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)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Junior Officer Training

With my DC based assignment coming soon to a close, I'd like to reflect back and explain the training for new FSOs while in Washington.

New FSOs coming in can typically expect a timeline such as:
  1. Orientation (5 weeks)
    • USAID brings in new Officers in classes.  Classes are composed of a mixture of Officers of various functions (backstops) that the Agency is needing at that point in time.   
    • During these 5 weeks, new employees complete administrative paperwork for in-processing and benefits; obtain mandatory briefing on various USAID policies; are introduced to USAID programs, operations, and structure; are briefed on career development and leadership; and are given the opportunity to network and bond with classmates.
    • At the end of these 5 weeks, a ceremony is held to "graduate" from orientation.  This is a family and friend event and typically features the Administrator as the keynote speaker.  Before, they used to present overseas assignments at this time, but due to a backlog in the assignment process, that is no longer done.
  2. Move to functional office (1 week)
    • After the 5 week orientation, Officers spend a week in their home Office of their backstop.  During the time in DC, each new FSO will have a supervisor whom they will report to and work under to obtain on-the-job training (OJT) and familiarity with operations of DC.
  3. Consolidated Training (1 week)
    • A week away in their home office, the class is brought back together again to receive additional mandatory training.  This includes working across cultures, training on the Automated Directives System (ADS - internal policy and regulations of USAID), and others.
  4. Functional Training (~10-16 weeks)
    • Each backstop has a plethora courses and training that are specific to them.  Plus, there are additional mandatory trainings on things like Programming Foreign Affairs, Environmental Compliance, etc. that all Officers must take.
  5. Language Training (~24 weeks)
    • Depending on if you have language ability that can be tested at the required level at the Foreign Service Institute to make tenure and if you are going to language designated position for your assignment, then most Officers spend some time here.  
    • I found language training to be a pretty enjoyable experience.  It's great meeting people from all different Agencies and language learning, if one is so inclined, can be fun.
  6. OJT/Rotations (It depends but perhaps about 2-4 months)
    • Between functional training and before/after language training, then new Officers work in their home offices practicing their trade.  Some people have a mixed experience here depending on their supervisor and the work going on at the time.  It's difficult for the supervisors because if an Officer schedules training so they are gone every other week, then they really can't provide substantial responsibility to be completed and then some DC based personnel view incoming FSOs as too transient to give responsibility.
    • Generally, I think it was important plan out trainings to be well spaced apart to give adequate time to integrate to the team and demonstrate capability.  Additionally, this is also the opportunity for Officers to rotate to whichever Bureaus they feel would be beneficial to their experience.  So one could work as an assistant to the desk officer of your assignment country, spend a month learning how to award contracts or grants, or work with one of the bureaus on new program design.
  7. Temporary Duty Assignments (TDY)
    • In additional to all this, there are also various opportunities for new Officers to take details to different Missions for assignments.  These range from assisting Missions in developing their new long-term strategies, evaluating cooperating countries' financial systems, or reviewing portfolios and compliance of Missions.  Mainly, these assignments must be unique opportunities that could not be obtained in Washington or your onward assignment.  That and budget, of course.  But these opportunities tend to arise more often than one thinks.
The average time most people spend in Washington is probably about a year if they need language training.  But there are some cases where individuals move to their overseas assignment almost immediately.  For me, it will be about a year and a half, but the last few months are mainly just working in Washington until I can replace the person in my onward position.

I feel fortunate that I had a pretty good team to work with in Washington and anticipate being fairly capable when I move on, though I still tend to learn something new every day!  There are also many different people to meet around the home office and you never know when that network could help in the future.


  1. Have really enjoyed your journey in, and first impression of your new post in Indonesia. What a fascinating life you are living! I'm an aspiring FSO,and still in the application process with USAID. Your blog is informative and insightful. I'd like to hear more about how you maintain your roots in the USA and what you do to remain connected with your loved ones. What personal sacrifices have you had to make in the relationship department? What challenges does a single person face in the Foreign Service? Thank you.

  2. Appreciate the comment. I've been abroad for 2 months now and do what I can to keep in touch with home. Technology makes things easier with facebook and then with Google Voice, you can call home any time over the internet to any number in the US for free.

    In terms of relationships, I'm recently married but we're currently living apart until my wife moves with me in December. With the both of us seeking to further our careers, we're happy with how things are working out but you can expect to have times apart or for one person in the relationship to eventually have to sacrifice career pursuits, to some extent, for the family.

    As a quasi-single person until my wife arrives, I can speak somewhat to the challenges faced in the FS. One being that managing all the administrative household issues in another country can be difficult without a spouse at home. Particularly if you need things like cable installed, something needs to be repaired, etc. during the working hours of the day. Dating can be an issue as well, particularly for women in some countries. Lastly, it's nice to have a spouse with you in general for just eating dinner with every night, traveling together, and just navigating a new country.

    However, as a single, you'll have a lot of mobility to meet lots of new people. Particularly if you a somewhat outgoing and are in a larger post. Indonesia has a very large number of newer officers from State and AID and they a pretty open to bringing new people into social circles.

    Good luck to you in the application process. If this is something you really want to do, it very much is worth the effort!

  3. Thank you for sharing your life in USAID's Foreign Service. I am an aspiring FSO, interested in joining USAID's Crisis, Stabilization and Governance backstop. My concern at this point is that I am young and inexperienced. I just graduated from college in June 2013. I've already been accepted into graduate school, but if I attend immediately in Fall 2014, it will be without significant work experience. I am currently preparing to interview for the Payne Fellowship to join USAID's FS after graduate school… but if that does not work out, what would you recommend I do to gain experience in the meantime? I'm finding it difficult to gain experience abroad and stay financially afloat. But I'd prefer to gain experience abroad to further prepare for the FS, rather than work within the U.S. within an entry-level position.

    1. Hello Jessica,

      Have you taken the payne fellowship interview yet? if yes, what was your experience? Thanks

  4. Hi Jessica,

    Work experience will definitely make you a more competitive candidate to join USAID. A common way many gain experience before joining USAID is through working at implementing partners (development contractors or NGOs). Almost all of USAID's projects are implemented by these development partners while USAID does the management from the higher levels.

    One website that consolidates a lot of open positions in the development arena is "". Try checking that out. Also, many at USAID have a background with the Peace Corps. That is an option to consider as well and would provide you with excellent international experience.

    Good luck!


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