Exactly one year ago today I took the Foreign Service Oral Assessment for the first time, and was shocked beyond belief when, as the last person testing that day awaiting my results, I was brought back into the group exercise room, filled with examiners, who somberly informed me I had passed the exam, before breaking into smiles and trying to shake my already vigorously shaking hand. I’m not completely sure what happened next because the next ten minutes were a complete blur, but it’s very possible I burst into tears– which may also be responsible for the blurriness of the memory.
Fast forward twelve months and I am unfortunately still sitting on the register, not having scored high enough for an invitation to be immediate, and having gotten caught in a budget/sequester hiring slow-down, at a time when an inordinate number of people have been added to my register. I am Consular track, and despite historically being the shortest register, it is currently the longest. Figures, right?
But, there is good news. After realizing the hiring pattern wasn’t turing around, I began another candidacy in February, hoping to improve my OA score and move up higher on the Register. I re-passed the written exam, blowing my previous score out of the water. I re-submitted my Personal Narratives (PNQs), and I’ve been waiting on pins and needles for the results of the QEP, where the Board of Examiners takes everything they have on you so far; your PNQs, your written exam, and your registration information, and decides if you will be invited to the OA. Here was the dilemma: last year’s PNQs were good enough to get me an invite, so should I just re-use them? But, what if there are fewer invitations this year, and what I wrote last year won’t cut it? So maybe I should change them? But, what if I change them and lose whatever made the difference last year (from previous unsuccessful attempts to get to the OA), and again, the new PNQs don’t cut it? So, I split the difference; I used last year’s PNQs, but made sure to update the stories with new information, and to really ensure I was emphasizing the 13Ds in my essays.
It worked. This morning I received my QEP results letter, inviting me to the Oral Assessment! Exactly one year to the day from when I passed the OA the first time. Turns out my initial instinct was correct, there do seem to be fewer invitations going out for this round of OAs, and many people who made it through– and even passed– last year were not invited this year. So I am extremely thankful to have made it over this hurdle. I didn’t realize how stressed I was about it until I read the letter in the middle of the grocery store*, knowing myself well enough to know there was NO WAY I could wait until I got home. I think I screamed (or whooped) and may have dropped my phone, then high-tailed it to another aisle in case someone came looking for the commotion. Again… it’s a little blurry.
So, next step is another OA. I am hopeful I will be able to pass again, and plan to make every effort to improve my score. I think I’ve identified a few things I can work on from last year’s OA, which will hopefully make a difference. I am also hopeful about the timing this year; taking the OA in the July-November window is ultimately better for me than last year’s March-May window. I have some free time over the summer to study, as opposed to last time when I was focusing on school. Last year I had other things going on, with work and family, and preparing for my month in The Hague. This time, I have no upcoming travel for work (something no one has said before: thank you sequester!), and I have some time before my summer classes. I’m going to look for a study group of folks who have also previously taken the OA, so if you fit that bill, please leave me a comment. And if anyone has any tips for preparing, please let me know. Wish me luck!
*Why was I at the grocery store on a Monday morning, and not at this job that seems to keep me so busy? Why, because of a water main break on the main road near my office that killed all the running water in my building. So, since I don’t work on a cruise ship, the powers-that-be deemed an office building with no water a sanitation concern, and sent everyone home. Which is just as well because had I been at the office when I received my QEP results, I would have become immediately unproductive for the rest of the day anyways.