Thursday, April 01, 2010

One more thing to consider

Let's file this under things I wish I had known, though to be fair, there is not much I could have changed.

For those of you in the 152nd in particular, you have just gotten your bid list. You have been told that your first two tours are directed, and that after that, you lobby for jobs in the direction you want your career to go.

Those two things are true.


That doesn't mean you will get the jobs you lobby for. What they never tell you is how much those two directed tours affect your whole career. For your third tour and beyond, you do lobby for the jobs you want. But lobbying is all about who you know. People doing the hiring either want to know you or know someone who knows you. You want big dogs in your corner who can help persuade those people to hire you.

And where do you acquire those big dogs? From your previous tours. It would be nice if they considered your experience from before the foreign service, but often they do not. So for me, I had trouble getting my first public diplomacy job even though I had degrees in journalism and anthropology as well as experience in both fields (so I have both aspects of PD work covered) because no one knew me. So instead, I went from my second tour to a position as a staff assistant in the same bureau as my second tour. Why did they want me? Because they knew me. I was a known quantity in the bureau. Now fortunately, the PDAS in that bureau had previously served as an office director in the office I wanted to go to. HE (not me) was a known quantity there, and so HIS word (not my experience) got me the job. Before he weighed in, I couldn't even get them to schedule a time for me to come by and chat about the job.

From that job, I was able to get the job overseas I wanted because I got the biggest dogs in the bureau to weigh in for me, plus I knew one of the big dogs making the decision through GLIFAA.

Same story for my wife. Her DCM and Pol-Econ chief from her first tour weighed in for her for her third tour. Again, despite her experience (and PhD) in the area of concern, it was who spoke on her behalf, and that she herself was something of a known in that bureau, that got her the job. Her next assignment was because of her experience in her third tour. Her onward is because of her experience in that bureau and our connection to the big dog making the decision for the next tour.

All of this is to say that when you are considering where you want to bid for your first and second tours, consider too where you want to go after that. Find out about the people you will be working for, where they have served, etc. And use that as an additional guide when you decide which posts to bid high, medium and low. You will still go where your CDO assigns you, but since they do TRY to put you where you want to be (within reason), it can only help to be armed with as much information as possible when you make your case.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Thanks for this!

John Brown said...

“Job,” “lobby,” “tour,” “biggest dogs to weigh in for me” “CDO” “assign” “bureau” – these are the words you use to describe your Foreign Service career.

But why doesn’t your blog, if it truly wishes to enlighten its readers, talk more about what you actually do as an FSO?

Such as: How and why you communicate and meet with local audiences; how you represent America on a personal and official level and how that can be improved; how you make the case the United States to those abroad who question its policies and wonder about the nature of its culture?

How, briefly put, do you, in a substantive way, serve your country's interests overseas?

I’d be eager to learn that from your blog, given your intelligence and lucid prose.

Digger said...

I just use those words to describe the bidding process, certainly not to describe my career.

I talked more about what I did as an FSO when I was overseas. I'll talk more about it again when I am back overseas. My last two tours were in INR, so there was very little about my job that I could talk about. And now I am a staff assistant, so I fear what I do would bore people to tears. But soon I will re-engaging the foreign part of my service!

And John, if you are reading intelligent and lucid prose, it can't possibly be on my blog (unless you are reading the words of the commenters!). :) For lucid and intelligent prose, I direct them to FSOs, including former FSOs such as you, with far more experience than I have.

Bfiles said...

Ok. I understand some of this, especially the theory. Who you know matters. But I don't get how you can control this from the get-go. Are you saying that if you want to serve multiple tours in Latin America, you shouldn't bid Mongolia high (just for the exotic factor) if it happens to appear on your bid list, since you won't get to know any of the big dogs in the WHA bureau? Or are you just saying that you should always try to get to know higher level officers, no matter where you are or what you're doing, bec you never know which one will be able to help you later? I would love some other specific examples of what you might have done differently from A100 (or what you recommend to others), if you can elaborate. Thank you!

Digger said...

What I am saying is that you should try to find out about who you will be working for. And regardless of where you go, be the kind of person people want to work with. Because that will get you noticed. I don't mean be a suck up (though that will get you noticed too, just for the wrong reasons). Be dependable. Be NICE. That is what your corridor reputation is about...the best compliment someone can pay you is to say they'd serve with you anywhere.

There isn't a lot that I COULD change. My wife had already been assigned to Jerusalem. So I had to bid that high or be separated again. But I'd have certainly given more thought to WHO I'd be working for and what the job was than WHERE the job was. Because ultimately, a great place can be a bad tour with bad management, and a bad place can be a great tour with good management. And you want to try to serve with good people who will be known in the areas you want to go. You have two tours to try to do it, so if you want the one exotic tour, see if you can work on the next one being in the region or specialty you want. Again, it is just another avenue of information...your control during that time is limited, but if you are as informed as possible, it could give you better control over the rest of your career.

N8 said...

Thanks for this very interesting and insightful post. I'm anticipating starting A100 in June, so these subjects are naturally at the top of my mind.

Beyond being dependable and nice on the job, are there other things one should try to do as a junior officer to try to burnish one's reputation in the hopes of opening doors down the road? I guess I'm thinking of participating in organizations (I'll be joining Glifaa for sure), perhaps blogging or contributing to things like State magazine, or utilizing networks like LinkedIn or Facebook. I'd love to know your thoughts.

Bfiles said...

thanks! very helpful explanation.

Digger said...

N8, first, good luck with getting "the call!"

I do all of those things (okay, I am on linkedin, but I don't use it). Joining organizations and really being involved is a great idea. I definitely recommend it. And take a look at this post, which I shamelessly stole from a CDO: