Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ranking Your Bid List

Given a list of 23 cities, how do you decide where to live for the next 2 years? This is obviously not a problem for most people, but it's on the mind of all the IMS hires in my orientation class. I can't speak for them, but I can certainly speak for me!

Our first draft bid list was straight from the gut. We literally just listed our top 10 and called it a day. After that, we used some of my wife's fancy decision analysis ninja skills to determine our priorities and reorder our list into our second draft. We further researched each of our top 10 choices at the Overseas Briefing Center (OBC) and finalized our rankings. Our final list has a couple 'strategic' rankings, but is mostly just an ordered list of places we would like to visit for an extended period.

When making our decision, we considered:
1) Housing distances from work and town.
2) Weather
3) Opportunities for regional travel and sightseeing
4) Post size
5) Differential Pay
6) Strategery.

Fortunately, our son is not in school, so we didn't have to factor in the local schools (yet). My wife and I are pretty tired of living in the suburbs and having to drive literally everywhere, so we're really hoping to spend some time living in a walking friendly area. Weather plays a part in that also, since it doesn't matter how close things are when it's negative 70 outside. As avid travelers, we fully expect to use our new locale as a starting point for quite a few trips (hey, that's what vacation time is for!).

Our only concession to strategic bidding was to group a bunch of the 'hot ticket' posts around the 7-10 spots. This forms a 'wall' of posts we're unlikely to get (since they'll probably top other people's lists), but makes it less likely we'd get pushed to even lower choices on our list. You know, we hope. Of course we might get any one of them, and that'd be fine too; I'm not totally opposed to a cushy first post.

There are three main pay modifiers for posts in the Foreign Service: Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), Hardship Differential, and Danger Pay. Hardship Differential has double duty for our first post, according to my Career Development Officer (CDO). As extra incentive for more adventuresome first posts, she gives preference during the second post bidding, based on first post Differential. She called this equity (it's actually the sum of the Differential and Danger, but only one of the posts on our list has Danger). So whoever has the highest 'equity' from their first post, will get their first choice from the bid list for their second post. This will continue until everyone has a post. Although I do not want to pick my first post based on equity, it did give me some incentive to slightly lower my bid on the posts with zero Differential. Let's face it, who wants to get last pick next year?

Jeff, over at Ramble On, created a Google doc for our class to plug in our tentative bid lists to 'compare notes.' The trend data from that has been outstanding. At time of writing, 14 of us have plugged in our list, and only one of the posts is not in somebody's top 4 (and it's someone's 8th). Additionally, all but 4 of the posts are in somebody's bottom 4. That's some crazy diversity!

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