Saturday, October 08, 2016

Bidding Mid-Level - May the Hunger Games Begin

Image result for signposts for far destinations

Ahhh yes, it's that time of year again! 

The trees are mellowing from vibrant greens to muted browns with yellow highlights. The sunlight has a softer, less brilliant feel and the morning commute requires a jacket.

No, no - not autumn - it's BIDDING time of year! 

The time of year that affects whole swathes of the Embassy at once, regardless of rank.  The time of year when we all have to start jockeying for our next job. Bumping into a coworker from another section in the hallway about now and the conversation is likely to go something like this: 

"Urgh... I'm bidding now..." to which you must offer a sympathetic nod.

"What's looking good to you? Where're you thinking of heading?" 

A list of continents, countries, specific jobs or simply, "Probably DC" comes next, which then will generally prompt: "Hey, my former boss/coworker/A-100 classmate is now chief of the whichever section there, at least I think she's still there. Let's see we were together in Ottawa in 2010, transferred in 2013, then language- yup, she'd still be there. I'd be happy to put in a good word for you." 

And so it goes - welcome to the world of Mid-Level Bidding!

Let me back up just a bit for you.  As an FSO or an FSS, the first two tours are directed. This doesn't mean we don't bid - we certainly do (full description here)  but from the third tour onward, and once tenured, we're considered to be mid-level and therefore the process is completely different. 

I'll walk you through the step-by-step, but be warned that it's as simple as this:

It all begins when the bid list comes out. 

Hahahaha! Almost fooled you!  
See, actually it starts well before the "official" bidding season (and for the more compulsive among us, this was like a year ago) with a scroll through the Department's Projected Vacancies street of dreams and nightmares. This is a list of all positions that are projected to be vacant (hence the name) during a particular transfer season. In my case, this is summer 2017.  In the FS we have only two seasons: summer and winter. There is no such thing as spring or fall bidding.  The summer season has the vast majority of jobs as anyone with school-aged children wants to move while the kids are on break to not interrupt the school year.  (Come to think of it, I don't know how this fares for kids in the Southern Hemisphere, but that's something for another time.)  From this list we can see what may, probably, possibly be available when we'll be leaving our current posts.  Why all the qualifiers? Because so many things can change. People leave their post early (curtail); people request to stay longer (extend); jobs are moved from one job classification to another (ceded); jobs are eliminated and jobs are created. Therefore the Projected Vacancies list is considered very fluid, and nothing is set until the official start of the bidding season, which just happened a few weeks ago. Therefore, the Projected Vacancies list just gives you an IDEA of what MIGHT be available. For me, sometimes it's the carrot that keeps me going. 
Finally, they wave the green flag for the official start to the budding season, the real bid list is active, and we're off to the Lobbying and Bidding races!  

Lobbying essentially means "applying" for a position you like, but naturally it is a multi-faceted process involving many sub-steps and side roads.  The object of the game is to submit a list of five to 10 jobs which are appropriate for your job level, language skills, timing of arrival, required experience and - of course - somewhere you might actually WANT to go and where your family won't leave you if you get sent there.  A senior officer once told me, "When you start your career - all you care about is where you're going. Later on, it's about the job you'll be doing. And finally, you just care about who you'll work with."  So, keeping ALL this in mind, this first elimination round will take your list from perhaps hundreds of possibilities (at my level at least), down to about 20 you could stomach.  
We start like this:

Image result for flickr salmon swimming upstream

With this shortened list, the next step is to contact the people who currently have the jobs you like (the incumbent) and ask them what it's like. You'll want to know not only about the work itself, but also the rest of the package: job opportunities for family members, pet importation, the city, the country, the work atmosphere, available schools, the medical situation etc... You'll bug the incumbent for some of these details, but the rest you'll research on your own either through the Department's resources, word of mouth over lunch table conversations, or through online resources, like Talesmag. If after all that, the spot sounds like it might be a fit, you'll also ask the incumbent who the decision maker is/will be as you'll need this for the next step.

