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Archive for the ‘Reader Questions’ Category

RQ: Advanced Degrees

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A reader asks,

I’ve read that State doesn’t take Masters or PhDs into account when making your initial salary offer.  Why not?  This seems like it would discourage a lot of otherwise qualified future FSOs.

I sympathize with those earning an advanced degree when they get an offer of employment – I was one of them!  But I think it makes sense in the end.  Keep in mind that I have no idea what the actual reasoning behind the policy is (above my pay grade), but here are some thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by OSB

23/04/2013 at 07:12

RQ: Overseas Housing

with 4 comments

A reader recently asked ,

 What is FSO housing like overseas?  Does it vary with family size or rank?

Someone posted a similar question on the State Careers Forum, which, while having a sizable peanut gallery offering sometimes terrible answers/advice, does OK sometimes (as long as you put more weight on the green checked-users).

Housing overseas, first of all, is free.  You’d be surprised how many things people find in their housing units to complain about when they effectively pay $0 in rent and $0 in major repairs (plumbing, electricity, structural issues if there are any).  Post’s Housing section, usually a General Services Office function, normally does a good job maintaining the residences and making them habitable.  Now, “habitable” varies greatly from country to country.  European apartments tend to be small, especially if you have a large family.  Housing assignments do take family size into account, but it’s also important to remember that your housing also depends on the rank of the position you’re serving in.  Funny how FSOs have rank in person, but housing goes by rank in position! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by OSB

21/04/2013 at 09:32

RQ: Private Sector

with one comment

This week, a reader asked,

I’m coming from the private sector.  What should I expect to be different from State?  The same?

While everyone has a different experience, I can share mine after coming from a brief stint in the private sector.  Keeping in mind that these are generalizations…

Differences:  State is a large bureaucracy, and things move slowly.  Painfully slowly, at times.  Most processes could be radically simplified but for whatever reason (regulations, accountability, turf battles) they usually aren’t.  Worrying about price is, despite what the news might say about the government cutting back spending, is not something that’s ingrained into the corporate culture.  Overseas you’ll not only be working with your colleagues, but in a lot of places you’ll be living right next door as well.  Security, both physical, information, and technical, are taken very seriously.  You will not be using the latest and greatest IT equipment, nor are you allowed to bring in your own or even install your own software.  Regulations always have the final word, but whether or not the regulation is met often depends on your ability to convince someone of their point of view.  Once you’re tenured you basically can’t get fired unless you really, really screw up.  People guard their turf jealously for whatever reason, and occasionally the attitude of “not my job” pervades the work environment.  There’s a very clear path in almost every skill code for promotion.  You get to travel and switch jobs every few years.

Similarities:  In general you’re surrounded by people who want to do the right thing.  Your coworkers and colleagues will be both good and bad.  Benefits and pay are pretty good.  If you choose well, your work will be interesting.  Excellent performance is rewarded, even though there’s a ton of chaff that makes it into the hopper as well.  E-mail storms and e-mail “oops”es still happen.  On short trips you get per diem. Your boss is still a toss up as to their competence and demeanor.  You still have performance reviews.

This was kind of an open-ended question, so feel free to disagree.  “Different in a good way” is how I’d summarize.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Tandem Couples

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A reader asks,

What advice would you give a would-be tandem couple?

Disclaimer, I am not part of a tandem.

Tandem couples refer to couples in which both husband and wife are employed as direct hires in one of the Foreign Services (State, Agriculture, Commercial, or USAID).  Same-sex couples whose marriage is not recognized in the States also qualify as tandems, but situations in which one is a direct hire and the other is employed as an EFM at post does not qualify as a tandem.

The most obvious benefit from being a tandem couple is to have both adults bringing in an income and building on their careers.  You also get some preference for assignments if there is a good fit for both of you at a post.  The downside of being a tandem is that there aren’t many places that have open spots, so tandem couples wind up in Washington a lot more than their non-tandem counterparts or one half does an out-of-cone or out-of-specialty tour more frequently than they might like.   Since both parents work it is difficult to care for small children as a tandem, but this situation can be alleviated somewhat with a nanny or leave without pay.  Tandem couples face similar challenges that families with two working parents do with respect to “family logistics” at post.

My advice to a tandem couple would be to keep an open mind.  While this goes for any FS employee, tandems especially need to look at Washington DC as an opportunity and not a sentence.  Tandems should also start the bidding/lobbying process extra early, 2 years in advance (1 year before you actually bid) is not unheard of.  Pull every connection you have during the lobbying process and make it obvious to the assignments panel that the assignments you and your spouse want are obviously the assignments you are going to get.

Finally, if you both are brand-new to the Foreign Service you must be married before A-100/Specialist orientation to be given consideration as a tandem couple.  There are no exceptions to this rule.

Since this post is more of an “outside looking in” perspective, I’d love to hear some perspectives from actual tandem couples.  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Calling the Registrar

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One question on many candidates’ mind is

How often is it appropriate to call the registrar to find out my standing?

While there’s no definite answer to this question, in my humble opinion I think you should call as often as you want to.  The registrar’s job is the manage the register and keep those on it informed of their place.  While it might be too much to call every day, I don’t think anyone should feel bad about calling once or twice a week, especially if there’s an upcoming A-100 or Specialist orientation (offers start going out 2-3 months prior).

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Spouse Employment

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A reader asks,

What opportunities are available for spouses to work while at an embassy?

Eligible Family Members often get preference for certain positions at an embassy or consulate.  Unfortunately they tend to be clerical or inherently unskilled, and the pay reflects this.  Some jobs that are common to many posts are security escorts, on-call roving assistants, community liaison officer (CLO), and consular assistant  positions.  Employment opportunities are more abundant at large posts.  Very few EFM positions are considered  “career enhancing.”  If your future EFM or current EFM is looking for a position that requires a college degree or advanced degree the odds are against them finding a desirable position with the embassy.

Spouse employment is a big issue in the Foreign Service, and things have improved a lot over my tenure with the Department.  Leave a question in the comments if you’d like more specific information on this issue.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

RQ: Cyber Security

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A reader asks,

Do SEOs work on the cyber side?

A specialized branch of the SEO skill code works primarily with cyber security issues.  These SEOs are trained to perform computer security assessments and forensics and are under the authority of the Information Resource Management (IRM) Bureau.  SEOs of this brand make up less than 10% of the total SEO population.

Be sure to check out past Reader Questions in the Archives.

Written by OSB

03/02/2012 at 03:27