I know have continued to pay their bar registration fees and done their continuing education in case they wanted/needed to go back to the practice of law.

Come to think of it, they all were already practicing attorneys before joining State, so for them it was just a matter of not letting membership lapse. It seems like a shame, though, to earn (and pay for) a law degree and not keep the options open to practice law.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

For some reason, the Kabul craziness reminded me of this bizarre story from the '70s in Equatorial Guinea.

The view from a relative is here.

Both are .pdf files, by the way.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

TCD posted:

Then it's decision time to take the FSOT or not.

Which way are you leaning on this?

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Smeef posted:

Pick up one of the hard languages as early as possible even if you don't plan on staying in that region. You continue to get the additional pay for knowing the language even if you aren't using it, and over a career this will add up to a few hundred thousand dollars.

This is no longer correct. You must re-certify every five years and will only receive Language Incentive Pay (LIP) while posted to a country where the language in question is a primary or primary-alternate language. The money is nice, though.


quote:

Apparently a lot of FSOs have trouble leading moderate lives when they aren't getting the official luxury treatment, and consequently they retire pretty much broke. If you're smart with your expenses, savings, and investments, though, you can retire with a few million dollars in the bank.

These days, most of the FSOs I know retire with nice nest eggs, especially if they have purchased a house or houses and had renters pay their mortgages while serving overseas. The retirement plan, too, is quite good. He is right that if you are smart with your money you can do well for yourself.


quote:

State is a very conservative organization, so do not go in thinking that you are going to shake things up. Being outspoken will get you nailed as being a hotshot.

Pretty much true, but things are changing slowly.


quote:

Your reputation is everything and should be protected carefully. It's a very small and insular community, and pretty much everyone will at least know your name if you're in the community for long. Getting that sweet post in a nice country may come down to someone recognizing your name and recalling something that a colleague said about you.

This. This. A thousand times, this.


quote:

Certain regions are known for certain styles. The work in Europe is boring, but life is nice. Latin America is like Latin America... a little but there's still action. The Far East is serious business. Africa is a dead-end shithole both professionally and personally.

This is way too broad, but I like it (lots of FS folks would disagree, though). And it is also one reason why I am in East Asia!

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

nesbit37 posted:

I am just curious how true this is?

If you want to go to Africa, that shouldn't be a problem. An Africa-focused career could be a shortcut to an ambassadorship; there are not too many political appointees clamoring to go to Africa. And there are lots of opportunities to work above one's grade in the Bureau of African Affairs (AF), whether overseas or in Washington.

Personally, you couldn't pay me enough to take my family to Africa. But people do. Do keep in mind that Egypt and the Maghreb are part of the Near East bureau, not AF.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

I think probably the retiree was just trying to convince Smeef not to go to Africa.

I have heard that the AF bureau is one of the worst-managed of the geographic bureaus, but I didn't hear it from anyone who had worked there, so I can't say if that is true or not.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Shouldn't be a problem.

Just try to stay out of North Korea.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

xanthig posted:

Is there any policy about personal computer/ personal network security?

Most of the policies apply to work systems. I'm not aware of anything for personal (home) computers, but perhaps the IT gurus in this thread can speak to this.


xanthig posted:

How is smoking treated in DoS culture? Is it looked down upon, or do a lot of people smoke as a way of dealing with the stress of the job. By that same token how is the occasional trip to the bar viewed?

There are smokers, but the majority of people do not smoke. Smoking is prohibited in USG buildings, so you have to go outside to light up. DoS culture seems pretty permissive on this, but I don't know if it is any different from current U.S. culture in general.

Drinking and alchoholism are well established in the diplomatic corps. An occasional trip to the bar is no problem at all. Even being a lush probably wouldn't hurt your career chances too much, unless you did something absolutely beyond the pale.


xanthig posted:

How much freedom do DoS employees have in their financial matters. If I left my job for DoS, I would still be collecting royalties on patents for years to come, would that be an issue? What if one of the licensors was a business overseas?

The background check takes a look at stuff like this. Royalties should not be a problem. Worst-case scenario would probably be preclusion from service in a country where one had extensive financial interests, but even that would depend on the country. If you're getting lots of royalties from North Korea and Iran for your patented technique for enriching uranium, that could be a concern. . . .


xanthig posted:

If you have family/ friends in the country you are stationed in, is visiting them a problem? What about staying over in their home?

None of that would normally be a problem. Really strong ties to a country that might try to coerce you, your family or friends would be a different case, and would probably preclude you from service there.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Xelly posted:

Hey Business of Ferrets,
I have a couple of rather specific questions regarding becoming an FSO when it comes to my personal circumstances. I don't have a platinum account so I can't use PMs, but is there any way we could maybe facilitate some sort of e-mail based Q&A, if you have some time?

If you're convinced that nobody else on these forums would benefit from seeing your question and my response, then go ahead and post your email -- I'll get in touch with you.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Xelly --

First, I would encourage you to take advantage of the Peace Corps opportunity -- it sounds like something you would really enjoy. It will also probably give you a better idea of what you want in a career and what you don't.

All of the things you mention as part of your dream job -- resolving disputes, demarching governments to stop illicit transfers of guns, etc. -- are done by political officers. But what you are thinking about are the high-visibility events following lots of behind-the-scenes work.

You will spend at least one year, and possibly up to four years, doing consular work, probably visas. That is the very initial "working your way up" as a Foreign Service Officer. After that, political officers spend time reporting and working as action officers on any number of issues. Often, there is some opportunity at the mid-levels to select and work on specific issues that interest you. But odds are good, too, that you would work other issues as well. And much of this will involve "pushing papers." Without these papers being pushed, the Secretary of State would never be able to attend a meeting or advance an initiative. And that goes for everybody below her, too.

State is very hierarchical, and the only way in is through the ground floor. Much of what you imagine as your dream job would be attainable in a Foreign Service career (and basically unattainable anywhere else) but it will take you at least 20 years or so to be the person who sits in meetings with foreign ministers and convinces them not to do things. It is the ambassador or higher who is going to be doing that, usually. And an NGO certainly will not be at that table.

My job as a political officer is incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally, and has become increasingly more so as I have spent more time as an FSO. I haven't yet been in a ministerial-level meeting. But I have written the notes used by an Ambassador to brief the President of the United States. And that's pretty cool.

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Yes, publicly everyone must toe the party line. Though this can occasaionally make for some discomfort, U.S. foreign policy far and away is a force for good (if sometimes misguided). There are internal channels for dissent, but in the end you still work for the President and must advance his policy.

Also, if one carefully selects their mid-level positions, they can control the risk of facing a moral dilemma. If you work in the nonproliferation office, you can be pretty confident that you will be able to do some good, regardless of administration, for example.

There are tons of jobs for FSOs, which is one of the great perqs of the career.

Adbot
ADBOT LOVES YOU

Business of Ferrets
Mar 2, 2008

Good to see that everything is back to normal.

Suntory BOSS posted:

I completed the FSOT Registration several months ago under the Political Cone, and signed up for the exam on October 9th. I know how impossible it is to change cones later down the line, but is it possible at this early stage (prior to taking the exam)? If so, how would I go about doing it?

From here:

quote:

May I change to a different career track?

It is not possible to change the career track you selected at registration prior to hiring. Also, it is a long, difficult, formal process to change career tracks after hiring. It's highly unlikely it would happen as such changes are based on the needs of the Foreign Service. There would have to be a shortage of officers in the career track which you prefer before you could apply to change.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • Post
  • Reply