Registration for February FSOT Opened December 15




You can register for the next Foreign ServiceExam starting December 15.  The Exam dates will run from January 28 to February 4.  If you start now, this will give you plenty of time to prepare for the test.  

The State Department has listed these dates for 2017.  

President-elect Trump intends to freeze hiring, but the State Department will still have FSOs leaving the ranks, perhaps now more than ever.  The Department will have to hire more Entry Level officers (ELO) so sign up ASAP.

To sign up (and yes pick your career track) start here.

FSOT Coaching?

To FSOT Applicants,

I’d like to know how many of you would be interested in coaching?  I was thinking about offering six lessons — one per week — in the month in half before the next Foreign Service Exam.  We’d connect by telephone or by Skype.  I’d recommend books and go over concepts that you’re unsure about, provide time management skills, and give you writing topics and one-on-one reviews of your work.

This is something brand new, and I’m curious if anyone would be interested.

Please let me know.

Best regards,


Bill Fitzgerald




The Easiest Way to Find a Job at the State Department

The easiest way to get a job in the State Department is through an internship.
Of course,  there are other ways to land a position inside the Harry Truman building or one of the satellite offices dotting DC and northern VA. But in my experience as a Foreign Service officer and manager, those with good networking skills and the ability to identify which bureau or office has an urgent, pressing need can secure a job.  The first job may be only temporary, but if you work (extra) hard, earn the respect of your colleagues and bosses, and expand your network, you will find another position, one that could lead to a permanent hire — even in these budget-constrained times.
The reason why the odds of scoring a job at State soar when you’re an intern is that you’ve got a foot in the door, people know you, most will like you, many will be grateful for how hard you work and the cheerful way you accept new responsibilities.  In short, you become a known person and you’ve proven yourself.  Frankly, there is no comparison between hiring a ‘known and proven person’ or someone from a resume or application form, even if everyone is interviewed for the job.  Furthermore, you should reach out to groups at State to improve your chances — almost every minority has chapter in the State Department.  If you’re a woman, there are major opportunities to network with FSOs, civil servants, and political appointees.  Every group — and the State Department as an institution — wants to boost the numbers of minorities.  If you don’t believe me, check out where the diplomats-in-residence are posted across the United States and you’ll see the targets
I will discuss the various internships in my next post, but the biggest hurdle to landing a permanent job at State is securing an internship, much harder than one would think, especially for those non-paying intern slots.
Moreover, even if you qualify for an internship, you must undergo a background check to obtain your security clearance.  It is almost never a quick process or quick enough.  The agony of waiting for some retired FBI agent to review your fitness is painful.  Therefore make it as easy as possible for them.
Spend a lot of time identifying good (i.e., favorable) references, if you’ve lived overseas be as specific as possible on dates and addresses (the investigator will likely call on the RSO at the nearest embassy to help him or her), identify your ‘good’ neighbors or employers, not the jerk downstairs who kicked your dog or the Baskin & Robbins supervisor who accused you of stealing a gallon of mint chocolate chip.  By all means, identify your friends and relatives and ‘good’ neighbors.  Why wouldn’t you?
Warn your friends/relatives/neighbors who an investigator will contact them to check on your background.  It’s not against the rules to give  them a few tips, even coach them. (Note: this is for applicants who truly don’t have bad things in their past; if you do and you’re using my tips because your Russian control officer doesn’t have a clue, well, I hope you end up in the federal SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado so you can share bedtime stories with Ted Kaczynski and the Underwear Bomber.
Tell you friend/relatives/neighbors to:
— be polite with the investigator who is harried by too many security investigations and not enough time.  He or she likes when an investigation goes smoothly;
— only answer the questions asked; don’t elaborate.  There’s no rule that your friend needs to mention how you got caught as a junior smoking dope on the roof of your high school;
— if the investigator asks for other references, make sure that your friend only give names you’re okay with.  You might even encourage your friends and neighbors when asked for others to say ‘there’s no one who comes to mind; i mean I was her best friend; I knew her best.’  This requesting other people who knew you is the best way to find dirt on you.  It’s like dropping a stone in a pond, the ripples expand and ultimately lead to someone who knew you and didn’t like you.  Or, worse, someone who not only didn’t like you — a guy you wouldn’t let cheat on a final or a girl you dumped — but also someone who wants to deep-six your career before it even starts.
— In spite of the cautions above, you will likely sail through the security background check, especially if you’re younger and haven’t lived anywhere overseas.  Again, there are just too many reviews for too few investigators which mean cursory reviews, even if you were caught smoking dope on the roof of your high school.
The investigators are looking for ‘red flags’ ) 1st generation Americans whose heritage might be trouble (e.g., any Arab country, if you were involved in serious criminal activity (e.g., dealing drugs, a gang member, etc), and if you were a member of the Communist Party, the John Birch Society, various militias — basically any group who has expressed a desire for the collapse or destruction of the American government).
Good luck

