What is the Foreign Service? And what am I going to be doing?

The Foreign Service is the branch of the State Department whose mission is to support the United States’ diplomatic goals overseas. FS employees are generally split into two groups: Officers and Specialists. Officers work in one of five career tracks (consular, management, economic, political and public diplomacy) and have to pass a written exam before being invited to interview in DC. They require no specific experience, just the ability to pass the test. Passing the test can be quite a feat in itself…I took it three times and passed once but not by enough of a margin to be confident enough to continue to the interview stage. The first time was in the late 1990s, and the test lasted 8 hours…now that it’s electronic, they’ve whittled it down to three.

Specialists, on the other hand, are usually hired for their existing experience in a particular field, such as administration, construction, IT, international information and English language programs, medical and health, office management, and security. Officers are what you think of when you talk about diplomats. And Specialists are embassy staff. I am going to be an Office Management Specialist. And yes, from what I can tell there is a bit of a hierarchy. For those of you that have been to Antarctica, it’s kind of like the difference between grantees and support staff. I have no problem being support staff. 😉

Our current status.

I applied for the OMS position in November 2010. In March 2011 I was invited to interview in DC. This time, I knew I was ready. I flew to DC and interviewed on March 2 and was given an “Immediate Conditional Offer of Employment”…pending a medical and security clearance. Since then our whole family has had lots of doctor’s appointments, and people are being interviewed all over the place for my background investigation. This week we found out that A and I have both been given an “unlimited, worldwide medical clearance.” They’re still processing N’s, but I’m sure his will come through shortly.

What’s next.

One of the most common realities of FS life is moving. After we are cleared and finally approved, we get to do a bit of salary negotiating. This is a government job, so all new hires are brought in at a grade and step according to their level of education and experience on the FS pay scale. Once the official paperwork is signed, we will be issued travel orders, and a group of movers will show up on our doorstep to pack up the contents of our apartment and ship it to DC. We will then pack up what’s left (including the cat) and drive the 1700 miles back to the East Coast where we will spend the next three – six months in training for our first overseas assignment.

I’ll keep you all posted.

And if you’d like more information on FS careers go to: http://careers.state.gov/work/worldwide

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