Archives for September 2012

Last Day to Register for the FSOT — Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You have until Wednesday, September 26 to register for the upcoming Foreign Service Exam.  If you’ve forgotten or been sitting on the fence, you really should sit down at a computer and complete the registration process.  You’ve really got nothing to lose.  It’s free, failing is not held against you and it gives you a shot at the most exciting career in the U.S. Government.  Yes, it’s a long slog, but in my opinion one well worth doing, even if you serve for only a few years.  I’ve had many colleagues who left after two or three years, and have gone on to careers and jobs that satisfied them more.  Face it, serving overseas as a Foreign Service Officer looks great on your CV.

Okay, I’m off the soapbox and leave it up to you.  Ask my 17-year-old son, he’ll tell you I’m a crappy parent and my advice is worthless…  Ah, raising a teenager is so much fun.


Student Internship Applications Accepted Now

Big news, undergrads, the best internship program for the Foreign Service has opened with a a deadline of 11/2.  Don’t miss it.  These are non-paying positions overseas and in Washington.  Language skills would help, but are not required. Big news, undergrads, the best internship program for the Foreign Service has opened with a a deadline of 11/2.  Don’t miss it.  These are non-paying positions overseas and in Washington.  Language skills would help, but are not required.

Okay, the best internships are the ones that pay, but for now this is an ideal way to see what Foreign Service Officers do on the job.  Even more important, you will have the opportunities that entry-level officers experience.   

Follow the link below or go to


Announcing the U.S. Department of State Student Experience Program (formerly known as the U.S. Department of State Internship Program).
This program offers U.S. citizen undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to participate in 10-week, unpaid internships that provide intensive educational and professional experience within the environment of America’s principle foreign affairs agency.

The unpaid internships are available at many of the over 265 U.S. embassies, consulates and missions to international organizations around the world, as well as at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. and other locations throughout the U.S. Participants gain first-hand, hands-on experience, and learn the realities of working in – and with – Foreign and Civil Service professionals who are at the forefront of America’s diplomatic efforts.

As a Student Experience intern, you may have the opportunity to:
— Participate in meetings with senior level U.S. government or foreign government officials;
— Draft, edit, or contribute to cables, reports, communications, talking points, or other materials used by policy makers in furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives;
— Help organize and support events, including international and/or multi-lateral meetings and conferences on critical global issues;
— Contribute to the management and administration of the Department of State and America’s foreign policy; and
— Engage directly with U.S. or foreign audiences to promote U.S. foreign policy and improve understanding of U.S. culture and society.
— So consider spending your summer 2013 with the U.S. Department of State, witnessing and participating in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy, working closely with the U.S. diplomats and civil servants who carry out America’s foreign policy initiatives. You’ll not only have an experience of a lifetime, you may even earn educational credit.*

* Applicants who are selected for a U.S. Department of State Student Experience can contact the selecting bureau, or the central Student Programs office, if they require further details about the program to support their request for academic credit.

Please visit for more information about the Student Experience Program, and to start the online application process via USAJobs. Please note that the deadline to submit completed applications is November 2, 2012.

We appreciate your interest in a career with the U.S. Department of State.
Visit our forums if you have any questions, or to search for topics of interest. The forums can be found under Engage on the website. You can also search our FAQs for more information.

U.S. citizenship is required. An equal opportunity employer.

Questions? Contact Us

How I Would Prepare for the Foreign Service Exam Today – Project Management

The State Department loves Project Management, as I guess most large organizations do.  The outcomes from Project Management —  precise list of achievements, timeline and performance benchmarks – that enable the 7th Floor (where C-level folks work at Main State) principals and more importantly Congress budget watchdog to track multimillion-dollar programs.

