Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My road to (hopefully) the Foreign Service...

I haven't posted in a long time. A really LONG time. A lot has happened in the past 2 years. We moved to OK to be closer to family, to buy a house, to stretch professionally. It has been a really great two years. And yet, we still want more. When I was job hunting a few years ago I noticed an expired job notice for a specialist in the Foreign Service. I didn't realize this was a possibility. The notice was old but you could sign up for an email notification if/when it was ever reposted. So I signed up and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward through an out-of-state move, new job, purchase of a dream home, 9 months down the road. I was pushing my youngest on the swing in our backyard and received an email that the job I never really knew existed before was open for the next few weeks. I read the announcement and was shocked to discover that I was actually qualified for the job. I jumped through the hoops of the application process and crossed my fingers when I sent it in, having read and re-read everything I wrote many times before hitting the final submit button.

By then I was hooked. The job I never knew existed had, in the matter of a few short weeks, become my dream job. I spent hours upon hours reading blogs of others in the Foreign Service, both generalists and specialists. I found the yahoo groups where other FS hopefuls have joined together to talk about anything and everything State. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Many agonizing months of waiting. Until the day I received notification that I had passed through multiple behind-the-scenes steps, and was being invited to DC to take the in-person Oral Assessment. An all day interview that comprised of three different components. I scheduled my OA and tried to prepare as best I could. This was something I wanted more than I knew how to explain to anyone other than my husband. We didn't tell many people, just a family and a few very close friends. Most everyone was happy, although a few, admittedly, did not understand the draw for us.

I passed that interview. Not a high score, but I passed which was something to be proud of. Fast-forward 5 months of waiting for medical clearances, security clearances, and a final review panel and I was put on the "register"; which is a rank ordered list of other candidates who had jumped through all the same steps I did. One can only sit on the register for 18 months before they drop off. If you aren't hired you have to start all over again. I was 12/14 on the register and with only 3 hired in the fiscal year, it was a good chance I would time-off the register. I had two options: a crash course in Russian, which had the potential to give me a .4 boost to my score, or try luck with a new candidacy as a generalist.

I signed up for the FSOT, which is offered 3 times per year. It's free (unless you are a no-show) and I studied a little bit. Not a ton, but I did some practice tests and tried to refresh my memory on some areas. They say the test is a mile wide and an inch deep - too difficult to study for so I wasn't giving much time to studying for it until the last couple of weeks.

I walked out of the testing center with the feeling that I could have either passed, or totally bombed it; neither would have surprised me. Luckily I found out about 3 weeks later that I passed. Not by a lot, but that didn't really matter. I was moving on to the next step; the Personal Narrative Questions, or PNQs. 6 questions that you answer in about 200 words or less. The Board of Examiners (BEX) review your PNQs, your test score, and your FSOT application, and determine who to invite to the Oral Assessment. I wrote my PNQs, had them reviewed by my husband and a friend, and just before submitting them, I rewrote one of them. Then I waited. Again. Sensing a theme?

I received notification in May that I passed and was invited to DC to take the all-day oral assessment. This time the day consisted of a Group Exercise, Case Management, and Structured Interview. I was going back to DC! I was able to schedule an assessment pretty early in the process, I didn't want too long to wait and agonize over the process. I also immediately went to the FSOA yahoo group to meet others testing the same day, and try to set up a Skype study group. Our group of 6 was amazing and I'm pretty sure those sessions helped me pass. We met for 7 weeks, doing a different practice GE during the call, and working on a different CM each week over email. We also practiced the Hypos a few times as well as the assessment day loomed closer on the horizon.

I didn't sleep well the two weeks prior to the day and was worried it would carry over the night before. Luckily I got a great nights sleep and woke up refreshed and ready. I had a phenomenal group and felt confident about my performance during that section. I then tackled the section I was most worried about, CM, before a 2 hour lunch break. During the break I went to the American Indian museum with another candidate from my study group. She asked how I felt so far, and my honest answer was that I wasn't sure whether or not I was passing, but I was giving it everything I had and I felt good about that. We came back from lunch refreshed and ready to take on the last portion of the day; the Structured Interview. I was nervous (who wouldn't be) but the hour passed quickly and the next thing I knew I was doing a mini happy dance in the waiting room because we were done. It was now out of my hands.

About 10 minutes later the rest of the group who had already finished was brought up from their last break, and we were escorted to the computer room. One by one candidates were called out of the room. I had read previously that you want to be the last man standing. I thought highly of each of the candidates and wanted everyone to pass that day. As each person was taken out of the room we called out good luck. Two of my study buddies were called out in quick succession, and then the third shortly after. Only when I realized there were five (out of 11) left in the room did I realize that we were all in the same group exercise. The most recent person taken out of the room was the 6th person in our GE. I said something of that effect to the group but they told me not to read into it.

We tried to pass the time by talking, when we were interrupted by one of the assessors coming in. She started calling off multiple names and I just kept hoping she would say mine. Thankfully she did. All five of us were escorted to the room where we completed our GE that morning. On the walk there I could see about 4 or 5 assessors standing by the table and I started to let myself grin in anticipation. She advised we could set our things down before going into the room. Once we were all there the lead assessor congratulated us and advised that we all had passed! We cheered (loudly I'm told from two of my study buddies who were in the next room over being told they had passed as well!) and hugged each other, and exchanged handshakes with the assessors in the room. I was very teary eyed at this point. We all took seats around the table and listened as some general information was shared. It seemed like forever before we found out our scores. I was sitting directly next to the assessor, and my envelope was on the top of the pile. When we finally got to open our envelopes my stomach dropped and I'm fairly certain I let out an audible "wow". I scored a 5.8. The number I had set my sights on from day one. The number I was sure would get me an invitation. The tears started to really flow at this point as it became so much more of a reality.

Fast-forward to getting finger printed again. I will hopefully have a quick trip to the register as all my clearances are so recent. I have communicated over email with another in a similar position and she hit the register 8 calendar days after her OA. If all goes well I will likely be number 4 on the management register and will have an invitation to the next A-100 class in either November (unlikely) or January (more likely barring a federal hiring freeze).

I'm still in shock.