Thursday, July 07, 2005

Bid Lists (The Technical Stuff)

Probably the first question asked by every person who joins the Foreign Service is, where am I going? The answer to this question lies in your class' bid list. Roughly speaking, the bid list is simply the list of all available open positions. It includes the region & name of each post, the type of position open at that post, when it opens, which (if any) language the job requires, and the difficulty and danger (each rated out of a highest possible 25 points) associated with the post. It is delivered in table format, and looks something like this:

QB 3/3
AD 2/0
TA 2/2
FR 3/3

(Please note that this table is strictly fictional, and has no bearing on any actual bid list...)

For the most part these lists are pretty self explanatory, with the exception of a few of the language codes (for instance, you may have noted that 'QB' is the code for Spanish). The numbers next to the languages indicate the speaking/reading level of language achievement required from a scale of 0 to 5 (5 being native fluency). If there are no numbers, it means the language would be helpful, but isn't strictly required. For TED (Time of Estimated Departure), the dates are mainly important when considering one's language fluency in relation to post requirements. For example, learning Arabic for the Damascus post might be do-able since it's over a year away; the Paris post requires an immediate departure, making French training impossible. People with already established language competency will be sent to these 'NOW' posts -- regardless of their bidding requests -- if there is no one else to fill the position. So if you're fluent in Tagalog but don't particularly want to go to Manila, just remember that the needs of the State Department will trump your own desires (assuming there are no extenuating circumstances which absolutely prevent you from going).

And for those of you thinking, "Then I just wouldn't test in Tagalog," keep in mind that the Foreign Service requires all officers to become competent in at least one language before being tenured (i.e., within 3 to 5 years). Until you prove competency, you are on 'Language Probation'. If you already know a language, especially a difficult one, it is in your longterm interest to declare it.

The 'XXX' TED indicates that the job has been newly created at that post, so there is more leeway in determining when you will be sent.

Difficulty and danger ratings (generally lumped together and termed 'hardship') affect whether or not one can bring Extended Family Members (EFMs) to post. Some hardship posts allow adult EFMs, and some allow none; for those officers with families, this is often a large consideration when bidding. If you have a family and do not wish to be separated, the Department is very good about keeping people together whenever humanly possible. Hardship ratings may also have some positive affect on pay, as one is compensated monetarily for the hardship. Serving at a hardship post increases your chance of getting your top pick from the bid list for your next tour of duty, and may also be good for promotions.

Positions available at the junior level are most often consular (CON) positions, which means one would be handling visas and assisting travelling Americans. There are five career 'cones' to choose from (Consular, Public Diplomacy, Economics, Management, and Politics), but officers are considered generalists, and as such must be willing to take on any job as needed. Within the first two posts, the Department requires that an officer serve at least one Consular tour.

Numbers next to the post names, such as the (2) next to Bogota, indicate that there are two openings for that job at the post.

The regional bureau tells you which office the posting is under. These regional offices are grouped together based mainly on geography, but also on Departmental areas of emphasis. Thus you have WHA (Western Hemisphere), EAP (East Asia Pacific), SA (South Asia), NEA (Near East Asia), EUR (Europe), and AF (Africa). Some people attempt to manuever their bidding so that they can stay only in one region, effectively 'majoring' in that area. Personally, I'm bidding based on the desire for broader language training, hoping to see as much of the available world as possible!

In my own class of 80+ people, there is a post for every person. For bidding, the department asks that we list each available position as either 'High', 'Medium', or 'Low', depending on the level of our desire to go there. This has been somewhat difficult, less due to the number of posts (the State Department provides ample research materials on each location), but more because I'm not sure really what my priorities should be. Today we turned in our draft bid lists, and later this week we have one-on-one meetings with our CDOs (equivalent to military 'detailers') to help us make final decisions. I think I'm doing the right thing.

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