Joining the Foreign Service Part II-The FSOA and Beyond

Continuing on with the process of joining the Foreign Service after clearing the FSOT and the QEP, the next hurdle is the FSOA. As always my one bit of actual advice is “be persistent!” The Oral Assessment is a three part test that makes for a pretty long day. The day always starts out with the group exercise and then either moves to the structured interview or the case management. I used the materials available on the FSOA yahoo group to help prepare. The yahoo groups are a great resources but they are also a fountain of an incredible amount of misinformation, so take some of the advice that is dished out there with a grain of salt. If it sounds crazy… it probably is. Most people on there do give pretty good tips and advice but there are some that suggest strategies to game the test, and most of these strategies seem to be for the group exercise. The BEX have done you a big favor, they told you what they want- the 13 dimensions. They aren’t looking for someone who can outwit their group members.

The day I found out I passed the QEP, I hopped on the yahoo group and responded to a post about forming a study group in DC. There were about 9 of us that regularly attended what became the first MLK library study group in DC. I’ve heard that a study group still meets at MLK quite regularly so our legacy lives on! Out of the original 9, four of us are now in the foreign service, 2 others passed the exam and are on the register, and I have no doubt that the others if they stick with it will get through sooner or later. If there is a group forming in your area, I highly recommend working with one especially if you are not fond of public speaking. I am very much not a public speaker. Having to present group exercises and practice interview questions in front of the group helped me get comfortable.

As I mentioned the yahoo groups have some good practice materials. We would pick a section a week to work on. During group exercise week we would divide up the projects and practice synthesizing the information and presenting it to the group just like in the actual assessment. My way of working through the group exercise was to skip the background material (I skimmed it at the end if I had time) and instead to read through my project quickly. I then read the project a second time pulling out anything I thought would go in the summary part of my presentation, positives of the project (these were things I tied to the Embassy’s objectives which you are given in the material), negatives of the project, and then the resources or cost information for my project. That way I had an organized way to present the information. I have heard some horror stories of people who had combative groups because everyone was trying to “win.” During the actual assessment I did not get any funding for my project, and that was fine. I got very lucky, my group all knew that the goal of the exercise was to get consensus not to win. Actually 8 out of 12 on my day, passed and 7 of of us are now in the Foreign Service (one is even here with me in Juarez), so I had a fantastic group. I did a FOIA request later so I know that I passed this section with a 5.4.

The Case Management turned out to the be the one section I didn’t pass. I got a 5.2. Again, as far as preparation goes the study group picked a week to work on these. We used the sample materials on the yahoo group. We did them before the group meeting and then passed them around and edited them. There is a lot of material so getting comfortable reading quickly is going to be the biggest help. Also, I found reading other people’s memos to get an idea of how other people were structuring their memos to be helpful. I did what a lot of others suggested on the yahoo groups, which was to put my recommendations up front and then defend them in the body of the memo. I think the reason I just barely didn’t pass this section was because, I realized later I had made a math error. If you only have one section where you get to show your quantitative skills… my advice is to double and triple check your math!

The last section, the structured interview is divided into three parts hypothetical situtations, past behavioral questions, and experience and motivation. I finished that with a 5.9. To prepare I tried to write down at least 2 examples for each dimension using the SAR (Situation, Action, Results) model. I also again, practiced with the questions from the yahoo group, most of which I believe are also available here. Working with a study group really helped here, because I have a tendency to talk too fast, practicing helped me slow down. I also felt really prepared when I got to the structured interview, past behavioral questions were all things I felt prepared to answer since they of course were based on the 13 dimensions which I had come up with examples for. On the actual day of the test, my advice is relax, smile, be friendly, and drink the water. You will be doing a lot of talking and trust me, you’ll want the water. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that two of the people who didn’t pass from our OA day spent most of the day looking like they were about to go in front of a firing squad. Just pretend you feel confident even if you are like me; I was actually quaking in my boots.

After the OA comes the register… the register is not what it was when I got in. I finished the day with a 5.5 during the height of the hiring surge. I got on the register and received an offer in the same day. Even if you pass the OA the first time out, unless you have a lot of language points or a high score, you might find yourself waiting for months and months and not getting an offer. If you have a score on the lower side, I recommend signing up again for the FSOT right away. Security clearances can take a while so by the time it is done if you’ve already signed up for the test again you could possibly have already passed or be about to pass your second OA with a higher score. So that brings us back to the one piece of actual advice I give, be in the top 2% of the most persistent people. If you don’t pass the OA, sign up for the FSOT again. If you do pass the OA, congrats– sign up for the FSOT again! So that is pretty much it for my little pearls of wisdom. Good luck to all the aspiring FSOs out there. Hopefully I will see you one day off at some far-flung post.

4 Responses to “Joining the Foreign Service Part II-The FSOA and Beyond”

  • Congrats! Thanks for the great recap. I shanked the Oral last year and am hoping to get an invite this year.

  • Missing your updates. Hope you are safe.

  • Dear Diplomat & Cat,
    this was extremely helpful!
    I just submitted my PN and am hoping to get the OA invite. With the info you’ve provided, I am now going to fine tune my prepping.

    Thanks for the info!
    Thanks for your service!
    Godspeed and God bless.

  • Congrats on passing the FSOT. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you on the PNQs!

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