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January 27th, 2014:

Career Development Officer

Everyone in the Foreign Service has a Career Development Officer. This person is a fellow Foreign Service Officer whose job is to help other FSOs map out a career path through the Service. The Foreign Service, like the civil service, has scales of seniority, and there are requirements that employees have to meet in order to advance up the scale. In order to be promoted to the most senior levels, for example, you have to serve a certain number of tours in a single world region, have proficiency in a certain number of languages, and have served in certain job categories. There are specific requirements to advancement, and it’s important to plan your career in a way to meet your advancement goals.

What’s interesting to me is that everyone, even the most senior person in the FS, has a Career Development Officer (CDO). After you have been around for a while, your CDO is less like an advisor, and serves more to double-check your qualifications for the jobs that you want to bid on.

If I wanted to become a career ambassador, then I would have to be strategic about planning my job path. Since I probably don’t have time to reach that level before I hit the mandatory retirement age of 65, I don’t have to worry about strategically choosing where I want to work. Instead, I can choose the jobs that are interesting and appealing to me.

My one-on-one meeting with my CDO was this past Friday. Like me, he entered the Foreign Service later in life. In his case, his kids were out on their own when he joined, so he was a little older than I am now when he joined. I like that his experience is similar to mine. I feel that he has an appreciation for my situation, and that his career advice is well-informed.

The purpose of the meeting was to plan for my first “bid.” Foreign Service Officers serve in a country for a fixed period of time (this period is called a “tour”), then we change to another post for another tour. For new officers, the first two tours are each two years long.

We reviewed the bid list, and I told him how I was planning to bid. He gave me some advice on how to rank the different posts, and how to annotate where appropriate. My wife was able to join the conversation via Skype, so she got to participate in the discussion and ask some questions, too.

I think that I know how I’m going to bid. For the initial tour, “bidding” really means ranking the 90+ posts on the bid list as high, mid and low choices. We indicate our preference, but the needs of the Service come before our preference. If you are the only French speaker in the class, for example, and there is a posting in Haiti that needs a French speaker, even if you ranked Haiti low on your preference list, you are probably going to be posted to Haiti.

If you know me, you know where I am expecting to be posted to. But it depends. With 80+ people to place, each of us new FSOs are pieces in a big jigsaw puzzle that the CDOs have to put together. Even though I don’t speak any Spanish, for example, if it works out that the Service needs a person in Argentina, and I’m the left over puzzle piece, then that’s where I will be posted.

These guys are professionals. They aren’t hacks – they know what they’re doing. I’m confident that they will make a good placement for everyone.