Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Monday, February 28, 2011

State Foreign Service Hiring Process

I went through the State Dept. hiring process before as well.  The stages are fairly similar with the exception of the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) being the first step to the process.  I was eliminated at the Oral Assessment (OA) phase.  But if you pass the OA, then it's pretty much the same as USAID in regards to obtaining clearances.

Everything with State begins at their website.  Actually, the whole process is outlined very clearly there!

Instead of picking a specific position or backstop, State's positions are a bit more general.  State has 5 main career ladders or "cones".  Every cone though will have to do a tour or two doing Consular work which means working Visas for people wanting to come to the US or assisting Americans abroad even if they are not in the "Consular" cone.

FSOT & Language Test
While filling in your basic information in the application, you will also have the opportunity to indicate whether you have any language capabilities.  After completing the application, you have to select a test date to take the FSOT.  The test reminds me of the ACT or GMAT in that you'll take it in one of the various testing centers where they hold those tests.  Even more similar is that like those other standardized tests, they even offer an official test preparation guide!

After taking the test, if you indicated you had a language skill, you may be requested to do an over the phone language test as you will receive bonus points to your score in the very end if you pass the OA.  I believe this is only done if you indicate a language ability for one of their critical priority languages (ie. Chinese Mandarin, Arabic).  The test will involve you, the tester, and a listener.  You will then basically have a conversation with the tester and based off of how you can communicate they will indicate a rating and add that to your candidate file (

Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP)
If you successfully pass the FSOT, you will be invited to the QEP stage.  Basically, it's like the original application with USAID.  There will be various questions on your experience and you will be prompted to provide a short answer response on that.  After providing your response to these questions, then your file is sent to the  Board of Examiners (BEX) and they will categorize you based off your selected cone and review candidate profiles based off their QEP responses, their FSOT score, language proficiency, etc.  Basically, like reviewing an application but they have a lot more information to use in their determination.  This will take another month or two until results from this are released.

Oral Assessment (OA)
The structure of this in-person interview is similar to USAID.  There are three components being the Group Exercise, Case Study, and Structured Interview.  One marked difference is that candidates from all different cones are assessed together in State rather than USAID which evaluates candidates of a similar position together.  After the day of testing is complete, State provides immediate feedback of whether you will move on or not.  Candidates will be placed in a room and called out.  If you are not successful, you will be greeted by two of the examiners and be given a file with your results for the day and be given the chance to ask any questions.  I was at least pleased that in the file they gave me, they noted I passed the over the phone language test for Mandarin.

If you are successful, then you will begin the clearance process and eventually be placed on a register for eligible hires.  A good group that discusses the OA can be found at this address:

Candidacy Timeline:
August 2009
Submitted application to take FSOT.

October 2009
Took the FSOT.

November 2009
Received confirmation of passing the FSOT and invitation to submit narratives for QEP.
Scheduled and took phone language test for Mandarin.

January 2010
Received confirmation of passing QEP.

February 2010
Registered to take the FSOA.

April 2010
Took the FSOA in DC.

*Disclaimer: If any of this violates the Non-disclosure Agreement, please let me know and I will remove.  To the best of my knowledge, the posting contains general information readily available at the State Department website or is generic in nature for disclosure*

USAID Foreign Service Hiring Process

USAID is one of 4 agencies that use the Foreign Service classification system.  Their process is similar in some ways to the State Dept. with the main difference of not requiring what is called the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).

It all begins with their website

At the website, you can get all sorts of information about what the Foreign Service is, what the different positions are (called "Backstops" in USAID lingo), and what vacancies they have.  After that, it's as simple as applying like any other job.  The initial application is a bit more intense than some other jobs in that you'll need to write several short answer responses to questions on your experience as it relates to various key skills of the position you are applying to.  Just note, pretty much all positions have a requirement for a graduate degree.

Afterward, if you are selected, you'll be contacted for an interview in Washington DC for their Oral Assessment.

USAID Oral Assessment
The interview or "Oral Assessment" is similar to that of the State Department.  There will be 3 components for your interview which will include a Case Study (write a memo or response to a situation relevant to the position for which you applied), a Group Exercise (discuss and develop a solution to a case study with the other candidates), and then Structured Interview (same as typical interview) with a panel consisting of a HR type, a FSO, and a Technical expert in your position.  After the day is complete, you will be finished and you can expect to receive a response on whether you will be accepted from 2 weeks to a month.  They will follow up with references that you provide and your package of your scoring from the interview, your experience, and your reference responses will be forwarded to a final panel for determination (Keep in mind this is partially made from assumptions combined with my experience.  Actual internal process may differ).

