Thursday, November 17, 2011

Foreign Service Oral (Part II: What comes Next)


So I've already covered the fact that I passed the final step in the foreign service officer (FSO) selection process - the notorious and much feared Oral Assessment. So what happens next? My score is a 5.5. out of 7, with scores above 5.25 passing. A score of 5.9 is considered very high and anything above 6 is almost unheard of, so I am in the middle/lower of passing scores. Many candidates also get additional points for Military Service and for difficult language skills, which you get to add on top of your passing score before you go on the "register."  I’ll get to the register in a moment, but first comes clearances. After passing you have to be medically cleared and receive a security clearance. I already have a current security clearance from my time at State, so that should go pretty smoothly, just some updating. And I’m not too worried about the medical tests. They have a Foreign Service Medical Unit two blocks from my work and I’ve already had every test known to mankind from both before and after my Peace Corps service. But all of this will take some time.

I’m estimating that it will be at least 2-3 months before I get put on the Register, which is the list of all candidates who pass the FSOA and are cleared to serve. There are actually five register lists, one for each of the five “cones” in which an FSO can serve. They are: Management, Consular, Economic, Political, and Public Diplomacy. I am in the Economic cone, which will allow me to work on trade, business, energy, and the environment. The way the registers work is that as candidates pass and are cleared, they get put on the list in order of their score. In you take the test in June and pass with a 5.6, and someone comes along in October with a 5.7 they will skip ahead of you on the list. You get to stay on the list for 18 months, and if you don't get called up, it's back to the beginning, do not pass Go and do not collect $200. 

Whether you get pulled off the list is largely dependent on the State Department budget, as well as the number of retirees and other attrition. For anyone with pulse, you should know that the budget situation is pretty scary right now, but even with that new officers will be hired. Every 2-3 months the State Departments sends out invites for a new class of FSOs. Known as A-100, this is when you are a real deal and are officially an FSO, passport and all. After a hiring spree in 2010, the numbers have dropped and each class is running around 80-100 officers spread out over the five cones. That means about 20-25 Economic officers would expect to get pulled off the top of the list (all my numbers are estimates here for demonstration sake). And if there are 40-50 people ahead of you, and more getting added as they pass, your odds of getting pulled off are not great. So I'm not counting on getting in on my score alone (though it could happen), but I was planning ahead when I decided to start getting some hard language skills under my belt. I'm a few months into studying Russian, and am already feeling pretty good about my progress. I can't exactly hold a conversation, but then again I wasn't really all that focused. Now I have the ultimate motivation. Russian is consider a Critical Needs Language (CNL), which means if you can demonstrate limited working oral proficiency (in a phone test), you get an additional .4 added to you score. This would bring me up to a 5.9 and would make it almost certain that I would get called off the register. 

So here's my plan. I have a job that I really like and no plans of quitting and moving to Russia, that would be crazy. Instead, I'm going to continue going to Russian classes, probably twice a week starting in January (using both formal credit classes and informal free classes through the Global Language Network). I will also take advantage of any and all audio programs I can find (there are tons of free podcasts out there). I plan to devote at least 2 hours a day to studying on my own and start using online resources like Live Mocha more, where you can do online chatting to practice. I think I can get up to basic proficiency (a 1 or 1+) pretty quickly, but getting to 2 will require some immersion. I have a lot of annual leave, so this summer I will take a  month and study in Russia at a language school. I've found a couple out there with good recommendations. After returning I will take the phone test. If I pass, excellent. If not, I can take it again in 6 months. So if I get on the register in March and take the phone test in August, I still (theoretically) have over year left on the register and six months after my last try. The other plan would be to start the process all over again in June and see if I can make it all the way through and get a better score. You're allowed to do this while you wait (it doesn't kick you off the list). I might do this anyways, since there is no harm in it. 

So that's the plan, hope it works out. I've posted my timeline on the left, with a lot of question marks still left, but in all reality it will likely be a year or more before there are any significant changes in my life.  

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