Saturday, May 21, 2011

FSO vs FSS: A Love Story

What? Why are you talking about FSO again? I thought you were already an FSS? Didn't I read something about Flag Day and Orientation and good friends and some South American country already?

Yes, yes - I know I have some 'splaining to do.

I'll say! I don't know why anyone would want to put themselves through that ordeal twice!

Well, with any luck, this will be the LAST time. But if you've got a sec, here's my story. It's a long story, but a common enough one that makes it worth sharing:

Okay, exactly two years ago I decided that the Foreign Service was a life for me, and specifically that I wanted to hook my star to becoming a FS Consular Officer. In preparation for the FS Officer's Test (FSOT), I dedicated four months to studying, every day after work and all day on the weekends...

Oh, was that the summer when we actually had four brilliant months of sunshine? Didn't you want to go camping and hiking and river tubing instead of reading all about the Constitution and Economics and...?

Yes, yes that was the summer... Geez, just hush up and let me tell the story already!
So, I spent four months preparing: writing timed essays with a group, reading about all sorts of things that I'm fairly certain I slept through in US History in high school and certainly other things I never learned in the first place. But I took the FSOT in October and passed. Yippeeee!! But then the next stage, the Personal Narrative Questions (PNQs), reared its ugly head and required that I submit five simple essays on general topics from my life experience. In 1300 characters or less - including spaces. Easy right? Each word was chosen like a ripe peach, each sentence double and triple checked for meaning, clarity, descriptiveness - you get the idea. The whole package was carefully, lovingly even, submitted before the deadline. For the following months I read everything I could about life in the Foreign Service. I tried on this potential new life like a prom dress, examining it for fit from every angle and making sure that it matched well with Tim's tuxedo and cummerbund. I practiced my new signature: Caitlin - Foreign Service Officer. Where did we most want to go? Would we ever have a house with two bathrooms? Day dreams, night dreams and conversations with friends and family ad nauseum.

We get the picture. Well...what happened? Did you get past the PNQ stage? Did you get that golden ticket invitation to the Oral Assessment?

In keeping with my prom theme - just picture me crying in the ladies' room as my date flirted across the room with the smarter, prettier girl.
Yeah, I got dumped.
Hard. And it wasn't pretty.
But as in life, I met someone new shortly thereafter. Someone friendly, kind. Not quite as popular or flashy as my first love - but a great fit for my personality nonetheless. And his name was OMS - the Office Management Specialist. We had a lot in common, and so in early 2010, I decided to make it official and pursue this new suitor. By late August he responded positively and invited me to DC to meet his parents - things were really getting serious!

I think we can guess what happened...

Right, so I passed muster with OMS and his family and, well, yadda yadda I'm at FSI learning Spanish.

So what does this have to do with the one who scorned you, the FSO Consular Officer? You didn't call him did you?

Yeah, it's been kinda' hard seeing him around FSI now. But here's the funny part, as soon as I didn't "need" him anymore - didn't he come crawling back?
"Oh will you forgive me? I'm so sorry; I didn't mean to hurt you. You're looking good, did you cut your hair or something? Who's this OMS person you've been hanging around with anyway? And who are all these new friends you're always going on and on about?"

I think you know what it's like. I'm human. I have memories of "how it all was..." before. I got weak and I gave in. I never threw away his number, and when he called out of the blue, asking me to come meet HIS parents yesterday... well, I went. Am I bad? I mean I LOVE OMS. We're such a great fit. My friends like him; he offers me so much choice, adventure. He's safe, he is friendly. But, but, but... maybe I just wanted to see that I could get FSO Consular Officer back. You know, even if I never even dated him again - just knowing that he wanted me and I could, if I wanted. Perhaps that's it. So yesterday found me all dressed up, telling my stories all over again. "Yeah, then I did this, and then I did that... blah blah blah." It was a long day, but in the end - he asked me back.

Well, do you feel satisfied with yourself now? How does OMS feel? Did you ever stop to think about someone other than yourself?

Actually, I think OMS understands. I mean, it was just an offer. I haven't accepted anything yet. I still have plans with OMS to go to Bogota and all. Heck, I'm excited to be with OMS! But, there's just that lingering feeling that maybe we'll eventually grow out of each other, and so, well, it's just good to know that I've got options. That's natural, right?


So, that's my story. Things worked out as they were meant to, and in the timing they were meant to have. I have the security of great OMS by my side and we're a good fit. But meanwhile, it feels good to know that Consular Officer hasn't forgotten about me and is still out there as a misty possibility. My story is not a unique one; I'm sure there are many of you out there who've been scorned by the dashing Mr/Ms FSO and who are hesitant about putting themself "out there" again. I hope that you do try again. If you ever want to swap stories - drop me a line and I'd be happy to share.