4 Free Ways to Prep for FSOT English Expression Questions

I have always done poorly on the English Expression part of the FSOT.  I don’t know why.  I’m a reasonably good writer and after graduating from college I worked as a reporter/editor for United Press International.  In any case, when I took the practice exam last month, I scored in the high 70s in English Expression.  Pretty dismal.  And people say it’s a lot easier than the FSOT!
If I had to take the FSOT again, I would work with the following four free resources:
Mignon Fogarty, the Grammar Girl, has a blog (and podcast) chock full of grammar answers, like Who v. Whom or Affect v. Effect, at the Quick & Dirty Tricks website.  Fogarty insists she focuses more on “usage” than grammar, but both the book and her podcasts will help you.  Free is a British site that focuses primarily on words, but also includes discussion on grammar and usage.  Of course, the British v. American English rule applies — The US and UK are, two countries separated by a common language. Free
Elements of Style, the best known of American style guides.  Written by William Strunk, a Cornell professor, on the eve of WWI and published in 1920, the book has gone through a number of editions.  Essayist, children’s book author, and former Strunk student, E.B. White brought Elements of Style into the modern age and into millions of libraries and bookcases across the United States. White’s editions also include his chapter on writing.  Strunk’s original version is offered free through Amazon’s Kindle program Elements of Style and in PDF format at Washington University in St. Louis website ()
A new paperback copy of the Fourth Edition will run you $5.20; and good used version will run you $4.00 with shipping, both on Amazon. The Fourth Edition includes a foreword by Roger Angell, longtime sportswriter for the New Yorker and White’s stepson.  Free
Grammar and Vocabulary Exercises — a kind fellow has published a website chock full of test questions that will test and ideally improve your overall grasp of English Expressions.  You can just load them on your browser bar.  When you get breaks in your schedule you can just fire them up and test yourself.  Grammar and Vocabulary here  Free
I hope you’re still writing, sitting down four or five times a week   Also, write and rewrite your bio — mind the new character limit —until you can do it in your sleep.  The more time you practice now, the less time it will take you on FSOT.  Remember, one of the biggest complaints of FSOT takers is that they run out of time.
Good luck!

6 Economics Blogs to Prepare You for the FSOT

Karl Marx (1818-1883) on antique print from 1899. German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist and revolutionary socialist. After Pinkau & Gehler and published in the 19th century in portraits, Germany, 1899.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)


Adam Smith (1723-1790)










If you followed my advice last week, you’ll have taken the practice FSOT and determined your weak spots.  To brush up on economics knowledge, I offer you the following seven economics blogs from columnists, academics, and private sector thinkers.  They should help you get up to speed for the FSOT.

And for those who need or want a deep dive, well, here you go.


I’ll be posting basic level resources shortly.  Good luck

3 Steps to Passing the FSOT

Embassy Ottawa (Image courtesy stock.xchng user canuckboy)

Embassy Ottawa (Image courtesy stock.xchng user canuckboy)


I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, especially those who are going to take the FSOT in February 2016.  Many of you will be thinking about the best way to prepare for the exam, whether it’s the first time you take it or the fifth.  Trust me, there’s no shame in taking the FSOT multiple times.  I know many (most?) Foreign Service Officers who flunked the test more than once, even if they no longer admit it.

With the February FSOT still two months off, it’s a good time to start preparing, and my advice is to do the following right now:

  1. Take the Pearson practice test;
  2. From your results, identify your weakest areas, and then start review those areas — US history, economics, management theory, English expression (grammar), etc.  (I put English grammar because it was always my poorest area, and in fact when I recently took the practice FSOT, I scored a 92 in Job Knowledge and, yes, a 71 in English expression);
  3. Practice writing six days a week at least 500 words a day.  This writing regimen will not only improve your writing on the FSOT, but will also help you in your Foreign Service career.   The State Department is still an institution that relies on cables  (telegrams) and memoranda to carry out its business.  Sure you’ll use PowerPoints at Main State and overseas, but writing — clear, focused drafting — is the way to pass the test and do well in your FS career.

Six days a week sounds a bit much, but trust me that the more you write, the faster and clearer you’ll get.  For the first few weeks, you can write about anything to get to the 500 word mark.  Love affairs, Donald Trump, ice cream.  After that, start pulling news articles from the NY Times and The Economist and rewriting them in your voice or analyze the subject or review a policy position that you think is wrongheaded  or right from current day (Why the United States’s Syria policy is failing) or the past (How the the United States dropped the ball in the Suez Crisis).

That’s it, three ways to help you pass the upcoming FSOT.  I’ll be posting resources shortly to help you bone up on your weak subjects soon.

Good luck!









Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving to you all. It’s a big holiday at U.S. missions overseas, and it brings together a lot of the American community, including expats, Peace Corps volunteers, teachers and many from the local community. I’ve found that Thanksgiving is sometimes a difficult concept to get across, but at least host country nationals leave knowing that it’s a very important U.S. holiday.

I’m attaching a video on diversity that the State Department produced recently – The Foreign Service: In Search of Diversity. It’s worth watching.

Why is the FSOT So Hard?

Is it, really? Is it tougher than say the MCAT or GRE?

