I had to take a leave of absence from blogging because I made a rather big decision.
For a while now I’ve been attempting to find a way to establish a career that also involves travel. Yes, I know, who doesn’t want to get paid to travel?
However, it is an extremely difficult dream to make a reality. Within the travel blogging community, it is a well-known fact that it is not as glamorous as it sounds. When you’re traveling and making profit off your blogging, it tends to take the fun out of it. You’re not enjoying that tour through the rainforest because you’re trying to figure out how to put such a magical landscape into words, or snapping picture after picture that you can only hope will catch a reader’s eye. In between all that, you’re switching from camera mode to video mode. And if you’re lucky enough to get service anywhere, you’re tweeting away. On top of all that, you have to immediately go back to your hotel – or hostel (more than likely) – and have no chance to relax. The first thing you do before you jump in the shower or grab a bite to eat is turn on your computer to start typing away before you forget what your mind was already writing up on the way back from the rainforest and you begin uploading all those images and video clips. Why? Because tomorrow it starts all over with the next place. And you’re dealing with finding advertisers to try to make some extra income, and self-promoting your blog like crazy. It is a tedious affair. And one I know I will be getting myself into when I find the chance to travel more. Right now, I’m saving and looking for other opportunities, but I hope this small glimpse into the business of blogging has opened your mind to the reality of it. Back to the topic at hand.
Where did I disappear to for the past couple of months?
Growing up, I had always heard the stories my mom told me of the chance she had to work abroad, but it never clicked in my head as to where this opportunity came from that presented itself to her. She just told me that she had to take a typing test on one of those old machines, prove that she was fluent in German as well as English, and that she had to list the countries where she wanted to work. Unfortunately, my mother was unable to commit after she got to the section of the application sheet that said she may not get assigned to the country of her first choosing. Her reasoning, “I pictured myself in Africa in some tent in the middle of the desert.”
My face always lit up at the idea of this but for mom, she couldn’t handle it. She needed to know exactly where she was going to mentally prepare herself for what she was getting into before she ever agreed to taking the opportunity.
But who was this opportunity with exactly? A few months ago I was talking to my dad about needing to make a change in my life. One that pushed me and challenged me, personally and professionally. I need something more than where I am right now.
His replied, “Have you thought of the Foreign Service?”
“The what!?” I exclaimed. He explained the department, which is a component of the United States federal government and I hastily interrupted part way through his speech. “That’s what mom almost went into isn’t it?” And he replied, “Yes.” I asked what I had to do and when I got home, I quickly did my research and realized that the process is no where near as simple as it was back in the days of my mother’s typing test. It is long, arduous and extremely extensive, taking up to over a year without any guarantee of placement. Some spend ten years trying to become an FSO (Foreign Service Officer). But I was going to go for it.
What is the process to becoming a Foreign Service Officer?
The first step is to read every single on the website. It explains the nature of the job and the career tracks. There are five. And you must select one before you even register for the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test) because it asks you what one you are choosing. The career tracks include: consular, economic, management, political, and public diplomacy. You are not allowed to change your career track after you register, and you have to take into consideration what areas are more popular than others and what is more in demand.
1.) Register for the FSOT. It takes a good amount of time but you are able to stop and start at any point throughout the registration. Be as detailed as possible because this is a job you’re applying for here, and a government one at that. I took it with the thought in mind that the employer could reference the application at any point during my journey to becoming an FSOT.
2.) Wait to receive the email notifying you of the testing dates for the FSOT. The test is only given three times per year, and you can only take it once per year. A clear indication of how difficult it is to get into the Foreign Service. I’ve seen statistics stating that more than 25,000 people per year take the exam.
3.) I was lucky enough to have applied in late April and received my notification that the exam was being offered the first week of June. I applied for Monday, June 4 for the 12 to 3 p.m. time-slot. It is free to take the exam. Some I’ve heard actually take it just to see if they’ll pass because the FSOT is described as the United States’ most difficult test. If you don’t show up, that’s when your card information you included in the test registration is billed $50.
4.) Hardest part. Studying and cramming more than you ever have for your finals in college. The test includes the following three multiple-choice sections, according to the Foreign Service website.
- Job knowledge
- English expression,
- A biographic information section that asks you to describe your work style, your manner of interacting and communicating with others, and your approach to other cultures.
Job knowledge questions will cover a broad range of topics including, but not limited to, the structure and workings of the U.S. government, U.S. and world history, U.S. culture, psychology, management theory, finance and economics, and world affairs.
In addition, you will be given 30 minutes to write an essay on an assigned topic. You must pass the multiple choice tests to have your essay graded.
- study guide
It's safe to say that I purchased the study guide that the FS offers and it truly did help me, mainly for the biographic section and English grammar section. When it comes to the job knowledge portion, everyone provides the following phrase, "mile-wide, inch-deep", which could not be a more befitting definition. You either know or you don't, but there are plenty of resources out there, including the famous Yahoo groups that provide documents and support. I felt pretty comfortable after I finished but of course, am incredibly worried.
Where am I now?
I'm waiting to hear back regarding my exam results. I have to wait three to five weeks. If I pass, then I get to continue on this journey, and I cannot stress enough, there is no guarantee that if you even pass every part of the process that you'll become an FSO.
If you pass the FSOT, you get an email that gives you roughly five questions, which you have to answer in Personal Narrative (PN) essay form and provide the name of a contact for each to verify that what you've written is accurate and submit them to the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) for review. When you get to this part, you really want to highlight your skills and how they meet the 13 Dimensions, which are the guidelines that the FS uses when they hire anybody.
Assuming you pass the Personal Narrative portion of the process, you are invited to the Oral Assessment. That means you travel to a city at your expense that is hosting the OA where you'll be interviewed for the day. Along with the interview, it "includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise."
Upon the advancing after the OA, the candidate receives instructions about obtaining medical and security clearances, and then you are reviewed once more, and your name is placed on the Register, which is a rank-ordered list of successful candidates, sorted by career track.
Statistics show: Approximately 25 to 30 percent of candidates pass both the FSOT and the Personal Narrative Questions/Qualifications Evaluation Panel phase of the process. After the screening process, less than 10% of those that pass the FSOT are invited to an oral assessment, administered in person in Washington, D.C. and other major cities throughout the United States. Approximately 3% of the original applicants at the written exam will ultimately pass the oral assessment.
I keep repeating myself, there is no guarantee.
You read correctly. "place on the Register", which means there is guarantee of placement. I've read stories of candidates who never got the official offer and had to start the process all over again, and others whose names were called months after but they declined the offer because they had started a family or had begun another career. One big concern I've noticed is age. Most of the FSOs out there are middle-aged people who have begun a second career. Experience is vital, so I'm assuming that's the reason for the age difference, but I've heard that those who have made it to the OA had groups of various ages, so that's why I'm going for it, along with a majority of others - tens-of-thousands.
If this entire process teaches you anything, it is patience. You wait for emails and results for more than a year holding onto the hope that you can become a FSO and represent the United States abroad. Here's to hope and perseverance.