Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Reader Question on Judging Post Morale

Since I mentioned Post Morale as one of our bidding criteria, one reader asked "how do you know a post is a low morale post?"

Morale is a constantly changing thing. We never really understood how much morale matters at a Post... until we changed Posts. Chennai had some challenges, and the community was pretty much split into people who loved it and people who hated it. However, even the people who hated it tended to be in pretty good spirits.

Perhaps it was the 'hardship,' perhaps it was the social isolation caused by living in a much different culture, but either way, people did things together. Parties pulled big numbers of attendees... Even a three year old's birthday party would attract singles from Post who just wanted to hang out with their friends. There was a fantastic shared common space in the pool where people could randomly meet up with others. Even the places we (Consulate staff) tended to go were unique enough that it wasn't uncommon to sit next to someone from work at a restaurant. That being said... I mostly remember my second year in Chennai... it literally changed year to year.

So... what factors into morale? In no particular order:

  • The Management Team - They control so much, and a little consideration can go a long way to starting off people's tours on the right foot.
  • Location Location Location - If your housing pool is geographically gigantic, it's hard to SEE others from the community outside of work.
  • Hardship - 'Harder' posts have better communities, period. Maybe there are exceptions, but it is a generally accepted fact. Think about it, the harder the place, the more you bond with your colleagues over the "us vs them" nature of surviving in a stressful environment.
  • Expectations - This is a tough one. People 'expected' Buenos Aires to be the 'Paris of South America.' Maybe it is, if you stress the South America, rather than the Paris (disclaimer, I've never lived in Paris). Buenos Aires was a nice place, but people moved there with outrageous expectations of 'dream posts.' Every post has problems. Conversely, my second year in Chennai saw a steep change over of second tour officers, fresh out of 'luxury' posts that were very upset with their second assignment. Who replaced them? First tour officers who were ecstatic just to be overseas. Talk about a change in mindset.
  • Location Location Location (again) - Buenos Aires had an odd dichotomy; GENERALLY speaking, singles and couples loved it (it was a nice city), and families did not. Young kids (like mine) struggled to find friends (locals spoke Spanish, and the housing pool was too spread out to make Embassy friends) or had to struggle with long commutes (either to school or work).

How do you know the morale at Post? Here's my easy two-step process for determining Post morale:
  1. Read the Personal Post Insights (from the Overseas Briefing Center) and the Real Post Reports (from talesmag). Sometimes people flat-out describe morale (I saw that in a review of Phnom Penh). Even if they don't... you can tell. Happy people focus on positives, miserable people focus on negatives.
  2. Ask. I literally just asked when I e-mailed my predecessors in the positions I was bidding on. Literally every one responded with candor. Again, happy people love to talk about how great a place is, miserable people are itching for an excuse to complain. Either way, you win.
Does it matter? I struggle with this question. As someone who openly stated morale to be a big factor of my bidding, I ended up going to a place that isn't really known (in the last few years at least) for it's morale. End of the day, I'll probably be happy wherever I go, and there were more important considerations. Your experience may vary.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Testing Our Resilience

Yesterday I said goodbye to one of my two best friends in Argentina. I was very fortunate to make some local friends very early in my tour. It... is very hard to leave your life to move half way around the world and start over. I guess it's a mixed blessing, because it also means that I've enjoyed my time in Buenos Aires, because I'm sad it is ending. Sad being the operative word. It is going to be a rough summer.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pack Out Panic

Good news! Pack out is completed. Technically that means our "pack out panic" is over. It actually went fairly smoothly, since we've spent the last month organizing stuff and the last two years selling/donating/giving away stuff.

It's kind of impressive how few boxes your entire life fits into (and how quickly it can be packed up by 2-3 movers!)

Unpacking our welcome kit.

Pro Tip! Stick all your "not getting packed" stuff into a clearly marked off area. We chose a bathroom.

There's no way this is all going to fit in our luggage.

Pro-er Tip! Attempt packing your suitcases BEFORE pack out. We did not... I sure hope all that stuff fits in our suitcases!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Reader Question on Contacting Me

Dear Vigg: "Is there a way to private message you and pick your brain about your experiences on the job and what materials are most relevant for your role? I am an IT consultant from one of the larger consulting firms, but want to switch to public service. Especially in these times, it is important to do what we can to aid our diplomats abroad."

Absolutely. You can e-mail me using the e-mail account 'vigg' at my domain. I'll refrain from pasting the whole thing here to help avoid the spam scripts from picking it up. We can use all the help we can get these days. Sadly, most people's hiring ambitions are on hold due to the hiring freeze... BUT the beginning stages of the hiring process are still functioning normally, they're just not pulling new classes from the register. If I were a betting man, I'd wager there will be a spurt of new hire classes immediately following the end of the hiring freeze. Of course, I'm not a betting man, and I have no influence over - or knowledge of - what will actually happen. Good luck!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Reader Question on the Oral Assessment

Dear Vigg: "I have failed two attempts to get in the DOS as a IMS.  I have made it all they way to OA [the Oral Assessment] but keep falling just short of the cutoff... I wanted to know if you could give me some really detailed pointers on the Memo and face to face interview sessions..."

Honestly, I can't. It's not (just) because we sign a non-disclosure about the content of those tests... but also because they've undoubtedly changed since I took the oral in 2013... Similarly, different people do it every year. They look for what THEY think makes the best FS officer. One of my friends in Chennai spent some time on the interviewing board and he said his big push was to pick people that would handle living overseas well. Someone else may want to focus on people with technical excellence or people who enjoy diplomacy/public outreach. I'll give you some generic pointers for those sections though.

a) The writing exercise in the oral is most likely looking for two things. They know everyone can turn in good writing given unlimited time and resources (you already passed the essay portion of the application), but they want to see how well people write given a time limit and left to their own devices. I can't help you with the content, but you should focus on clear sentences, good grammar, and good paragraph structure. You can always debate how someone prioritizes tasks and/or the solutions they offer, but if there are grammar or spelling errors, it's an indisputable red flag.

b) For the face-to-face interview... I can just tell you what I did. I'm a pretty self confident person, I went in thinking "I am a great candidate, because I can do this job well." In the face-to-face, I focused on telling them why I felt that way and what my motivations were for joining. Normally in interviews you want to talk as little as possible (because the interviewer will fill in the spaces and generally people love to talk about themselves). That's not the case here. You're there selling yourself. Explain to them why you want this job and why you're a good fit.