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.)

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