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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Foreign Service

After some careful consideration of my interests, the current job market, talking it over with Stephanie, and reading some books, I decided recently to apply for the US Foreign Service. The first step is to take an extensive 2.5 hour exam that covers everything from world history to management theory to Standard English. Basically, it’s miles wide but inches deep. Here’s an example of two questions off the Registration Guide (answers at the end of the blog):

1. The Council of Economic Advisers advises which of the following on monetary and fiscal policy?
A. The Federal Reserve Bank
B. The Joint Economic Committee of Congress
C. The President of the United States
D. The Senate Budget Committee

2. All of the following are examples of United States products that would typically fail to be produced to optimal output without government intervention EXCEPT:
A. national defense products.
B. light provided by lighthouses.
C. new automobiles.
D. new highways.

Fun right? Seriously, the topics are pretty interesting, so my comprehensive study plan took on a sort-of self-improvement course that consumed every free moment of my life for the past 6 months. (For anyone interested in my plan, I’ll post it to the FSOT Yahoo Group when I get my scores back). The test is notoriously hard, though- so much so that I’ve heard people have taken it just to see if they could pass. Here’s a funny parody I found online (click here for a larger version):
So after all this studying, I finally flew out to the embassy in Barbados two weeks ago and took the test. While I’m bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement, I can say that it was not nearly as hard as the reputation makes out. Suspiciously, ever since the test was revamped and computerized in 2007, rumors have spread that it's been softened a bit. Of course, it could simply have been my intensive study regime, but I’m not so sure. Anyway, in a week or so, I’ll find out my scores. From there, I move on to some essay questions, then a full review of my scores, essays, and application, and then, if I match the person they’re looking for, I move on to an Oral Exam and interview in Washington DC (probably sometime in February 2011). If I pass that, I’ll be put on a register and hopefully receive a job offer within 18 months. If not, I have to start from the beginning again! The whole process is eloquently illustrated in the following diagram (N.B. the A-100 is the class for new hirers; click here for a larger image):
As you can see, I’m still a long way from becoming a diplomat. But for now, this is the plan.

For anyone interested in more info on the FS or studying for the FSOT, there are numerous sites online. However, I’d be happy to direct you to some of the ones I found most helpful- just email me (that Yahoo Group is a good start). Oh, and the answers to those two questions: C. for both.


Update (3/17/2012): I didn't pass the QEP and decided it was due to my lack of advanced degree. Actually, only 1 of my 5 study pals from the Yahoo Group made it to the OAs. He passed, and I just heard today that he was offered a position! That's 1.5 years after he took the FSOT and started the cycle...

For me, the FS is on the back-burner as I pursue my original graduate interest in Anthropology. We'll see what happens!