Next, you'll have to contact the decision maker(s) to actually lobby for the position. Here is where the process goes in a million different directions, because this now depends on whether the bureau in Washington (which could be a regional bureau or one broken out by a special purpose, called a "functional bureau"), or the actual post have a say in who gets selected for the job.  Frequently it means contacting BOTH the bureau and the post.  As a first timer to lobbying, there is all sorts of awkwardness about just HOW to go about this. Is it just an email? A cold-call? How formal? How casual? Do I attach resume and list of references or wait to be asked? What if they don't respond - when do I bug them again? Do we have anyone in common I can refer to as an ice-breaker? If so - did that person get along well with this person or would I be shooting myself in the foot to lobby Santa Claus by telling him that my good friend Mr. Scrouge thought I'd be a great fit for this job?

In the meanwhile, don't forget to request your 360s. 
Your 360s - or in the Consular Affairs Bureau, the "CBAT" Consular Bidding and Assessment Tool - are references from peers, supervisors and subordinates with whom you've worked and who can honestly judge your ability to do the job and whether or not you play nice with others.  Things like: Is she detail-oriented or big-picture? Is she better in a team or working alone? Does she contribute to a positive work environment? And finally... Would you work with this person again?  

Okay, fair enough. So these 360s are sent to a central repository where all decision makers can access them right?  Nice try pal, but it ain't that easy. 

Depending on which/how many bureaus one is lobbying, you may have to request multiple DIFFERENT types of 360s from all your colleagues, bosses and supervisees, each with different types of questions and methods of submission. Some are multiple choice, some want narrative, some use comparisons and some all of the above. And remember, not only are you going through bidding yourself, you're also writing these things again and again for others.  It's just the way it is. 

Okay, so now we've narrowed down the bid list to five to ten jobs that meet all the criteria.  Now we're looking something like this:
Image result for flickr salmon swimming upstream

I'm learning that one should really only lobby hard for jobs they really want.  Because besides feeling like a two-faced liar selling yourself by listing reasons why you are perfect for the job and why they should pick YOU YOU YOU, you don't want to get the decision makers all excited about you if frankly, you're just not that into them.  So you throw you hat in the ring for up to ten jobs, but maybe you only lay on the charm for your top few picks.  

As the bidding season progresses, you'll begin to interview for some of the spots. This is a bit like speed-dating over the phone and across the time zones and it's awkward as each party tries to read the other to determine if they're a good match in both skills and personality for the job.  But at the same time, you want to know if you stand a chance or whether the job is out of your league.  The closer all get to the decision-making wire (aka "Handshake Day"), the more the decision makers and the applicants start to feel each other out (not UP!) about how serious they are. Something informally called an "air kiss" may be offered to let the #1 pick know that they are #1 and if it is reciprocal, they could expect to be offered the job.

Which brings us to Handshake Day.

Yes, it is actually called that.  This year, it will fall on Halloween, which I find quite ironic as truly some of us will get treats and some of us will get a rock.

Or, to continue my prior analogy:

Image result for bear and salmon flick

Only now, being caught by the bear is a GOOD thing and not the end of life as you know it.

Unfortunately, Handshake Day is not a happy day for everyone, and there will be a great many (great) people who are NOT eaten by the bear and who will just slide back down into the pool below to try again with another bear.  You see, there are far more salmon than there are bears, particularly at my level.  

If one is not a "successful bidder" as it's called, they get to continue bidding, but now the list has been scraped down to the bones.  Only bad posts? No, it's not that at all. It just means that we bidders have to "be flexible" as they say, and look at jobs that might not have caught our eye the first time.  Consider regions previously unconsidered, consider learning languages never heard of or countries you'll have to explain to your parents.  This process can, and does, continue well into the new year!  However, as people are shuffled into spots - it's very possible that positions will open that are really awesome which the original selectee, for any number of reasons, has abandoned.  And before you know it - you're going to a place that you didn't even know was originally available. 

So that's mid-level bidding in a very large nutshell.

Now, if you're part of a tandem couple (two employees in the same family), you can expect your bidding strategy to go from this:

Tic Tac Toe Clip ArtTo something more like this:

Image result for rubik's cube

Next up:  Stay tuned to see what handshake day reveals!


  1. Best of luck and here's hoping you don't get a rock!