Foreign Service Specialist Interview Experience

My interview with the State Department was actually my first “real” interview. You know the kind with a suit, a tie, nice shoes and all those fancy accessories. It was a six hour ordeal. First an exam, followed by another exam, and a final interview. A point system was used to determine a successful interview.

I, being a decimal point shy from a successful interview, did the logical thing: Applied once again, and left the country. Eight months later, I received another interview invitation for the position of Information Management Specialist (IMS). This time via E-mail; not the previous thick official envelope delivered straight to your hands by FedEx. At this point I knew the process, I knew exactly what to expect. Sounds simple right? Except for that part where the interview takes place in Washington D.C. and I’ve moved to Finland.

Bringing back memories from the interview. At the time, I was working at night with an excellent team upgrading old cabling in school buildings. We would crunch 40 hours in a few days, leaving us with extended weekends. It was great, one Friday getting paperwork done in NYC, the next interviewing with the State department in Washington D.C.

I drove to Knoxville, flew to BWI, took a bus to the MARC commuter train, arrived at Union Station, got on the metro’s orange line, then south on the green line, leading to a hotel for the night. After sitting down to review my documents I realized I had forgotten to bring a copy of a form they had explicitly asked me to bring. It was nearly midnight, the city was off for the night, what could I do? I ran down to the check-in desk and kindly asked “may I use your printer? Yes?” Only about 50 pages (that gives you an idea of the amount of paperwork they ask of you). With my freshly printed book, I could rest for the night.

The next day I got up early, ate quickly, suited up, stepped out to hail a taxi, and soon enough was waiting in the lobby of one of the State Department buildings. Everyone around me was there to take the Foreign Service Officer exam, most for the second or third time. I was the only one there going for a Foreign Service Specialist position.

My name was called out. I went through security, up an elevator, and then sat in a nice office chair in a video conferencing room overlooking the city. After what felt like an hour, it was time to take a written exam. I signed a paper on a clipboard saying that I can’t tell you what questions I was asked, what I answered, along with much of what might be of interest to anyone applying for the job. So I guess I shouldn’t, and I won’t.

This was followed by two multiple choice exams, and then an interview in a small room covered in pictures of Chilean nature and wilderness. I was given a glass of water and on to the spoken interview. Afterwards I was sent back to the waiting room with a TV in the corner tuned to CNN. There I met the next guy in line, a man who had spent his years wood working in Austria. Before I could shake his hand, I was back in the same room being told my interview was unsuccessful.

I would then be escorted out with a manila envelope in which contained a breakdown of my score. Opening the envelope revealed that I had only been a decimal point away from moving forward. It was a good effort. I Walked back to the hotel, changed clothes and toured the city for the rest of the afternoon. The next morning: green, orange, train, bus, plane, car, home. Returned to work like I had never left, pulling cable just like any other night.

At the point I received the second invitation, my Master’s studies were underway. Also, consider a flight to DC from Helsinki is pretty expensive. Not exactly an excuse, someone interested enough would likely find a way to go. Truth is, I just was not interested anymore. It would have been interesting to see how well I would have fared a second time around for the fun of it.

Hopefully this gives a little insight into what one can expect if they decide to apply for a foreign service specialist position.

Leave a Reply