Spring 2005 – During my senior year of college, I take the Foreign Service Officer Test with my friend Brett. She passes (and is currently a Foreign Service Officer in the Dominican Republic), but I fail. I go on to graduate school and then spend a few years working. I don’t think much about the Foreign Service, until…
January 2009 – My friend Anne somehow gets the idea that I should take the exam again. I tell her no. She tells me yes. I tell her no. (And so forth.) Finally, she convinces me to take it in Philadelphia as an excuse to visit her. I give in, even though I hold out little hope of passing. Only about 40% of candidates do, and they’re the sort of people who rock at Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy, which I, well, don’t. On the other hand, the test has been computerized since I first took it, so at least my horrible handwriting will no longer come into play…
February 14, 2009 — I have a Valentine’s Day date with the FSOT at a community college in Philly. It’s three hours long and — because I’m a nerd — I find it fun. How do I do? I have no idea.
March 2009 — I learn I passed and am invited to submit five short personal narrative essays. These will be evaluated along with my exam score and background information to determine whether I’m one of the approximately 40% of remaining candidates invited to the take the Oral Assessment. Seeing as how I spent two years and tens of thousands of dollars in graduate school learning to write personal narrative essays, I better pass this section.
May 2009 — I do, and I’m invited to take the Oral Assessment. It’s an intense all-day event that some of the smartest people I know haven’t passed. Only about 20% of those who have gotten this far make the cut, which is about 3% of all candidates. Not good odds. Knowing I have little hope if I go in blind, I connect with a local study group and begin doing what I can to prepare.
Summer 2009 — I spend a big chunk of my free time with study groups.
September 28, 2009 — I pass! (I also happen to break my computer. I fell asleep watching The West Wing for inspiration — hey, whatever works — and woke up to find it on the floor. Oops.) Fortunately, I receive a high enough score that I’m pretty much guaranteed to get hired; not everyone is, sadly. More about that later.
October and November 2009 — More? Yes, there’s still more. I have a conditional offer of employment — the condition being that I’m granted medical and security clearances. I squeeze in a number of doctors appointments and spend a lot of time tracking down information for my investigator, who is also meeting with pretty much everyone I know. Awkward.
December 2009 and January 2010 — Waiting. Worrying. Speculating. Dreaming up crazy scenarios in which I’m denied clearances for things I can’t even recall doing.
January 11, 2010 — I receive my medical clearance! And then, a few hours later, I receive my security clearance! So, am I done? Nope, not yet. Now my whole file has to pass through a Final Suitability panel for one last look. What kind of things cause a person to fail Final Suitability? Well, for instance, being arrested 17 times for streaking. (No joke.) This may not be a security threat, but it’s not exactly suitable behavior, at least according to the Department of State.
January 14, 2010 — I pass Final Suitability and am placed on the Register! What’s the Register, you ask? Well, despite making it all this way, I’m still not guaranteed a job. My name is merely placed on a list of eligible hires that State draws from when they start each new A-100 class, which is the name for Foreign Service Officer training. Fortunately for me, the list is ranked based on Oral Assessment score, and mine was high enough that I’ll be called for the next class. So making it to the Register was the tough part. Now, I can relax. (However, I have great sympathy for others who make it this far only to languish on the Register month after month, unsure if they’ll ever get the call. If it doesn’t come within 18 months, they’re off the list and have to start the whole process from scratch. Not fun.)
January 19, 2010 — I’m offered (and immediately accept) a spot in the March 29 A-100.
January to March, 2010 — Paperwork galore. Tie things up at my current job. Midwest road trip. Prepare for the move to DC.
March 27, 2010 — We will arrive in DC.
March 29, 2010 — More than a year after taking the FSOT, I will begin A-100 and officially be a Foreign Service Officer. Whew.