Friday, June 10, 2011

The Foreign Service Oral Assessment

From time to time I get questions from friends or followers of my blog about the third stage of the Foreign Service Exam: The Oral Assessment.

My best advice for the Orals is to make sure that you don't over-think it. Have you read much about how it is organized? On the State Department Careers website, you can read about the 13 dimensions that the testers look for.

There are three major parts to the Oral Assessment: a group exercise, individual interviews, and a timed writing test. The group exercise is the one that probably needs the most explanation.

The group exercise is a simulation of what it is like to work in a group in an Embassy. The group has to decide which projects get funded (or some similar scenario) while the testers sit in the corners of the room taking notes. Before I took the test, I had heard that it was a good idea to volunteer to be timekeeper, notekeeper, moderator, etc. But I actually didn't volunteer for any of those roles, and my project did not get "selected," so don't believe everything you read on the internet. It's how you act and articulate that really matters. Think about the pros and cons of your project and explain them clearly and carefully. I noticed that many people during the group exercise had a lot of trouble expressing themselves. One thing I did was ask other people for clarification. I took notes while other people were speaking. And I made sure that my body language was open (you know, facing the people talking, nodding, etc.). The group exercise is not just about making a speech and then "phew its over." You need to be engaged the whole time, but not in a bossy and aggressive way.

I imagined, if I were posted to some small African country, who would I want to be stuck with? This is probably going through the testers minds. I've sat in on some real-life grants meetings where people are arguing which projects should get funded--so the skills you demonstrate in this test will be applicable in the job. You want to show that you are not only articulate and smart, but also a good listener and a well-balanced person. I know it sounds goofy, but it helped me to think about it that way.

For the day of the test, I packed my own lunch, and I was glad that I had brought something healthy to eat. Some people bring snacks for their fellow testers. Don't do anything that is severely out of character, but do what will make you the most comfortable. A lot of people chatted with each other in between tests (the tests are short and intense and there is a lot of down time), but I sat and read a magazine to decompress.

I hope this helps and good luck to you, dear friends!! If you have any more questions please let me know.

Top Image "Atlas Paper Pinwheels" by Betsy Ryan Hany on Etsy

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