Saturday, October 22, 2011


I was thinking this morning about my last post and also what my friend a fellow FS Specialist Mike commented, and it has prompted me to write about OMS training a little bit. I'm doing this primarily to defend the nice folks who trained us all, myself a little bit, and also to (hopefully) shine some light on what future OMSes and those in training now can expect. Granted, this is one person's opinion and not a carved-in-stone prediction of what everyone will experience. However, I believe it is common enough to be of value to others.

I must start with a FS  cliché that I truly hoped I'd never have to write: It depends.
OMS training is three full weeks of introduction to the super-varied work of an Office Management Specialist in the Foreign Service. The goal is to prepare employees for their roles in huge embassies and in tiny remote consulates; to help them be successful in Front Offices, in Regional Security Office positions or in Political and Economic sections. There is no one job description, no one way of doing things, no one standard procedure that is uniform for every situation. Therefore, the training is more of a broad overview of topics that we will one day (immediately or years from now) encounter, combined with hands-on-keyboard practice with some of the common programs that we will generally encounter in our new assignments. Things like time and attendance, travel arranging, tracking employee evaluations, ordering supplies and services, reading or retrieving cables - these types of programs seem to be common to nearly every section and an OMS should expect to face these tasks regardless of her/his assignment.

So if I'm defending the OMS training - then why did I feel so lost and unprepared? Why so much panic and so many (alleged) tears? Who or what is to blame?

First, I'm certain that I'm harder on myself than anyone else ever will be - so I should confess that the panic and tears were (mostly) internal.

Second, in order to get this job, we have to be the type of person who likes to do things well, who has been successful in their previous career(s) and is probably used to being the go-to person. When I left my former position, I was at the top of my game. I felt fluent and confident in every aspect of my work and relished my job because I understood it; I knew what was expected of me, how to do it, when and why. Then my confidence hit a new peak when I learned I was accepted by the Department of State to become an OMS - woo hoo, who's better than me?  I'd say that many of us felt the same way. We would not have been hired if we were low-achieving slumps.

So now take this same person and pull them from their familiar, warm bath and stick him/her in a new country, new culture, new language, new food, home, family, friends and coworkers left behind in the US, and plop them into a job where they have (generally) no overlap with their predecessor to show them what they're doing and what is expected, in a unique professional culture with very little outside equivalent, and it's no wonder you get someone who feels cold, naked and shivering. I think it's normal to have some deer-in-the-headlights months as we scramble to find our equilibrium and routine, our little victories and accomplishments that we've been so accustomed to from our previous lives.

This is where the "genius" of the FS hiring process comes in: they know all this.
They know that very few people are going to come to their doorsteps, resume in hand, with actual embassy experience. Sure, there are those who were interns, or who have experience from being a FS family member - but they are the minority. Many of us (myself included) had never been IN a US embassy before; some had never been out of the country before embarking on this career - it's not a job requirement. This is why they choose people with the raw characteristics (the 12/13 Dimensions), gleaned from every possible source and life experience, that they know will allow them to eventually float to the surface in the ocean of FS assignments. They didn't hire us because we'd used e2 Travel Arranger before - they hired us because perhaps we'd figured out other new programs in other jobs. They didn't hire us because we'd written a Dip Note before, but because we showed them we were resourceful in figuring out new tasks through whatever means available.

There is no way that OMS training (or any of the other trainings for generalists and specialists) can prepare new employees for every situation they're going to face; it's simply impossible. Every post, every section, every predicament faced will be different and therefore while they try to teach us about the variety of situations that probably/maybe will come up  - the bottom line is that they have to hire people who they trust possess the internal tools to figure stuff out.

This process of figuring stuff out can be painful for those of us who are used to already knowing what to do and how to do it. It can take months or a year, and as soon as we're snappy and fluent and feeling like the top of our game - we pack up and start all over again. This discomfort can make you feel alive or it can be overwhelming - and probably both. I know I will gain from the pain (sorry for that last phrase) in the long run.

In the meanwhile, apparently y'all are going to hear my creaks and groans. Please don't take this as an indication that the FS system or I are intrinsically flawed. I think it's just the way it is.

Thanks for listening.


  1. As someone who is currently going through OMS training, I was so happy to read this post. Thank you for being honest and writing about the highs and lows of the FS. If I can keep in mind your words of encouragement, I hope that when those naked, shivering deer-in-headlights moments come along, I can know that they're only temporary and I'm capable of dealing with them.
    Thanks again!

  2. Cabby,
    Thank you for commenting; it makes me glad to know that my stumblings might give you some forewarning or encouragement. Let me know where you're headed and to which section and I'll look forward to hearing of your own little victories.

  3. I just wanted to take a second and thank you for your blog. I am an OMS hopeful working through the process and I have found so much information from your blogs. If only that I am not the only one who has no idea what's going on most days, but this entry in particular was VERY comforting. Keep it up! Muchisimas Gracias!

  4. Thanks NoVaNativ; I really appreciate the kind words. I haven't read this post since I wrote it over four years ago, but I could re-post it tomorrow and it would be accurate in my third tour now. I still feel overwhelmed and long for a stable routine sometimes, but the feeling of getting through a challenging experience makes you feel very alive. Suerte!