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Letter to the Editor: State Department Reply

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Reply to The Washington Diplomat articleHiring Slowdown at State Leaves Candidates in Limbo

Thanks to Martin Austermuhle and The Washington Diplomat for bringing attention to the challenges the U.S. Department of State is facing in this period of reduced hiring (Hiring Slowdown at State Leaves Candidates in Limbo) as well as the challenges for the candidates themselves.

The Department’s highly competitive hiring process is designed to attract the most talented individuals from all across the United States, and we have no doubt that those who make it through the rigorous process will represent our nation very well.  The candidates described in the article (Michael and Sam) are not alone.  Despite our efforts to match the flow of candidates on the hiring registers with projected hiring, there are many variables that are unpredictable.

There have been suggestions that we stop offering the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) and hire those who are already on the register.  We believe the best solution for American diplomacy is constant recruitment and testing of new candidates so that we are bringing in the United States’ best stream of new diplomatic talent.  The hiring register is dynamic, with the top-scoring candidates (including bonuses for veteran’s status and/or language skills) ranked highest, no matter how long they have been on the register.

Prior to 2007, the FSOT was offered just once a year, and the length of time between initial testing and hiring often stretched to 18 months or longer.  A 2007 study conducted by a consulting firm suggested that by offering the FSOT three times a year, the assessment-to-hiring cycle could be compressed.  The more frequent testing also allows candidates from all backgrounds more timely options for launching a candidacy.

Also beginning in 2007, the Department refined the assessment process. The Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) was added to further evaluate all FSOT passers for a “total candidate” review, and those candidates are rank-ordered by career track (Political, Economic, Public Diplomacy, Management, Consular).  The QEP is also used to regulate the flow of candidates to the orals, based on projected hiring.  As our projected hiring decreases, we invite fewer candidates to the oral assessment, thus limiting the over-supply of candidates on the register.

Since 2007, we have been able to keep the percentage of candidates who “time off” the register to about 20% per year.  While we do not like to see anyone go through our demanding process for naught, it is in the Department’s interest to ensure a supply of the most highly qualified, ready-to-hire candidates when the hiring authorization is approved.

I would note that the article indicated that candidates who convert to the Foreign Service from the Civil Service (via the Mustang Program) or from Foreign Service Specialist positions are able to enter non-competitively.  In fact, those who apply for these conversion programs also pass through a QEP process and sit for the same oral assessment that others face.  These programs, which allow conversion candidates who pass the oral assessment to join the next entry class of Foreign Service employees, provide career mobility opportunities to Department employees in recognition of their skills and past service.

It is important to recognize the dedication of the thousands who pursue a candidacy for the Foreign Service.  Many government agencies and private corporations consider the Department of State’s assessment process as the “gold standard” for competitive hiring, but, like any assessment process, it is certainly not perfect.  We constantly evaluate and revise our process to make sure it continues to meet the needs of the Department as well as give opportunities to the broadest segment of U.S. citizens. Those of us who interact with candidates -- from recruiters and Diplomats in Residence (DIRs), to officers conducting the QEP and oral assessment -- are constantly impressed by the talent, creativity, dedication and perseverance of our candidates.  Via our www.careers.state.gov website, we offer various ways to engage with candidates, from contact with the DIRs to a real-time exchange of information on the Forums.

Kaara Ettesvold
Director of the Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment

Bureau of Human Resources
U.S. Department of State

Last Edited on February 5, 2014

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