The watercooler talk among the new Junior Officers and the wannabe Foreign Service Officers out there has recently focused on the newly announced changes to the Foreign Service testing process. Granted, the buzz has probably been quite a bit louder among the wannabe’s because for those of us already in it is more of a “Huh…that’s interesting” kind of thing because we’ve already made it. It is a much bigger deal to those still trying to get in.
The process has long consisted of two primary parts: the written exam and the oral assessment. The written part was a broad-ranging exam that covered everything from history, geography, politics, and economics to pop culture and English grammar. If you passed that (I think historically about 25% do) then you are invited to an all day oral assessment where you go through an interview, a group exercise with other candidates, and a case management exercise on a computer.
The new process will start with submitting a resume to a panel who will decide who to admit to the written exam which will now be done on a computer and held in various testing centers around the country. From then on the process will be largely the same. It doesn’t sound like a drastic change, but to many it represents a big step away from the previous egalitarian style of the test. In the original version it didn’t matter where (or even if) you went to college or served in the military. If you can pass all of the tests then you can be hired. High school graduate or neurosurgeon, your chances are technically even. With submitting a resume, the test runs the risk of allowing State to only accept those who went to the right schools or previously worked at the right places.
I can understand the concerns, but I don’t see the process becoming that corrupted myself. It is nice to know that with absolutely no college you still had the chance to pass the tests and get in, but in reality I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t have a college degree. In fact, I was in the minority in our class of 73 who didn’t have a masters degree.
The number of people who have been taking the written exam the last few years has been well over 20,000. If we want to speed up the hiring process then State needs to make these numbers more manageable.
The International Herald Tribune has a nice piece on the changes that I recommend you check out if you are interested. I like this particular article because it refers to the FSWE as the “nation’s leading smarty-pants exam” which I don’t really agree with, but it stroke my ego.