Wednesday, July 13, 2011

FSOT: Personal Narratives

So you've passed the FSOT and now have six "simple" questions to answer standing between you and an invitation to the Oral Assessment.

My big picture advice on the Personal Narratives:

1. Read the directions and answer the question that is being asked. Sounds simple, but people have a tendency to go off-topic. The Personal Narratives are a chance for you to show the QEP how awesome you are. Don't throw that chance away by answering a leadership question with an experience that's more appropriate for an intellectual skills question.

2. It's a narrative, so tell a story.

3. Be specific. Don't be big picture; get into the details of your narrative. 1300 characters per Personal Narrative is about 200 words or so. Make them count.

4. Use a variety of experiences. Don't show how you fulfill all 13 Dimensions by detailing a single experience that you just re-write for the five Personal Narratives.

5. Use your best stories (no matter how old a story is).

6. Get your writing done early, at least a couple of days before the deadline. This will give you some time away from your writing so you can self-edit more effectively. And you will need to edit.

7. Think very hard about the cone you selected and what life experiences you have had that match the work/responsibilities of that cone. If you've picked the Consular cone, don't demonstrate a bunch of experiences that are more suitable for Public Diplomacy.

8. Think about the structure of your answer. I'm partial to a 3 paragraph format: first paragraph for the set-up (what the problem/challenge/whatever was), one paragraph for the action/solution (daring, dashing FSOWannabe to save the day) and one paragraph on the conclusion or result (peace and harmony/free ice cream throughout the land).

Disclaimer: These are my suggestions. I have no idea if they "work" or not, and I've only gotten through the QEP stage once.

Additional disclaimer: corrected number of essays referred to above (there were only 5 the last time I answered the PNQ's).


Crossing Borders said...

Thanks for your suggestions. I'm a June 2011 cohort FSO wannabe and I just started writing my narratives. This has helped me a great deal, as I am struggling with finding the most concise, succinct way to present my experiences. Again, thanks for the tips!

fsowannabe said...

Happy to help and thanks for visiting! Best of luck and let me know how you do!

Andrew said...

This is my first time taking the FSOT (PD cone). I passed with a 172. I wish I read this before I submitted my PNs! Actually, I pretty much did what you suggested. I made sure I answered the question and tied back to the dimensions they look at. I also did the 3 part answer for each. Don't we all wish we knew what the magic words are to get us to the OA.

I know PD is hard but I am hoping to at least make the OA so I can get that experience... Even if I don't make it this year, I can come back knowing what to expect (and maybe a less competitive cone).

Anyhow, good luck fellow June 2011 cohort buddy!

Crossing Borders said...

fsowannabe: I feel confident in my PNs and hopefully will receive good news in September. Thanks, again, for your help!

fsowannabe said...

Best of luck to you both, FD and Andrew! Hopefully we'll find out soon on the QEP front.

Anonymous said...

I have a question regarding being hired at a late age. I see a lot of postings from students and folks in their 20's and I am starting to question my chances given my age.

I just passed the FSOT and I am writing my PN. I am 55, look like and with perfect health of a 40 year old and. I speak a second language. I have lived and worked for some top international companies, in many parts of the world. I am confident that I can write up a great PN and hopefully pass the Orals. Is the State department looking for younger people to mold, and do you think my age will count against me? Thanks for any thoughts

justintuitive said...

I don't think age will necessarily be a determining factor, but as I am sure you know, FSOs are mandated to retire by the age of 65. So, the prospect of having an applicant in service for 40 years as opposed to 10 might play a role in their judgement. This is pure speculation, but what else can you expect from such a question.

Chris said...

Just received my rejection letter from the Personal Narratives. I have been in the workforce over 8 years with a variety of senior management experience in global trade and transportation policy, as well as (what i thought) were diverse experiences in both work as well as extracurricular organizations.

No feedback whatsoever on why I did not qualify.

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...


They've quit giving reason for why they "fail" people at the PN level. It could be your answers were perfectly fine, but they didn't need anymore applicants for your given cone. There are any number of reason and, unfortunately, we will never know. Nothing to do but keep taking the test.

Crossing Borders said...

I came back just to say, again, that this is great advice.

When I attempted my narratives for the first time in 2011, I tried to follow this advice, but found myself editing and reworking my narratives about an hour before the deadline (yikes!) Obviously, it was a no-go.

When I took the FSOT the 2nd time in 2012, I started on my narratives the day I received notice I passed the FSOT, finished them a week early, and had really concise stories. It paid off, because I was invited to the Oral Assessment, and will be attending it this October ;)

Thanks, again, FSO Wannabe!

fsowannabe said...

Hi FD! Glad you're still in the fight! I'm fairly sure my advice had little to do with you receiving your invite to the OAs - I imagine your experience and writing skills did the job. Best of luck in October - I'm having my own trip to DC in September.

Anonymous said...

Future Diplomat,

You passed the test in 2012 and now you're going to the OA in October 2013? Does the process take that long? How long did it take to get an answer on your PN?

I'm currently writing my PN. Very very difficult to choose which experiences you think will be best to talk about.


Crossing Borders said...

@FSO Wannabe: You're too humble! You underestimate how helpful advice like yours can be to your fellow wannabes ;) BTW, I hope your trip to DC is fruitful!

@Mike: I'm a current Peace Corps Volunteer, so I was able to postpone my FSOA until a date I'd be able to attend became available. I actually received the news I'd been invited to the OA back in October 2012, roughly 2.5 months after submitting my narratives.

Good luck!!

FS dad said...

Does the specified character count include spaces? The Counter in Word gives character including spaces and not including spaces.

Crossing Borders said...

From what I recall, spaces count...

raz said...

Thanks for all the info and this great post. My question to you and anyone reading with FSOT/PN experience: what is considered a "low" FSOT score for someone who passes the QEP (with their PN)?

We know that there is a minimum score one needs in order to pass the FSOT. If this score is xxx, do you think that most who score an xxx pass or do not pass the QEP? My guess is one, on average, needs a score of "xxx + ?" in order to pass the QEP.

Any ideas?