Huge Project — New Embassy Construction

New Embassy construction is a program that lends itself to project management.  Based on the findings of the 1985 Inman Report (aka Report of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security) and later security reviews, the State Department need to build or renovate embassies that didn’t meet the new security standards – more space between Embassies and the street (setback), bringing all the disparate agencies (e.g. USAID, Foreign Agriculture Service, FBI, etc) into the Embassy, moving out of congested city centers to more open land (to defeat new spying technologies.

Where’s the Money, Congress?

Regrettably, State did not act on the Inman Report until it was hastened by the 1997 Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and even then the schedule was woefully slow.  The September 11 attacks helped accelerate the process again, but now 11 years later, it appears that protecting our diplomats – the U.S. first line – has diminished in importance.   It comes down to the huge capital cost to replace or fortify the Department’s 260+ chanceries and principal offices overseas.   Ultimately, it is Congress that has balked at spending the money that the State Department needs for protection and security.  I served in a number of embassies going through chancery construction and everything and everyone had to obey the project management calendar.  But it’s not just big projects, but also small ones in HR, Budget & Finance and Consular, among others, that rely on project management programs and now software.

I’ll insert some of the pertinent Wikipedia articles to help you get the gist of Project Management, if you don’t have the knowledge already:

Project Management (

To be honest, I don’t know if the State Department is using proprietary software to manage the really huge programs.  I certainly hope not.  State (and USAID) has a terrible record when it comes to developing software to meet specific needs.  If you doubt me, as any Foreign Service Officer or civil servant how they feel about e-Performance.  A disaster…

Next Lesson – My Crush on Grammar Girl

Anyway, your reading is light tonight, in part because project management should not/not take up a lot of your exam and also because we’re moving onto English Grammar and Style tomorrow.  In fact, it may take two days to get through how you should write for the State Department.  (Note: if you’re the bookish sort, you can always jump ahead to the Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty’s blog and podcast on all things grammar.  Trust me, she’s one hot grammarian).

Deadlines for the October Exam

Here are the deadlines for the upcoming written Foreign Service Exam:



Deadline for candidates intending to test overseas to submit completed Registration.


Deadline for candidates intending to test overseas to schedule a test seat.


Deadline for candidates intending to test in the U.S. to submit completed Registration.

48 hours before start of your test:  Deadline for candidates intending to test in the U.S. to schedule a test seat—provided seats are still available.


Ninety percent of life is just showing up. ~Woody Allen

How I Would Prepare for the Foreign Service Exam Today – Management Theory

Hello…  I’m back again.  Here’s the second recommendation for preparing for the October Foreign Service Exam (written).  As I mentioned in my last post, there are different ways to get ready for this hurdle.  For me, if I were to do it all over again, based on what I learned during my 24 years working for the State Department, I would recommend a review of the following areas:

Management theory hit my radar based on a question that Jim from Texas raised in the Group Careers in Diplomacy on LinkedIn.  He asked me if I could explain the answer to one of practice questions from Department of State’s Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process (

13. A work group that has high performance norms

and low cohesiveness will most likely have

which of the following levels of performance?

A. Very high

B. High

C. Moderate

D. Low


And the truth is, I have no idea what the correct answer is.  I would add that never in my 24 years did this question ever come up, even in management and leadership training.  What is the Department of State (or ACT, who is hosting, grading and probably drafting most of the written test) saying by asking applicants a question like this one?  It’s not that I can’t answer it because I’m sure that there many who can, but what does Foreign Service work (or management writ large) have to do with such a ridiculous question.  It’s not even factual or definitive.  “A work group that has high performance norms and low cohesiveness will most likely have…”  Utter insanity.  But the folks who write the test have the last say, I suppose.

By the way, the answer to the above question is B, High.  (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot)

Anyway, forgive my rant, but it’s disappointing that State or ACT could ask so many more important questions that might actually weed out those unsuited for the Foreign Service.  When I joined, State personnel officials told us that 15% of those entering the Foreign Service, half by their own decision and half because they couldn’t get tenure.  I think the 7.5% figure for those who couldn’t get tenured is very high.  I think the true percentage is less than 2%.  You really have to go out of your way to not get tenure.  That’s my opinion, and the ones who don’t get tenure are either resistant to change or have the emotional intelligence of a tree.  Seriously, it’s not that tough to get tenure.

