I’m in the process of choosing where I want to work for two years, beginning two years from now.
As a place to work, the Foreign Service has a lot of quirks. One of the quirks is the paradox of job stability and work instability. Although we enjoy the job security of government employment, we have to change the location of our work, and the content of our jobs, on a regular basis. Every two or three years, we have to find a new job.
We work in U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world. Every one of the 200+ “posts” around the world is staffed by Foreign Service Officers. We have to have expertise in the local language, and political, economic, and cultural situations of the countries in which we work. But we aren’t allowed to stay too long. We work in a post for a set amount of time. A typical “tour” is two or three years. After our tour is over, we move on to another post, usually in another country.
I’ve been in China for almost a year. My tour will end in summer 2016. Not all tours have the same beginning and end date, though. Tours are starting and finishing constantly. In order to prepare for the continual migration of officers from one post to the other, the process begins early. Although there is over a year before my current tour is over, I am already looking at the possibilities for my next tour. Officers typically know where they will next serve well before their current tour is over. I will probably have my next job a year before I leave this job.
The process is simple. We are given a “bid list.” This is a list of the jobs and locations that will be available. There are over 500 jobs on my list, and the jobs are literally all over the world. From places that most people recognize, like London and Tokyo, to places that most of my friends don’t recognize, like Skopje and Vientiane. To my delight, Ouagadougou is even on the list!
My task is to decide from among those 500+ jobs, which 30 I would most like to do. Then I make a case for why I should get those jobs. This is called “bidding” for a job. My Career Development Officer in DC will then place me where I fit. With luck, I will get a job from the top of my list. However, we are worldwide available, and we are expected to go where we are needed. I could be assigned to a job that isn’t even on my list.
Most of the jobs require language training (I don’t speak Spanish, French, Japanese, Swahili, Turkish, Lao, Georgian or Macedonian). Depending on where I am posted next, my job could begin as late as summer 2017, a full year after leaving my current post. Some jobs don’t require language, so I could be back on the job right after this tour is over.
Bidding is exciting, nerve-wracking, and scary. My long-suffering wife, who likes stability, is amazed by this process. I believe that she used the word “crazy” to describe it. I don’t know if this is the most efficient way to place diplomats, but I can’t think of a better way.
I also can’t think of a better word to describe it. But I’ll be diplomatic, and call it “complex.”