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. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Reader Question on Promotion Potential

Well, I guess it's time to answer some reader questions. These answers are so long overdue that they're probably no longer even useful for the askers... but here we are. So... I guess this is my first "Dear Vigg" section. I'll answer a question a week until I'm caught up. These questions all came during my blogging doldrum, so I apologize for the delayed responses.

Dear Vigg: "I was curious if you could speak to promotion opportunities as a FSS/IMS, as compared with generalists... it is my understanding that there is a sort of competitive backlog for [generalists] around the mid-career level. With IMS, especially as there is a private sector corollary that I imagine affects attrition and retention, is it fair to say that people move up the ranks quickly, as compared with generalists? Any insight into this and related topics is of interest to me, and I thank you in advance for your comments."

The "pig in the python" phenomenon following the widespread hiring a decade ago is certainly a problem for many mid-level officers, both Generalists and Specialists. Realistically, IMS get promoted slower than Generalists (and other Specialists) across the board. They publish the numbers yearly in State Magazine, but generally the first (competitive) promotion from grade 4 to grade 3 averages around 9 years time-in-service, compared to Generalists' average of 6.5 years. It would be fair to say that IMS do not move up the ranks quickly. This makes sense, in my experience, because IMS tend to be IT professionals with established careers when they join. Whereas many Generalists join directly out of college. People choosing to leave a lucrative and respectable job to join the Foreign Service may be more likely to 'stick-it-out' than folks taking this as their first job out of college. Honestly, I don't know, but it seems reasonable that the different selection criteria lead to different attrition rates. Similarly, IRM has more lower-ranked jobs, so people tend to stall at grades 3 and 4 for longer. 

Ironically, I don't see this as a bad thing. We hire IMS based on their technical merit. We should not be in a rush to push them to more and more managerial work... if we do... we should logically hire for that instead. You don't hire the world's best setter in volleyball and then ask them to manage the team instead of playing. (Or maybe you do, I'm terrible at sports.)