Meanwhile - take care and remember that it's all worth it in the end.


  1. It's nice to know Cons wants you! I think that as a specialist, there's a program to help you switch over to officer, or at least give you some officer assignments. (Don't quote me on that though.) My husband had a similar thing. He applied for diplomatic courier and DS special agent at the same time. Courier called first and he accepted the offer because we were anxious to get started on our new life right away. The day he finished courier training, he got the special agent offer. He accepted it because it's what he had really wanted to do. He worked as a courier for three months until the agent training started. It worked out perfectly for us. He liked the courier job but not enough to do it long-term.

    The OMS job will give you the same overseas experience and you'll get a close look at the FSO jobs, so you can always decide later if you'll think FSO will be a better match for you.

  2. Any tips on passing the OMS oral assessment? I am slated to take it soon and I have already taken the oral assessment for the FSO and failed. Thank you!

  3. Virginia Gal-
    To prepare for my OMS OA (it was Nov 2010, so things may have changed since)I did three things that I found to be very helpful:
    1) I wrote timed essays on tons of different topics, and I had friends and a study group who provided me the topics so that they were truly "blind" to me when the timer started. I followed the ACT 5-paragraph persuasive essay backbone and got used to picking one side of an issue and developing proof for it. I also used the FSOA Yahoo Group "Files" section to see their Case Management advice and samples, and practiced a few of those.
    2) I brainstormed (over time) examples from my work, personal and volunteer life that embodied each of the 12/13 dimensions. I made a big page from colored construction paper and cut out the description of each dimension. Then I wrote my first, second and third place stories (based on their relevance to the dimension) and organized them in the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format so I could easily relay the story. I liked this part the best, because it made me realize that even our simple day-to-day tasks ARE the meat of these dimensions. There is NO dimension called "Brain Surgery." Phew!
    3) I used every grammar, proofreading, business writing resource I could find and drilled all my deficiences. I really paid attention to word usage and practiced concise, direct communication at my work so that it became a habit. I read dozens of books on grammar! I don't necessarily mean read them cover-to-cover, but I referred to them and read sections.
    So that was MY method, obviously everyone will have variations that work for them. You've been to the OA already; you know how it feels and how grueling it can be. Think about your heartfelt motivations for undertaking this career and let those motivations shine through.

    Best of luck to you, and please also see my buddy over at Foreign Obsession. She has links to some good advice, too!

    1. Thank you for the guidance! I've been having a hard time pinpointing how I should be prepping myself, so this info is great. My OA is scheduled for April 15th, tax day, that must be good, right?

      I'm a fellow Washingtonian, with hubby and pet. Should this dream come to fruition, I would love the opportunity to pick your brain about all the questions rolling around in my head.

      Thanks again, I'm enjoying your blog, just found it today.

  4. Thanks for the funny essay and great OA tips. I too flunked out of FSO after my masterfully crafted PNQs. I have my OA for OMS in 3 weeks. I'd be stoked to get it.

    1. Hey thanks for reading, John. And I wish you clear thinking, creative answers and dry palms for your OA. It's a bit of an endurance test, so sleep well (if you can), bring water and snacks and enjoy the day as best you can.

  5. I came across your blog just two days ago and I must say it had helped me a lot. Am also preparing for the OMS OA and am thankful for discovering your blog. It has help me a lot. Thank you much for sharing - from the case management to how to tackle the 12 dimensions. And not only that but also your post about not giving up on our dreams. Mine is to become a consular officer or management officer.

  6. Thank you Naana, and good luck to you! I've very recently chatted with two OMSes from classes this year. One orientation class had only 2 OMSes in it! They told me that the OMS register was exhausted, so perhaps that's good news for those who are taking the OA soon.

    1. Thank you for this post! 4 years later and people are still finding it useful, me included. I, too, took the FSOT and passed and felt very similar to the way you described, down to signing off as "FSO blah blah", which made the rejection letter sting a bit. I heard this year has been pretty hard compared to recently, but hey, who knows. Anyway, I, too, am planning to apply for OMS, and continue to attempt with the FSO route. Question, you said the OMS register was "exhausted", meaning too many people, or they are needing more and more? Thanks again!

    2. Thank you for reading and I'm glad it could be of some help, that's the main reason I like to write. From what I was told by two new OMSes at FSI, when the last group was hired, there were only two and it exhausted (emptied) the register. However, I imagine there are usually folks in the clearance pipeline to replenish it. From what I understand, as soon as they need more warm bodies for the register, they'll open the position again for applications. Are you getting the automatic notifications of when they're accepting OMS applications? Because it's sporadic, instead of fixed, it's good to know exactly when it opens. Best of luck and keep trying on both fronts!