Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment Day (FSCE)
“Do not spend the night prior to the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment studying; the extra factoids candidates might cram into their brains at this point will not make a significant difference. Visit a museum, go out to a movie, visit with friends – and get to bed at a decent hour (see “Be rested” above).”
The first part of the assessment was a timed Case Management writing exercise. I was led down a hall with the three other candidates and into a computer lab. The State Department Oral Assessment Study Guide describes the writing exercise as:
As the first part of the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment you will be given a scenario describing issues which may typically arise in your specialty in a Foreign Service context. You will be asked to write a1-2 page memo to your supervisor summarizing the situation and providing solutions to the problems you or your supervisor has identified. You do not need to know US Government or State Department rules and regulations – you should rely on your expert knowledge, information presented to you, and your common sense. You will have 45 minutes to complete this section.
As most engineers, I am not the greatest writer in the world and had failed this portion of the test on my previous try. I stuck to my planned outline and tried to manage my time well. I didn’t have time to reread anything at the end, but went away feeling much better than the first time I took this portion of the test.
We walked back to the waiting area and I grabbed some water and used the restroom. I was very nervous, because I had failed the Online Competency Exam on my previous try and knew I needed to score higher on this section for a chance to pass. The exam is a specialized knowledge test described in the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment Study Guide as:
You will next be given an online competency exam. You will have 45-60 minutes for this section. The test may include English Expression questions, questions dealing with your ability to work with others, and questions appropriate to your area of expertise, such as Microsoft usage; IT problems; hiring laws and procedures; organizing events and VIP schedules; building maintenance issues; contracting and leasing; logistics operations; budgets and accounting; and similar issues that you will be expected to work within your FS specialty. This computer based multiple-choice exam presents a series of technical and/or situational judgment questions. It is intended to measure your job-related knowledge and how you might apply that knowledge on the job. The exam is designed to present more questions than can generally be answered in the time allowed, so candidates should not expect to answer every question.
Again I felt much better about the Competency Exam this time around and was not only able to finish all of the questions, but had time to review over half my answers. Looking back, having botched my Case Management portion of the test right off the bat in 2011, had really affected my ability to gather myself and push forward the best I could. With two sections “successfully” down, my adrenaline was pumping as I went back to the waiting room a second time.
In the waiting room, I tried to remain calm and prepare. I had passed the interview portion in 2011 and my total score was 5.1 out of 7. A 5.25 is passing, so theoretically, feeling I had done better on the first two sections led me to believe I was going to pass this time. However, a 5.25 is the minimum passing score and it did not ensure I would be ultimately selected. I needed to nail the Oral Assessment as well, to achieve my goal of a 5.6. A few minutes later, I was taken back down the hall to a different room for for the final phase. The Structured Interview is described in the Foreign Service Specialist Oral AssessmentStudy Guide as:
All candidates participate individually in a Structured Interview conducted by two assessors, one of whom will be a Subject Matter Expert proficient in the functional field being tested. For this portion of the Oral Assessment, assessors will have reviewed portions of your application for employment so they will be familiar with your work history and information you provided in the biographical section of the application. You are expected to respond to questions based on your personal background, experience, and motivation. You should be careful to respond to the questions that are asked, rather than give a response that highlights your qualities or resume but does not reply to the specific question.
Again, I walked out of the interview feeling I did better than last time, but still could not keep from second guessing myself as I waited impatiently in the lobby to be called. To be honest, I made an attempt to leave my belongings in the lobby as I was called down the hall. My thought being that the assessors would only ask me to bring my belongings with me if I failed because surely I would need to return for paper work if I passed. “Oops…you forgot to grab your brief case,” said the assessor. The thin manila envelope that he was carrying also looked a lot like the one that contained the rejection letter for my previous attempt. My heart sank…I was devastated.
I walked into the room and as I made a motion to sit defeated in the empty chair, one of the assessors blind sided me with a smile and firm hand shake. “Let me be the first to congratulate you on passing the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment”. Turns out the thin manila envelope contained a single white sheet of paper with a check mark in every box… a whopping score of 6.0 out of 7.0. I was very happy.