Specifically, I hope to one day be a Political Officer. I suppose I have wanted this for roughly 7 years, which is relatively short. Many people I talk to have wanted to be a diplomat since they were kids. I won't bore you with personal details. For the purpose of general knowledge, let's talk about the steps to become a Foreign Service Officer:
- Select a "cone." There are five career tracks in the State Department: Political, Economic, Public Diplomacy, Management and Consular. What each of these means may be the subject of a later post one day. Selecting your cone occurs moments before you begin the FSOT. It will be the easiest part of your experience.
- Take the Foreign Service Officer Exam (FSOE). The exam is a lengthy and miserable process. The pass rate is very low, usually maxing at 3%. Roughly 28,000 or more take the exam each year but only a few hundred or fewer receive a job offer at the end of the ordeal. The exam is broken into three sections taken over the course of the year:
- Pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). Pass Rate: 40%. This is where, as a total figure, most people trip up - though the section with the lowest pass rate as a percentage is the Oral Assessment. Of the ~30,000 exam takers, about 18,000 will not pass the FSOT and will have to restart the process the next year. If you do pass, you are invited to move on to the second section, held roughly one month later.
- Submit Personal Narratives (PNs) to the Qualification Evaluation Panel (QEP). Pass Rate: Variable. Those who pass the test are given six Personal Narrative Questions (PNQs). Five of which are opportunities for the exam-taker to give examples of leadership and innovation from their life; one is essentially a prompt for a cover letter. The answers are submitted to a panel of three diplomats who will weigh your resume, PNs, and FSOT score together to decide if you are the ideal candidate to continue on. The answer to "What makes an ideal candidate?" is notoriously opaque and many well-qualified individuals have been cut at this stage. Unlike the first and third sections of the FSOE, the PNQs have very wide pass rates.
- Pass the Oral Assessment (OA). Pass rate: 20%. If you have made it thus far, congratulations! You are one of the elite, but you are far from out of the woods. You do not need to worry about your FSOT scores any longer. You are in for a three-part, day-long test in Wasington, DC. You will be assigned a score. If your score is 5.3 or higher, you have passed the OA and have passed the FSOE!
- Pass the Medical and Security Clearances. You will need to receive a clean bill of health as well as a Top Secret security clearance.
- Enter the Register. The score you received during the OA will be used to mark you on the Register, a list of all people in your cone that have passed the FSOE. You will be ranked. I wish I could say that by passing the FSOE, your work is virtually done, but sadly, many people who make the Register are never selected.
- (Optional) Take a Language Exam. The score you receive from taking a language proficiency test can be used to boost the score you received during the OA. There is no penalty for failing the language exam, but high scores can improve your position on the Register.
- Get Selected from the Register. And, of course, accept the offer.
- Party. You made it! You're one of the sliver of the exam takers to become a diplomat.
As I write this, I have just submitted my PNQs to the QEP. As it is mid-to-late November, I now have two months of excruciating wait to discover if I passed. If I do, I will be invited to take the Oral Assessment in February. I keep my fingers crossed and breath held. Let me know if you have a spare rabbit's foot lying around.