By-Pass the FSOT (Part 5): Civil Service to Foreign Service Hard-to-Fill Program

September 3, 2012

The HTF program, though driven by the Department’s needs to fill specific hard-to-fill foreign posts via one- to three-year tours, is acknowledged as a potential (and highly competitive) migration path for Civil Servants into the Foreign Service.

Typical Opportunities

An HTF posting might offer anywhere from a half-dozen to two dozen positions per State Department region: Africa (sub-Sahara), East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East (North Africa and the Middle East), South and Central Asia, Western Hemisphere, UN and Other International Organizations

Recently listed vacancies included positions through a range of grade levels, including high-visibility, high-responsibility Regional Officers:

  • Administration—financial management, general service officer, human resources, management, office management specialist, facility manager
  • Information Technology—information management officer and specialist
  • Security—diplomatic courier, narcotics affairs officer, transnational crime affairs officer, regional computer security officer

Length of Tour

Most posts are for one- or two-year LNA positions. A few may be for as long as three years under certain restrictions. Extensions are possible, again under restrictive conditions.


For some positions, the Professional Associates Program allows for consideration of concurrent postings of eligible family members of Civil Service employees.


Apart from any allowances connected to a foreign posting, pay is based on a Civil Servant’s current pay grade, not any pay grade attached to the foreign job itself. Applicants are encouraged to apply for jobs with equivalent pay grades, and allowed to apply for jobs one grade higher or lower.


Civil Service applicants must be career employees:

  • With a tenure code of 21
  • Who have served in permanent positions in the Department for at least three years

Supervisory positions require prior completion of the one-year supervisory probation period, including experience writing employee and customer service evaluations.

LNAs with a current overseas assignment who want to apply for another have to meet certain timing and re-entry requirements:

  • Their current tour must end before any new one begins.
  • The extent of the new tour must fall within the dates of the original five-year LNA appointment.
  • For Information Resource Management (IRM) positions, LNA’s must get an extension of reemployment eligibility requirements.

IRM positions—Information Program Officers, Systems Officers, and Management Specialists—have a few more requirements:

  • Top secret clearance at time of application
  • Experience with LAN/WAN and the Department’s current end-user and server environments (as of this writing, Windows 2000/2003, Microsoft Exchange)

Requirements Upon Selection

Medical and security clearances may be specific to each assignment. HR/CDA assists with all necessary authorizations and clearances.

Applicants must have at least Secret security clearances. Clearances will be raised to Top Secret upon selection if needed. (As noted, IRM positions require Top Secret clearance at the time of application.) The clearance upgrade may take up to four months, and must be completed before arrival at the new post, which may consequently be delayed.


Certain skills required in foreign postings may not have been required or taught to stateside Civil Servants.

  • Applicants selected for such foreign specific jobs, such as consular or public diplomacy positions, will be trained as needed.
  • The Department may, if timing permits, provide up to six months of language training for positions listed as “language-designated”.

There is a limit of one year’s total training, during which the CS LNA remains on the payroll of their current bureau. The new LNA begins after completion of all training and clearance.

Re-employment Rights

All Civil Service applicants must obtain re-employment rights from their current bureau prior to application. The Executive Director of the lending (“releasing” or “losing”) bureau must guarantee placement back into a permanent Civil Service position upon return from a foreign tour, and a memorandum to that effect must be sent to the Director of HR/CDA.

The guarantee does not lock one into one’s old job. Civil servants on a foreign LNA may also apply for new Civil Service positions as the LNA runs out. Failing any such move, the default returns the employee to the releasing bureau.


Postings of available FS positions are distributed about three weeks before the deadline for application or “bidding”.

The application consists of an e-mailed one-page cover sheet listing…

  • Name, current post or bureau, position, grade, security clearance, career status, and confirmation of three years of Civil Service
  • Up to 15 positions being applied for
  • Language scores, if any positions are “language-designated”
  • A yes/no statement of supervisory probation completion

…and with the following attachments:

  • Most recent employee evaluation
  • An unclassified writing sample for positions requiring it
  • A copy of the re-employment memo or extension

Applicants simultaneously send bid lists to the regional or bureau office offering the desired appointment.

Foreign Service Entrée

Opportunities to join the Foreign Service from Civil Service typically become available after multiple “excursion tours”. “Conversion” is by no means guaranteed, and is extremely competitive. For that matter, a second or third LNA abroad might not be available, since:

  • The bottom line on the Department’s granting any LNA is its belief in the best fit of a candidate for the position
  • Civil Servants compete against career Foreign Service employees every step of the way

Still, what does a Civil Servant have to lose? Foreign LNAs—even a single one—offer intrinsic opportunities and satisfactions entirely apart from the question of entry into the Foreign Service, and the program has been designed to allow Department professionals to build variety and challenge into their careers without sacrificing stability.


By-Pass the FSOT (Part 4): The Diplomacy Fellows Program

August 5, 2011

Of all the options for becoming an FSO, this is the one that is an explicit substitution for the FSOT—that is, successful completion of any of the nine programs listed below constitutes eligibility for the FSOA; hence, by-pass the FSOT!

