Sunday, March 5, 2017

The New Reality: A-100

It's been a long time since I've updated this blog. A lot has changed since I first embarked on my journey to become a Foreign Service Officer so many years ago. But now, five FSOTs and three FSOAs later, I'm finally on my way to an A-100 class. It starts tomorrow.

Today is the only day of my life in which I can say "Tomorrow I will become a Diplomat of the United States."

I'm still trying to process this. For so long, I've been referring to becoming an FSO in the hypothetical sense. "It would be nice if I could become a diplomat." "I think I would love the job." "If I pass this test or that assessment or this security screening or whatever..." But not anymore. Now these sentences are about to be replaced with sentences in the present and future tenses. "I am a diplomat." "I will move to another country in a few months." "I am an A-100 student." I am still struggling to wrap my brain around this fact.

This is really happening.

After I passed my Oral Assessment last year, it took about eight months to go from submitting my security clearance paperwork to landing on the hiring register. I received an invitation for the March class one week later. After some initial anxiety induced by President Trump's hiring freeze, our new secretary Rex Tillerson was able to secure an exemption to allow our class to proceed. Now my class is ready to report to FSI in about 10 hours.

10 hours until I take the Oath of Office. This is real. It doesn't yet feel real, but it is.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Two Days Out

I'm finally back.

As of right now, my Oral Assessment begins in 47 hours and 23 minutes. It's Saturday morning now; my OA is on Monday. There's no more time left.

Things feel different this time around. Last year, I felt like I was walking into the great unknown. I had done a lot of studying with my group, but never knew if I was doing or had done enough. There was a certain mysticism or fog surrounding the OA, and I was walking into that fog with several other candidates, most of whom had no idea of what to expect. This sense of anxiety and dread only complicated my ability to focus as much as I could have.

This year, however, I feel much more focused. I'm on a mission. I talked myself out of success last time around, and I only have myself to blame for that. But experience is a good teacher. I no longer view the OA as HARD, but rather as simply INTENSE. I still remember that last OA quite well. I remember the mistakes I made even in the two sections that I actually passed. And of course, I remember the mistakes I made in the section I failed.

I guess there's a sense of the blind leading the blind when it comes to preparing. And maybe I could have prepared more. But I did not participate in a lot of study groups this time around. Part of that was because my schedule simply wasn't conducive to studying in a group even though passing the OA was always a priority. I did manage to find the time to at least draft one Case Management memo this week, and I got good feedback from one of candidates who has been a study buddy of sorts. I also drafted good stories from my past that I can use in the Structured Interview section of the OA. I realize that any stories given must respond directly to the question being asked. But at least having these stories available, stories I can tailor, lowers the chance of coming up empty on Monday when prompted to speak.

I've also read the 13 Dimensions carefully. Following the 6 Precepts got me through the QEP. Now I want to make sure that I demonstrate the 13 Dimensions so I can get a conditional job offer. It sounds simple, but these Dimensions often have several parts to them. Another tricky thing is remembering which Dimensions are assessed when. Reading the official study guide helped. I even took a few passages from that guide that explicitly stated what to do and what not to do and compiled a list of this information. I will take that information to heart this time.

So I am cautiously optimistic. I know I've passed two of the three components before. And I know why I failed the third component. This time should be different. I've got one practice Group Exercise later this morning and then it's a matter of studying independently for the Structured Interview again so I can max out the points there. I consider that the easiest part of the OA, so I want to max out my points there.

Let's do this.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The OA Rematch Approacheth

It has been a long time since I last updated this blog. In my last entry, I mentioned that I survived the Qualifications Evaluation Panel and was given a second chance to conquer the Oral Assessment. The OA window for the October 2014 cohort lasts from the first Monday in March to the first Friday in July. There were no OAs available on Wednesdays and there were no OAs at all during the month of April. There was also a week in early February that was available for candidates wishing to take the OA in San Francisco. So I had options.

After I got the good news, I had to do a bit of planning and strategizing because OA slots tend to fill up quickly. Candidates wishing to take the OA in San Francisco could immediately send an email to State with their desired assessment date. If there was space available, the slot was theirs. Candidates wishing to take the OA in Washington had to wait for about three days before they could sign up for a slot online.

Here was my thought process:

1. I was not going to take the OA in San Francisco. Sure, it would have been nice to get it out of the way quickly, but I knew I would not be adequately prepared. Plus, I was not in the mood to shell out extra money for a plane ticket in addition to a hotel room.

2. I did not want to take a chance with lousy weather in Washington resulting in another canceled OA like last year. This meant a March OA date would be out of the question. And since there were no OA dates in April, this meant my OA would be in either May or June.

3. Because I was planning on relocating to Washington anyway later in the year, I thought it would be prudent to schedule my OA for after the move was finished because I would have been too distracted or stressed to focus on moving and prepping at the same time. So I figured I should take the OA as late as possible. That would allow me the most time to prepare as well as the most time to take care of other areas of my life without the added pressure of studying for this one-shot deal.

And that’s how I ended up with June.

Several other contacts with whom I had been corresponding scheduled their OAs for early in the window—the first week or two in March. Some even scheduled theirs for February in San Francisco. A part of me was envious of them because they could conceivably start their security clearance investigations sooner and land on the hiring register sooner. But everybody has their own personal schedules and issues they have to deal with. So I decided to remain content with my super-late date.

One by one, I started getting status reports and post-mortems from these contacts. In most cases they were disappointed. They either passed with low scores or did not pass at all. One person did pass with a good score (5.6), but in this awful hiring climate, even her score might not be high enough to get an offer in her career track, Political, which is the most competitive of the five tracks.

So anyway, my candidacy is still alive—but only because the day of reckoning has yet to arrive. As of this writing, I still have another three weeks to go. I will admit that I have not done much studying. Having gone through this before and having passed two of the three components, I am pretty comfortable with what to expect. As late June draws near, I do plan on tackling some of the practice Case Management exercises because I know that is my weak point. But I am strangely calm about this whole affair.

I’ve even got my post-OA gameplan all worked out. Knowing how tough it is to get hired off the Register, I have thought about how to maximize my chances of getting a coveted A-100 offer. Here are my scenarios:

If I get a 5.7 or higher, I will almost certainly get an offer and will be doing backflips.

If I get a 5.6, I will likely get an offer, though I may have to wait a few A-100 cycles first.

If I get a 5.5, I will have at least some hope of getting an offer, especially if some of the older 5.5s time off of the Register before me, but I’d be more inclined to furiously brush up on my Japanese so that I can bump that score up to a 5.67.

If I get a 5.4, I probably will not get an offer and will have to decide whether to take my chances with a 5.57 from Japanese bonus points (a language I know pretty well) or a 5.65 from Korean bonus points (a language I know very little about).

If I get a 5.3, I will immediately commence intensive Korean language study because a 5.55 has at least some chance of getting an A-100 offer; a 5.3 has almost no chance at all.

If I get a 5.2 or less, I will be absolutely devastated for the second year in a row, but I’m trying not to think about that.

Anyway, at the time of this writing, I am working in Washington in an office that is one Metro stop away from the assessment center. I’m thinking about doing a dry run there after work this week just so I won’t be as intimidated when I see that dreadful building for the first time since that cold March afternoon 14 months ago.