Registration for Next Foreign Service Exam Opens January 2

 

Yes, that’s right, you can register online starting January 2 for the Foreign Service Exam which will be held during the week of February 2-9. PearsonVue administers the test under contract with the State Department.

The Career Tracks

As I described in an earlier post, when you register for the Foreign Service Exam you must select your career track (cone). There are five cones: Consular, Economic, Management, Political, and Public Diplomacy. The decision is tough and unfair. How are applicants who’ve never worked in an embassy supposed to decide their Cone? It’s a decision that will guide your entire career of 20+ years.

Don’t Try to Game the System

Check out my recent post — Difficult Choice — What’s Your Career Track? — which provides  books and online resources to help make your Career Track decision. I also recommend that you not try to game the system. For example, an applicant believing the Management Track is underrepresented so if you pick the Management Cone you’ll have a better chance. First, I’m not sure where applicants can find out which Cones are underrepresented. Second, if you do succeed in joining the Foreign Service as a Management Cone officer, but realize one year in that you hate management work, then you’re stuck. The Department rarely allows you to change Tracks after you join the Foreign Service. Do yourself a favor, review the Career Track materials, and make an honest decision.

Register as Early as Possible

The Career Track decision requires thought and honesty with yourself. The earlier you decide will help because the sooner you register the better chance you have of scoring a seat close to where you live. I have known one poky applicant who ended up with a test center three hours away. The registration opens January 2 and closes January 30.

Government Shutdown: I don’t know what to tell you. The State Department has furloughed a lot of civil servants and Foreign Service officers, including those folks who staff the Bureau of Human Resources. I’d like to think the budget will be sorted out quickly, but the craziness in Washington, DC could last weeks (or longer!?).  Still, since PearsonVUE is under contract, it’s possible they are still gearing up to offer the February Exam. Please let me know if you have trouble registering or PearsonVue tells you the February FSOT date will slip.

 

 

 

 

 

Difficult Choice — What’s Your Career Track?

 

 

One of the first hurdles to joining the Foreign Service happens even before you take the FSOT.

The State Department makes you pick your Career Track, aka Cone, when you register for the Exam. That’s right, even before you’ve worked in an Embassy, you must select your Career Track.

Worse still, remember that your will guide your cone for your 20+ year career and it’s impossible to change it once you’re in the Foreign Service. Daunting, no?

Don’t worry. I have organized the information from Careers.State.Gov. I’ve also identified two books that will help in your search.

Five Career Tracks

There are five Career Tracks in the Foreign Service: Consular, Economic, Management, Political, and Public Diplomacy.

All of the Career Tracks offer varied and interesting work, and it’s no longer true that only Economic and Political officers become Senior Foreign Service officers, DCMs, and Ambassadors.

Many applicants choose to become Political or Economic officers because that’s the job that’s depicted in books or films. You know, pencil-necked, introspective quislings who invariably ends up relying on the hero of the story to survive. Seriously, that’s a myth and FSOs are usually courageous (at least most of the time!)

How to Decide?

You need to take a closer look at the Career Tracks to make your decision. Do the following:

— Read the information at Careers.State.Gov, take the Career Track Quiz and listen to the Diplomats@work (yes, a bit cheesy, but they can help)

Call a Diplomat-in-Residence (however with the current government shutdown, which has affected the State Department, the DIRs may not be working). Also check out nearby if there are nearby recruiting events. (Be warned, the search engine is not great);

— The following books are excellent ways to help you pick your Career Track:
1) Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America, published by the American Foreign Service Association, available on Amazon. ISBN-13: 978-0964948846

2) America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st-Century Diplomacy (Second Updated Edition), author Nicholas Kralev, ISBN-13: 978-1517254513

I also have a few videos on YouTube that focus on these specific topics. Search for FSOT Prep.

 

 

Happy to Report My New YouTube Channel — FSOT Prep

Folks,

I am currently posting my videos on how to prepare for the Foreign Service Exam on a YouTube Channel.  I am walking possible applicants through the process of registering for the FSOT and choosing a Career Track. The State Department has linked the two so when you register for the October test, offered from September 29 to October 6, you must select your Career Track. There are five career tracks: Consular, Economic, Management, Political, and Public Diplomacy.

Picking your Career Track

Fortunately, the State Department has provided good information to help you decide your career track. Most of it is on the main recruiting website — Careers.State.Gov

To access the Career Track information, you need to drill down on that site. To learn what an Foreign Service Officer (FSO), including tasks and responsibilities for Entry Level, Mid-level, and Senior officers in each career track, select the following career tracks, aka cones, here.  Consular, Economic, Management, Political, and Public Diplomacy.

In addition, the State Department offers an online, 50-question test that based on likes and dislikes of work can tell you which cone is appropriate for you.This exam is under the rubric of “Which Career Track is Right for You.”

Diplomats-in-Residence

Finally, you can reach out to the 16 Diplomats-in-Residence(DIRs) posted at universities across the United States.  These DIRs are made of Foreign Service Officers with years of experience in their respective career tracks. I encourage you to reach out to ones in the cones in which you are interested.

Now, the State Department may frown at you for contacting, say, a political cone officer in southern Florida, if you live in a state outside of the Sunshine State. However, to me that’s ridiculous and you should contact DIRs in your prospective cones to find out more about the career tracks. Besides, everyone who signs up to be a Diplomat-in-Residence is typically open to any questions. I recommend that you first send an email (and fudge the state, if you’re squeamish) and set up a time to talk on the phone with the DIR.

Gaming the System: One word — “Don’t”

For those few seeking to game the system, applying for a consular or management job in the likelihood it will be easier to get into the Foreign Service. And once an FSO, he or she will just transfer into, say, the political career track. Well, you’re out of luck because the Department only allows “conal rectification” in very rare instances and never/never into the political cone.

My advice is to pick the cone in which you have an abiding interest.  For me, I joined as a consular officer mainly because I wanted to help American Citizens. You can have out-of-cone assignments, especially when you return to Washington, DC to work at Main State (the Harry S. Truman building). But in looking back on my career, I served in three consular positions for a total of 7 years and outside of consular work for 17 years.

Finally, the FSOT registration opened today, August 29 in which you’ll have to select your career track where, unlike me, you are likely to spend the bulk of your Foreign Service careers. It’s a big decision and one that is personal.

The FSOT will run from September 29 to October 6. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to get the test center closest to you. If you’re living overseas, there will be test centers at most embassy or consulate locations.

Good luck!