Weekly Special: BIDDING Dec 05-2
"Each new Foreign Service Officer is granted a probationary period of five years in which to determine if he or she can serve successfully over a normal career span. This five-year period provides an opportunity to see if the officer and the Foreign Service are the right fit. An officer's first and second assignments are made with the probationary period in mind; our aim is to develop an officer's talents and ensure that he or she has language skills and the chance to work in different environments."
"New officers are given the opportunity to rank in order their preferred postings from a list of positions available at the time of their entry into the Service. These preferences, as well as training requirements and medical and educational concerns for family members, are taken into account when making assignments."
"Nevertheless, all officers are considered worldwide available and must be prepared to go where needed. Officers should anticipate doing an average of three years of consular work in their first five years, as over 60% of all entry-level positions have a consular component. Some officers may not serve in positions related to their career track in their first two tours. Officers who come in with critical language skills should expect to serve in positions using their language skills in their first or second assignment." - U.S. Department of State website.
"During orientation, Foreign Service Generalists receive their first assignments, which will govern the type of specialized training which follows. For Generalists, that training could include public diplomacy training, consular training, political-economic tradecraft, or management training. For Foreign Service personnel, their first assignment will often require language training which can last for an additional six or seven months. Newly hired generalists can expect to spend from three to twelve months in training before departure for their first post assignment." - U.S. Department of State website.
"Q. Do I have to accept every assignment that is offered?
A. Foreign Service personnel can express their preference for postings, but must be willing to serve worldwide according to the needs of the Service. " - U.S. Department of State website.
Bidding. That's how you get your first assignments when you enter the Service.
For entering officers, during your first few days of A-100 (Foreign Service Officer orientation course) you will be provided a list of positions which are available for you and your classmates to bid. The list includes such information as when the position comes open, the type of job, where it is located, whether it is language-designated and so forth.
Within a fairly short time, you and your classmates have to submit a rank-ordered "bid list." As an example, your class of 90-100 new officers might be given a list of just over a hundred positions, and you a have to rank order 20 or 25 positions in which you're interested.
Factors to take in consideration when preparing your bid list will vary by individual officer, but there are some common factors everyone takes into account. One thing to bear in mind: never put a position on your bid list which you're not prepared to receive as your assignment. Even if it's not one you're crazy about, mentally prepare yourself even if you put it there just to make the number of positions you're required to submit.
Where. As I recall, as a first-tour bidder, I was enjoined to ensure that I included bids on posts in at least three of the nominally five regions (AF, EAP, EUR, WHA and NEA/SA; NEA and SA being lumped together, WHA being the former ARA) into which State divides the world. This is to prevent or discourage a new officer from filling their bid lists solely from a menu of First World cities, for example, or from concentrating in just one part of the world for whatever reason. When they say "worldwide availability," they aren't kidding.
Cone. Entering officers may be in any of the several Generalist cones (Political, Economic, Public Diplomacy, C0nsular or Management; Management being formerly called Administrative); as noted above however, they will spend an average of three of their first five years performing consular work. Earlier it was 1-2 years on average. The majority (60 percent as specified above) of entry-level positions are in consular work. Entry-level officers (the equivalent of lieutenants and captains in the non-naval military) are at the working level or are first-line supervisors. Some entry-level positions are "split" assignments, that is an officer will do a year of, for example, a 1-year political assignment followed by a year of consular work. Other entry-level positions combine work in two areas into the same job, such as GSO and consular.
Note how consular keeps coming up.
Language. Entry-level officers are, until they're not, on "language probation." Entering officers who are still on language probation become eligible for language training when they are assigned to a position which is "language designated." Officers needing to "get off language probation" tend to bid on language-designated positions so they can receive language training and test-out, thus fulfilling this requirement for tenure.
Family Issues. While all entering officers have to have a "Class I" medical clearance that allows them to be assigned anywhere regardless of local level of medical care, sometimes their family members are not so healthy, whether that condition is permanent or only temporary. For instance, officers whose spouse or child has respiratory problems would be advised to avoid bidding on jobs at posts where there is an air polution problem. Other family issues involve "tandem couples." If an officer's spouse also works for the Department, whether as a Generalist or Specialist, assignment boards do their best to assign them to the same post, assuming their bid lists mirror each other enough to permit that. It's up to the officers involved to make sure its clear they're trying to be assigned together. I recall one case of an officer whose spouse was already assigned to a smaller post in one of the remoter corners of the world; there were no positions open at the spouse's post, but they were able to find a position at a post in a neighboring country, which made all the difference.
Other factors. I recall one officer, a reservist, who managed to convince those making his assignment decision that the only place he could fulfill his military obligation as a reserve component officer was at a certain capital in a highly-sought-after capital in Western Europe. I'm not saying he sold them a bill of goods, but I don't think that's necessarily so. Nonetheless, he got the position he wanted.
"The Call" is what happens when someone other than yourself gets every one of the positions you listed on your bid list and you're asked to take a position other than one of the ones on which you've bid and for which you've mentally prepared yourself. This is "worldwide availability." It can be where you start earning "equity," which you can cash in when it comes time for your next assignment.