Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Foreign Service Oral Assessment

Now that a little time has passed since I took the FSOA, I thought I might write a little bit about the FSOA and my experience (within the bounds of the non-disclosure agreement all candidates are required to sign). I took the Oral Assessment in Atlanta on January 26th (over six months after I took the FSOT). Luckily, the FSOA was held a mere five miles from my house, so there was no need to deal with flights, hotels, directions or jet lag. I felt really bad for all the people who flew in from other time zones and were obviously a bit jet-lagged.

I arrived at the testing place just before 7am. There were 8 other candidates, which meant we were broken into two groups; one with a Group Exercise with 5 people, and another (mine) with 4 people. Initially, we were all herded into a room and left to wait, which gave us all a chance to introduce ourselves. You could tell everyone, myself included, was nervous. Two of the candidates had taken the FSOA before, and they seemed a bit calmer. One thing I can't stress enough was how impressed I was by all the people there. One gentlemen had just come back from doing rescue work in Haiti. Another gentlewoman worked in the San Francisco prison system doing pro bono work. Another was a former Peace Corp member. And then there were a bunch of lawyers. Everyone seemed so talented and calm that I had a hard time reigning in some nerves/panic at the time (along the lines of, what am I doing here with all these wonderful people?).

The FSOA is broken into three parts- the Group Exercise, the Structured Interview and the Case Management. The Group Exercise is a timed session where the candidates are given various embassy sponsored projects to promote with limited resources. Reaching consensus is the name of the game. The Structured Interview is your typical hiring interview mixed with hypothetical questions to gauge your common sense, as well as questions for you to demonstrate how you fulfill the 13 Dimensions. And finally, the Case Management portion of the FSOA is a written exercise where you are presented with tons of information and a problem to resolve. How you determine what information is relevant (and even what the problem actually is) seems to be the key. For me, the FSOA itself was a blur. Once one component was done, it seemed like we were off to another. A short lunch, a short wait, and then off to the final portion of the FSOA. Check out the FSOA Wiki for more detailed info on the contents of the FSOA (sorry, I'm a NDA compliant paranoid).

At the end of the FSOA, my group was herded into a room to wait for our results. After such a stressful day, the waiting was the hardest. And I swear to God, the clock on the wall got louder and louder as time went by. TICK! TOCK! TICK! TOCK! The woman next to me clearly was starting to panic, when an FSO came in and called the first of us out. Minutes went by, and then another was called out. I was called second to last. I thought it would be good news once we walked by, and past, the elevators. Once we received the good news (and frankly, I was shocked I passed), it was time for paperwork and more paperwork. We had a good day, with 6 out of 9 candidates passing. I was probably the third person to be done for the day, leaving at 430pm or so.

For anyone looking to prepare for the FSOA, I suggest practice, practice and more practice. I had been meeting about twice a month since October with four other local candidates and practicing the FSOA. To date, four out of five of us have taken the FSOA and we have all passed. The last man in our group is scheduled to take his FSOA on February 8th, and we are all crossing fingers and lighting candles in the hope that he'll pass. Given our current record, I strongly recommend to anyone taking the FSOA to practice with other candidates using the various sample exercises on the Yahoo FSOA board. It's a good board for getting advice on the FSOA; it's also a good board to get completely overwhelmed by the volume of emails.

What's next? Well, once the medical clearance, security clearance and final adjudication are finished, you are put in a register for your track based on your score. It's a dynamic register, with subsequent FSOA passers with higher scores added in front of you for hiring, so obviously it's important to get the best score possible. I passed the FSOA with a score of 5.5 out of 7.0 (you need a 5.25 to pass). That doesn't sound too great, but I hear anything above a 6.0 is pretty rare. I'm on the Economic track, so I think my score puts me somewhere in the middle of the pack. Hopefully, I'll be able to add my Japanese language to the score and boost it to a 5.67. I have no idea how long the clearances, final adjudication and register will take before an invite to an A-100 (assuming that all happens). I'm guessing that if all goes smoothly and quickly, I might be invited to next year's January A-100 class. But who knows.

I guess it's time to show the 14th dimension of patience.


bradcarmack said...

:) I like your tone and summary. Thanks for sharing.

Nhinesy said...

Just out of curiosity, did you ever get in to the A-100 class?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm just curious what you did to practice. You recommend that being the best way to prepare, but I'm not sure exactly what I should be practicing.