But I do believe the total percentage is roughly 15%.  That makes sense and largely held true for my entering class, the 43rd A-100 course.


Okay, I’ll set you up with the best management theory background materials that Wikipedia has to offer:


Interestingly, none of those answers the question about performance and cohesiveness.  Sorry, but this is the best – and I believe enough – for you to get through the test.

Good luck!

How Would I Prepare for the Exam Today – Economics

I’m starting a series of posts that I think will help you prepare for the Foreign Service Exam, especially the areas that will likely be important to passing.

If I were to take the written Foreign Service Exam this October, I would focus nearly all of my study efforts in areas where I feel I don’t know enough – economics, management theory, project management and English grammar.

I took some economics classes when I was an undergraduate far too long ago. Over the past 24 years as a Foreign Service Officer, it was rare for me to discuss economic theory, even when I was managing Economic Officers.  Nevertheless, the Foreign Service Test will have a lot of economics questions.  I myself would be at a disadvantage and spend too long trying to decipher the questions, much less know the answer.  I’ve put together some free Wikipedia articles in case you’re in the same spot.  I would also re-read the book I mentioned in my last post – Basic Economics, A Common Sense Guide to the Economy basic economics: a common senseas well as crack open a basic text, like Paul  Samuelson’s EconomicsEconomics

I’ve gone ahead and pulled all of the Wikipedia entries for economics  that I think are most useful:


Economics ( – do a deep dive on this – micro- and macroeconomics

Outline of Economics (

I know this is a lot of material, but you’ve got more than two weeks before the exam.  Just reading these articles will help you do better.  Focus on the key theories in each, understand them, and you’ll be able to answer most, if not all, of the questions.  There will be some outlier questions, of course. Questions that no matter how much you prepare, you need to have a PhD in economics to answer.  Accept that and move on.

Good luck; it’s a helluva career!

I’ve put this together relying on Wikipedia articles.  I’ve contributed to this website in the past.  If you use it as much as I do, I encourage you to give what you can afford here.



Non-Economics Majors Need to Read This


Economics is important.  No one argues about that.  But do consular and management officers — the backbone of the Foreign Service —  need to have a deep, nuts-and-bolts understanding of the Laffer Curve and Econometrics?  I don’t think so, yet the subject shows up all over the place on the Foreign Service Exam.

Be Prepared!

If you’re picking Management, Consular, even Public Diplomacy career tracks, don’t get caught with a weak understanding of Econ.

In earlier posts, I said that you don’t have to do a deep dive to prepare for the test.  For many liberal arts majors (and yes, you guys rock!), the test should be tough, but one you can pass by reading a good daily newspaper and the weekly Economist. But for everyone else or even liberal arts graduates who missed Econ 101 in college, it’s time to play catch-up.

Only Three Weeks to Go

Okay, lucky you, there is an excellent, very basic econ book that will help prepare you for the test.  If you’re serious about passing the exam, especially the niggling questions on economics, I recommend you pick up a copy and read it before October.  It’s available at Amazon:

The author, Thomas Sowell, gives a frank, straightforward account of many economics principles.  Admittedly his efforts to keep the economics free of technical jargon are too basic — “opportunity cost” is nowhere to be found — but it is an excellent primer.



N.B. I recommend only books that I have read or have heard good things about from trusted colleagues. In this case, I’ve read it 




New Foreign Service Exam Study Guide is Now Available


Get the new version of the Foreign Service Oral Exam Study Guide

This is by far the best study guide out there.  It’s produced by the U.S. State Department.  They should know about the exam, right? And, best of all, it’s free. Download at the link above.

By the way, the Foreign Service written test is only three weeks away.

Good luck,