State Department: FSS

Search “Foreign Specialist blog” and this guy is the first to pop-up.A lot of good insight is provided for anyone who is thinking of joining the Foreign Service. 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 is just like this guy says, six hours of exam, exam, and an interview. Being a decimal point shy from a successful interview last year, I did the logical thing, applied again, and left the country (for that.. em.. self-made foreign service experience? 😉 ). Eight months later as I take a short pit-stop in the US, I receive another interview invitation for an Information Management Specialist (IMS). An E-mail this time; not the same thick official envelope delivered by FedEx straight to your hands. I know the process, I know what to expect. Simple. Except for that part where I’ve moved to Finland.


Last time, bringing back memories. I was working at night with an excellent team replacing old cabling in school buildings. We’d crunch 40 hours of work in a few days, leaving us with extended weekends. It was great for me, 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, orange… then south on the green line (metro), and a hotel for the night. Reviewing my documents… and what’s this??? Forgot to bring a copy of a document they’ve explicitly asked me to bring. Nearly midnight, city shutdown, what to do? Went to the check-in desk and kindly asked… can I use your printer? Yeah? Oh, it’s only about 50 pages (Gives you an idea of the amount of paperwork they ask you to fill out). With my freshly printed book, I could rest.


The next day I got up early, ate quick, got dressed, and hailed a taxi. Everyone around me was there to take the Foreign Service Officer exam, most for the second or third time. My name was called out, going for a specialist position made me special 😉 . 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 I was asked, what I answered, along with just about anything else that 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 during the interview, but never drank a sip of it. Back in the waiting room a TV in the corner was tuned to CNN. Met the next guy in line, a man who had spent his years wood working in Austria, and before I could shake his hand good-bye I was back in the Chilean 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. 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.


A flight to DC from Helsinki is horrendously expensive. Not exactly an excuse as someone interested enough would find a way to go. I’m just not as interested; I have a different focus on my mind. Still, it would be interesting to see how well I would have fared this time around.

Check out this guy’s blog about the Foreign Service Specialist application process if you happen to be interested in learning more.

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