Security/Medical Clearance Process
If you are successful, you will begin the Pre-employment process.  This consists of obtaining a Security Clearance and Medical Clearance.  Lots of information will be provided on the specifics of this process but expect it to take several months at least to obtain these.  Security Clearance should be ok so long as you have good credit, have a fairly clean background, and have kept a good record of places you have lived/worked and can have different references vouch/confirm.

Medical has many conditions but you'll probably be able to obtain clearance if you could probably live in a isolated country with limited to no medical facilities available.  USAID positions are often deemed as very "Technical" positions so a chance for a limited medical clearance may be possible if your position is in a "critical" or priority backstop.

Final Suitability Review/Position Availability
Once these hurdles are cleared, you will be on their register or list of eligible candidates.  Cleared candidates are grouped by their backstop and then often rank-ordered.  A panel will then review the eligible candidates and make their selection on those to appoint.  For the past two years, every other month or so would be an orientation class where they hire new batches of candidates.  In a conversation with the DLI hiring coordinator, he mentioned they are trying to keep a good queue of a couple hundred people to select and hire from.

General advice through this process is to be prepared with all the information that is expected of you in regards to the Security Clearance and Medical Clearance.  For Security, have lists of different references for all the places you lived/worked and a supplemental list of people they can contact and meet with.  For Medical, if you have any conditions, be sure to get a written opinion from your physicians and send that all with your packet.  Finally, patience is important because as this is a federal government position, the whims of politicians, budgets, and other circumstances can all affect hiring.  Keep in touch with your HR contacts and you'll hopefully make it through.  Also, a forum where many people discuss the USAID Foreign Service is found here:

My Candidacy Timeline:
January 2010
Submitted Application online

April 2010
Referral List Issued – Referred to Selecting Official

June 2010
Invitation to Interview

June 2010
Interview at USAID.

July 2010
Request to submit updated references

August 2010
All references submitted, application sent to USAID HR.
Pre-Employment Selection.
Security Clearance (EQIP) request submitted.

September 2010
Temporary Security Clearance Granted
Medical clearance form submitted.

October 2010
Personal interview for Security Clearance.

November 2010
Medical clearance received.
Received Salary Offer.

December 2010
Full TS Clearance Granted
Appointment received to DLI 16 beginning January 2011.  Requested Deferral - Granted.

January 2011
Appointment received to DLI 17 beginning in March 2011.

*Disclaimer: If any of this violates the Non-disclosure Agreement, please let me know and I will remove.  To the best of my knowledge, the posting contains general information readily available at the USAID website or is generic in nature for disclosure*

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What is the Foreign Service?

The foreign service are members of the US government who manage the foreign affairs for the nation.  There are two types of federal government civilian employees: Civil Service and Foreign Service.  The main difference with the foreign service is that they will spend the majority of the careers abroad.

There are two main inroads to the foreign service being the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID).  The recruitment process has some similarities but also many differences.  Also, the type of candidate background each one is looking for is also pretty different.  I'll be working for USAID.

I went through the process for both so in upcoming posts, I'll try to relate my experiences for both of them.

For those who are interested Wikipedia has a pretty fleshed out article on the foreign service going into the history of its creation and much information about it.

Also, for those who might want to really understand the foreign service and the job, I highly recommend the book "Career Diplomacy".  Especially if you might consider a career as an foreign service officer (FSO), then this book will be a great resource.


This marks the beginning of my blog about the US Foreign Service with USAID.  My hopes for this blog will be first to keep in touch with friends and family as I venture off to our nation's capital and then off to far away lands.  While electronic communication is always readily available to get in touch with me, blogging serves as another convenient medium.

Secondly, I hope for this blog to be informative about the what the foreign service is, what we do, and how we do it.  Many people seem to know very little about the foreign service or about USAID.  Heck, I actually still have much to learn!  So I hope this will be a great way to let others who would like to learn more about the career, the organization, or just about life abroad.

So feel free to follow along as this new adventure begins!
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