  1. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Diplomacy Fellows
  2. Boren Graduate Fellowship Fellows (National Security Education Program only)
  3. Fascell Fellows
  4. Institute for International Public Policy Fellows (IIPP)
  5. Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellows
  6. Presidential Management Fellows who have fulfilled their program obligations prior to registration through service at the Department of State or the Agency for International Development
  7. Truman Scholars
  8. Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholars
  9. Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellows

UNIVERSITY STUDENTS LOOK HERE!! A note on Pickering Fellows:

  • They receive tuition, room, board, fees, book costs, and limited professional travel during the junior and senior years of college and the first year of graduate study
  • Commit to pursuing a graduate degree in international studies at a participating school
  • Receive need-based financial support from their schools in the second year of graduate study
  • Upon completion are appointed as Foreign Service Officers with an obligation of four and a half years


  • They are selected annually through a highly competitive nationwide process
  • Supported through two years of graduate study, internships, professional development activities,
  • And are finally accepted into the Foreign Service.

Let me know if you have questions.

By-Pass the FSOT (Part 3): The Skill Code Change

June 26, 2011

What is a “Skill Code Change”?

A skill code change request is a request by any State Department employee to switch into another career track after she has demonstrated she has already been doing an outstanding job in that career track.

For example:

Say you are a Foreign Service Specialist (FSS) in the IT career track (IMS). You’ve taken to serving at small posts where the Department has trouble finding people to take consular and management jobs. Since you’re on the ground, you take up responsibilities as the post consular and management officer while still fulfilling your regular IT duties. After one tour you’ve become good enough in consular and management functions that the Department allows you two more tours as a management officer. When all is said and done, you’ve got three management tours under your belt and you’ve shown you can do the job.

Now comes the skill code change: you’ve been doing the management job for so long you might as well just convert, and under the rules of this program, you can do exactly that. This applies for any job you can consistently do well, e.g. Management to Political, Consular to Economic, OMS to IRM, IRM to Consular, CS to Public Diplomacy etc.

I will be covering the exact details of how this program works in a later post.

By-Pass the FSOT

If you’re selected to be an FSO through a skill code change, you can by-pass the FSOT but you still need to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA)!

Get into State FIRST, then prep for the FSOT:

As with the Mustang Program, the beauty of this option is that if you get into State Department as CS or FSS, the pressure to get a job in foreign affairs is taken off you and you can prepare for the FSOT at your leisure (that is if you’re still set on being an FS Generalist).

If you have more questions about the program, leave a comment and I’ll answer any questions.

By-Pass the FSOT (Part 2): The Mustang Program

May 18, 2011

Aside from student fellowships, there is another way of by-passing the FSOT: by way of the Mustang Program.

What is the Mustang Program?

It’s a program that gives Civil Service (CS) employees and Foreign Service Specialists (FSS) the chance to apply and become FSO’s without having to take the FSOT.  CS and FSS employees in the State Department are welcome to apply to any of the five Generalist cones: Management, Consular, Economic, Political or Public Diplomacy.

By-Pass the FSOT

But keep in mind, if you’re selected to be an FSO through the Mustang Program, you can by-pass the FSOT but you still need to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA)!  Also, this assumes you meet medical requirements, clear security background check, and have spent at least three years as a CS or FSS employee, among other criteria (to be revealed at a later date).

Get into State FIRST, then prep for the FSOT:

The beauty of this option is that  if you get into State Department as CS or FSS, the pressure to get a job in foreign affairs is taken off you and you can prepre for the FSOT at your leisure (that is if you’re still set on being an FS Generalist).

Failed the FSOT? No Fear!

So if you failed the FSOT, no fear, you can still get your foot in the State Department door through CS and FSS programs and still have a shot at becoming an FSO through the Mustang Program.

If you have more questions about the program, leave a comment and I’ll answer any questions.

By-Pass the FSOT (Part 1): A Few Paths

May 11, 2011

You can avoid this if you want.

There are three primary ways of becoming a Foreign Service Generalist without having to take the dreaded FSOT, or written test as it’s casually known:

  1. Gain entry into a specialized State Department undergraduate or graduate internship program,
  2. Gain entry as a Foreign Service Specialist then apply for the Mustang Program, or
  3. Gain entry as a Civil Servant and apply for a “Skill Code Change”.

If you’d like to learn more, leave me a comment and I can answer your questions.

Getting into the last two jobs is not hard, it just requires the right timing when jobs open up.  In all three options, you do NOT have to take the written exam but you eventually have to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment.  But by the time you get around to taking the Oral Assessment, you’ll have had three to five years in the Foreign Service, experience that will directly influence your suitability for passing the Oral Assessment.  And if you fail the Oral Assessment, you’ll at least still have a job with the State Department, with opportunities to travel all over the world while still accruing the same benefits as regular Foreign Service Officers.

So in short, if you failed the FSOT or can’t be bothered to spend all that time studying for it, there are other options for becoming a Generalist.