I think it is for a variety of reasons: exams stretch over two days, require you to submit a personal narrative, overcome hurdles that can knock you out of the running.  Also many of you have been dreaming about becoming a Foreign Service officer for years. The emotional pressure is huge

The tests themselves also stretch you in so many ways from multiple choice on a range of subjects (Econ, history, computers, literature, grammar, etc) to writing two or three essays on varying topics. And, yes, the time pressure is intense.

Back in the old days, you’d look around you to see hundreds of others competing for the maybe 2000 slots for the Oral Assessment. And at the Oral Assessment you wonder which of the applicants sitting at the round-table exercise were going to cross all the hurdles to make the cohort of 200 or so who will be put on registrars. You know too that recent Washington buzzwords like sequestration and 0% budgeting mean that there could be even fewer slots open.

Similarly, for the past 10+ years there has been a huge push to hire more minorities, especially Hispanics and Asian Americans who are woefully underrepresented as ELOs and Senior Foreign Service officers. African Americans continue to be underrepresented, but not as much. Women have nearly caught up with men in entering classes, but lag under the Senior Foreign Service glass ceiling.  These hiring goals will affect hiring and promotion; some will be helped, others hurt.

The FSOT is a strange test, I can’t deny that, and there are so many things that come together to decide whether you’ll get on a register and whether you’ll get hired.



FSOT-Like Test Questions to Boost Your Skills


There’s a great website that goes over English grammar, usage, and vocabulary.  Even better, there are scads of test questions that are very similar to those on the FSOT.

Check it out here.

I’d like to give a shout-out to the owner of the blog, but I lost his email.  If he or she does see this, I want to thank you again for alerting us to such a rich resource.






Mobile Donating Could Raise Millions for The Ebola Crisis

Dear readers, this is not a typical post and may not help you pass the FSOT, but it is linked to the State Department and the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Please read it and if you agree, kindly send it on to your contacts.  The goal is to create a groundswell for State to take action as it once did just after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti…

Best, Bill

The attached paper is addressed to all those who care about foreign affairs, global pandemics, and the crisis that grips West Africa, where according to the Centers for Disease Control’s worst-case estimate the Ebola virus could infect up to 1.4 million people and kill nearly 1 million (with a 70% mortality rate).  I have a way to channel private U.S. donations to the fight ongoing in the Mano River region.  Please read the following:

Dear Subscriber:

Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. State Department did a curious thing. Embracing social media and tech savvy like no other Administration, Hillary Clinton’s State Department set up a mobile donating platform for Americans to give $10 by texting the word “Haiti” to the shortcode 90999. The donations, charged to the donors’ phone bills, topped at least $43 million. The money went to the Red Cross.

CNN published a story by Amy Gahran in 2012 to highlight the lessons of this unique and unprecedented State Department idea at

I propose that the State Department do this again to help the suffering populations in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and especially those volunteers working on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis. In this case, instead of the Red Cross or a UN organization, I propose that the donations go to international Mèdecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), one of the NGOs leading lifesaving activities in the Mano River region.

Unfortunately, those who came up with the Haiti mobile donating idea have pretty much left active government, and while I believe there is enough institutional knowledge to replicate this effort, I don’t know if the idea has occurred to the Secretary Kerry’s State Department.

So it’s time for everyone who has an interest to begin sending messages via email, telephone calls, tweets. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram to Secretary Kerry to stand up this mobile platform once again to help those suffering in this unprecedented pandemic in West Africa. Feel free to use the attached text message and let your voices be heard. And please spread this message

CNN published a story by Amy Gahran in 2012 to highlight the lessons of this unique and unprecedented State Department idea at

Begin text:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to you about the terrible tragedy that is taking place in the Mano River region of West Africa. The Ebola virus has spawned a pandemic the likes of which have the potential to rival the AIDS crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published a worst-case scenario that would see up to 1.4 million people infected with the deadly virus. Even with a reduced mortality rate of 70 percent compared to past Ebola outbreaks in East and Central Africa would mean a death toll of nearly 1 million. Yes, that’s one million people dying from Ebola. It would be higher than the Rwanda genocide and nearly five times higher than the death toll in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Mr. Secretary, I am writing to ask the State Department and you to stand up a mobile donating platform that was last used during the 2010 Haiti earthquake to raise money for the Red Cross. Americans and others donated $10 at a time by simply texting the word “Haiti” to the shortcode 90999. This was a State Department Initiative dreamed up by Secretary Clinton’s tech advisors and rolled out by the Secretary herself. With the assistance of telephone companies, the $10 contributions were charge to donors’ telephone bills. In the end, the total raised for Haitian earthquake victims was $43 million.

Can’t we do the same for the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who are and will be suffering from the Ebola catastrophe in West Africa? We need State Department leadership once again to stand up and ask the American people to be as generous as they have been since the start of the Republic.

I would ask that the State Department to coordinate with telephone companies to allow mobile phone operators to text “Ebola” to a new number or shortcode to send $10 to help the victims and those fighting on the frontlines on their behalf in the fight against this deadly scourge.

But instead of sending the donations to the Red Cross or to a UN agency, I support sending them to the international arm of the NGO Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), which has been fighting on the frontlines since the outbreak of the disease.

Mr. Secretary, please accept my deepest gratitude and please make this campaign a reality.


[Your Name}

The Honorable
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC 20520