The Businessweek article is here.
The full list of best places to start a career is here.
I came across this article last night, an essay titled “The State of the State Department” from Time Magazine archives dated October 15, 1965. Although much has changed in the last 40 plus years at State, some old habits seem to still linger.
I am thankful for the modern State Department. Single female diplomats no longer have to resign after getting married. The wives of male diplomats are no longer included in promotion reviews; it doesn’t matter if your wife throws terrible parties because it won’t affect your promotion anymore. Gay and lesbian couples are serving openly without fear of discrimination.
But some traits of the old institution seem to be still around. Then as now, we get unfairly lambasted for being “soft”:
It was F.D.R.’s Harry Hopkins who pronounced State’s men to be “cookie-pushers, pansies—and usually isolationists to boot.” From a somewhat different point of view, Joe McCarthy called State “a nest of Communist traitors and Communist sympathizers.” More recently, the department has been metaphorically denounced as a “bowl of jelly” (President Kennedy), drowning not only in its “booze allowance” (Congressman John Rooney) but under a flood of paper work springing from “the bureaucratic necessity that everyone has to write so much to justify his existence” (Ambassador to Kenya William Attwood), while working under an overall policy based on “the lowest anti-Communist denominator” (Professor Hans Morgenthau) with a surplus of “pedestrian people” (former Ambassador James Gavin) headed by a Secretary with an “irrevocably conventional mind” (Arthur Schlesinger Jr.).
Politically appointed ambassadors have always been hit or miss:
Its ambassadors are able. Three-fourths of them are careermen, and of the political appointees, none are like the blundering, bottom-pinching misfits who have sometimes embarrassed the U.S. in the past.
Managing inter-agency cooperation is like managing a zoo:
The proliferation of other agency representatives irks State Department careermen. Says former Ambassador Ellis Briggs: “They clutter up the premises. In theory, the American ambassador is the captain of this team of untamed sportsmen. But it is not much use unless the captain has control over the players.” Yet the numbers simply reflect the essential interests that the U.S. has in the rest of the world, and State might just as well settle down with the situation
And a culture of “keep your head down” still permeates the Department:
Moreover, there is a feeling throughout the State Department that boldness earns an excessive penalty if it miscarries. “The thing to do,” says a careerman in Leopoldville, “is fill the norm, do as you’re told, and above all, don’t make waves.” Veteran Diplomat W. Averell Harriman sums up the possible cost of such caution: “I have seen men’s careers set back and, in fact, busted because they held the right views at the wrong time, or for accurately reporting facts which were not popular at the time.”
“The Test” is a constant topic of discussion for people trying to get into the Foreign Service. People passing the Foreign Service test and taking an appointment with the State Department are called “Generalists”.
But taking the test and becoming a Generalist is not the only way of working in the Foreign Service.
Currently, there are about 22,500 direct American hires working for the State Department. But there are only a total of around 7,500 Generalists. So who are the rest of the 15,000 employees?
Foreign Service Specialists and the Civil Service employees of course! Selection procedures to become a Specialist or Civil Servant is rather different from a becoming a generalist and in some cases, the acceptance rates are higher.
I’ll be covering the selection process for each in more detail, but here are the direct links on the official State Department website:
Contrary to what many people think, you CAN take the written portion of the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) overseas. The test registration page states:
“The list of overseas testing sites for the October 2-9, 2010 testing window will be available o/a late August 2010.”
So if you’re living overseas, don’t rule out taking the test if the location is close enough to you. Remember, there is no penalty for taking the test as many times as you want and the State Department does NOT keep track of how many times you pass (or fail) the exam! So test early, test often!
Landing a job in the Op Center is a career enhancing move for a young diplomat’s future. These jobs expose junior officers to all the goings-on of the State Department at a very high level and allow them to communicate directly with top-level State Department officials. But as the article illustrates, the job comes with it’s share of stress as well.