The OpSec Blog

Security and privacy information and advice at home and abroad.

Why It’s Great To Be A Specialist

with 3 comments

Two weeks ago I wrote about a few of the downsides to being in a Foreign Service Specialist skill code.  Luckily, the positives far outweigh the negatives!

1.  You can stand on your own body of work. While the Generalist community is powered in large part on a “who knows who” type attitude, Specialist skill codes are much better at recognizing a job well done at Employee Evaluation Report (EER) time.  Results cannot be argued with.

2.  It’s a small world. Every specialty is a tight-knit group, and a certain esprit de corps exists beyond the general Foreign Service pride complex that the Department seemingly tries to beat into you at times.  Specialists befriend one another and share experiences that only other specialists of their skill code can relate to and appreciate.

3. Professional development. The fact is that a lot of Specialists retire from State and enter (or return to) the private sector.  Especially true in the technical skill codes, the Department practically throws certifications, certificates, and relevant professional training courses at you.  Not only does this look great on your EER, it’s likely to help you get a job if you leave.  These sorts of things are rare on the Generalist side- they concentrate on the languages.

4. You pick and choose your battles. The somewhat sad truth is that no matter how much you point to the FAM or FAH, no matter how logical your argument, you lose sometimes.  When that happens you put your objection on the record and send it up the food chain for signatures.  While this may be depressing to you, just remember that if something goes wrong (i.e. “you were right”) you’re not going to have your name on the authorization.

5. Up, up and away! For one thing, if you’re a Specialist and don’t get tenured you are either getting arrested on a weekly basis or you have made multiple ambassadors hate your guts.  Both of those things are fairly rare.  Tenure is more like a speed bump than an obstacle.  Further down the line, given the fluid nature of the various specialties in terms of who goes and who stays, there’s really no reason for a career Specialist to not get promoted to within 2 or 3 grades of their maximum grade.

6. Pay.  With apologies to the Office Management Specialists who are vastly underpaid, Specialist pay is generally higher than that of Generalists on account of the more involved education requirements and/or professional qualifications to be hired.  Not that it’s a contest, but the multiple thousands of dollars between coming in as a typical FS-06 as opposed to an FS-04 adds up over a full career.

7. I listed the geographic limitations in the various skill codes as being a negative, but it can also work for you.  Cities with large specialist presence tend to be a lot more family- and spouse-friendly in terms of safety, stability, schools, and employment opportunities… not to mention regular cargo, passenger, and military flights to and from the States.

8. Your rating officer will probably not be in your skill code. I also listed this as a negative.  While I stand by what I wrote last time, you can work this into a huge advantage.  Instead of leaving your performance reviews to someone with marginal writing ability and scant knowledge of what your job actually entails, often you’re invited to practically write your own EER.  You take what goes into your performance review into your own hands.

9.  Travel.  Besides the Couriers (who obviously travel nonstop), specialists do a good deal of regional travel from post.  As an SEO I’ve accumulated more comp time from flights than I can ever reasonably use.  I’m still crossing my fingers that the Department will offer to buy some of it back!

10. You make post run smoothly. When your computer fails, you call an IMS.  When you forget your combination you call the SEO.  When you need anything done right, you ask your OMS.  While Generalists might make life abroad necessary, specialists make it possible.

In closing, the general perception that there’s some sort of “us vs. them” attitude on either side is highly over-hyped.  It’s one of those cases where the vocal minority ruins it for the rest of us.  If you treat your colleagues- no matter what their position- with the respect they are due, it won’t matter what your job is.  At times the interests of our various bureaus, offices, or branches might collide in a messy explosion- I’ve seen meetings devolve into literal shouting matches with people storming out of the room in disgust.  That is not the way to solve problems, nor is it what’s best for the mission or for the nation.  Those that have drifted too far to either side of the Specialist vs. Generalist rift would do well to reconsider the vitriol they espouse to their colleagues, on the Sounding Board, or to their underlings.

That being said, I wouldn’t change jobs even if they doubled my salary.  It’s too much fun.  I would hope any Foreign Service employee would say the same thing.


3 Responses

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  1. Great post. Thanx!


    19/03/2011 at 02:09

  2. I agree about the “us vs. them” mentality. I just never bought into it and it hasn’t affected us (hubby is DSS). One can also realize this pretty quickly at a small post…you work together or you are miserable.

    I agree, great post!


    20/03/2011 at 12:07

    • SEOs don’t get assigned to the really small posts, but I’ve TDY’d to places with just a handful of employees. You get fairly lively conversations when you can sit the entire embassy at the same table for dinner…


      21/03/2011 at 16:23

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