Thursday, January 27, 2011

My OA Experience

I wrote this up for the FSOA Yahoo Group, but I figure I should post it here, too. This was 1st attempt at the Oral Assessment, and I passed with a 5.6. Adding in my SCNL and veteran bonus points that means I should be pretty high on the register when all my clearance stuff come through.

I arrived in Atlanta on the afternoon of the 20th with plenty of time to get checked into my hotel and scout out the location of the OA. I had prepared a strategy for all three sections based on the information I gathered in the files of the FSOA Yahoo Group, but it ended up flying out the window the minute we sat down to do our GE. One of the other individuals in my GE was very assertive and assigned everyone their roles and also grabbed the paper they dropped in the middle of the table. I found that just being myself (and being very organized in my presentation) were probably the key factors in passing this section. Personally I feel being calm, collected, and most of all *collaborative* are the keys to passing the GE. You must speak up (it’s been said a hundred times, but they can’t assess what they don’t see), but be polite, interested, and above all make sure to be the guide towards consensus. If you are not used to speaking in public, I highly recommend finding a study group or just practicing with friends and family. I often participate in meetings like the kind the GE is meant to represent (although we don’t generally have such time limits), so I felt very comfortable speaking in front of others even on a topic I wasn’t very familiar with. Also, I recommend learning how to structure a briefing (since that’s what your 5min presentation really is). None of my other GE members passed that day, and I would venture that not being well organized was a part of that (again, that’s just my observation).

CM was the second section for me, and since I am a pretty fast reader and typist, I did not find the time constraints to be too bad. In fact, I finished with about 20min to spare, which I think was my downfall in this section (I did not pass CM) because I started to second guess myself, went back and started changing my original memo which caused it to go over the 2 page limit. Then I started editing the crap out of it to keep it within the 2 page max, and I think I ended up weakening my overall recommendation. In studying for the CM, I would highly recommend practice, practice, practice. If you are not a fast reader or typist, these are things you can improve through practice, especially if you have several months between the time you pass the QEP and take the OA.

The third section for me was the SI. I passed this section, although I came out of it with mixed feelings. I have to say, BEX is good! One of my self-assessed strengths is that I am very good at reading people, and they were very hard to read! They definitely played the good cop/bad cop, and I came out of there feeling like one of them loved me and the other one hated me! This was not the case as the “bad cop” assessor was the 1st to congratulate me on passing the OA, and she was very, very nice. So don’t be nervous about the reactions you get from BEX, just do your best, stay calm and collected, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Some of the questions they ask are very complex and it will not hurt to ask them to repeat all or part of the question (but it will definitely hurt if you don’t give a full answer). I had prepared the most for this section (since it is one you really can prepare for since you are the one who knows yourself best), but most of my preparation went out the window as soon as the questions started rolling in. My best advice on this section is to speak from the heart. One of the questions was not something I had a ready answer for, so I spoke about my son’s disability and some of the challenges I faced as a mother, and I actually got a little choked up during my answer. I was a little worried that letting my composure slip would cost me points, but now I think it may have helped since it was clear that I was passionate about what I was talking about and I made sure that the concepts were directly relevant to how I would serve as a FSO.

Once that section was over, the waiting began! It wasn’t too bad since we were a relatively small group, and they actually shortened the day so that we were completely done by 3pm. Still that wait to get the results is just excruciating! Luckily, I took the OA with a fantastic group of people (I was really surprised that there weren’t more passers as there were some very accomplished people in there with me, including 3 lawyers and a congressional aide), so we killed the time by telling stories and laughing, we were a very jovial group! I can’t say whether there’s anything to the last man standing concept, but in my case I was the second to last person called, and the other passer that day was the last person called. One of my SI assessors walked me down the (very long!) hall where I found a group of assessors standing around waiting for me. Then everyone began to shake my hand and congratulate me for passing the OA; I was in such shock, I didn’t even know how to respond! I had a lot of paperwork to fill out since I am married with 3 kids, so I ended my day at about 4:30pm. Now I just have to wait for all my clearance paperwork to go through to find out where I stand on the register. I already have a TS/SCI clearance through another agency, but the DSS members who took my fingerprints and released my SF-86 were unsure whether that would have any bearing on how quickly my DoS clearance would come through.

Just as an FYI, all this means is that I have some more waiting to do before we find out when/if I'll be called up for an A-100 class (like boot camp for FSOs). These classes are only held a few times a year, and you have to hold a high enough spot on the register to get the call (meaning that even making onto the register doesn't guarantee you a spot!). I'll stay on the register for 18mos and if I haven't received a call by the time the 180mos is up then I have to start the whole process over again. I think my score is pretty good, and I have a very good shot at getting the call once all the paperwork is completed (could take 4-6mos) so hopefully the wait won't be too long. I guess we'll find out! :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm Back

Yeah, I know it’s been a while. Sorry ‘bout that. To recap the last few months: went to sister’s wedding in France; traveled in Italy w/Hubs & parents; hosted Thanksgiving w/parents, cousins, & aunt and uncle; had s-kids here for X-mas break; started the New year with 1 kid in club volleyball, 1 kid in dance, gymnastics, and piano, and 2 kids in ice skating. Whew! Oh, also new: I received a conditional offer of employment from the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer.

What? What’s that you say? You had no idea? Well, that was sort of the point. I started this process back in June of last year when I took the 1st of many, many steps by passing the written exam known as the FSOT. Actually, the State Dept website explains this whole process a lot better than I could, so here’s a link to their version. I didn’t want to say anything about my interest in becoming an FSO until I knew it could in fact become a reality instead of just a big, fancy fantasy in my mind. Now that I’ve passed the last step…more waiting! I now have to get medical clearances & have DoS recognize my DoD security clearances, then pass the final review before my name officially goes on the hiring list. Luckily with my decent OA score and all the bonus points I get for my language & being a veteran, I should be pretty high on the list once I make it there. What does this all boil down to? Probably no job offer for at least another 6mos or so.

Anyway, now that I have made it to this stage, I feel like I can start talking about everyday life stuff again. We’ve been in limbo for the last 9mos waiting to see if I’d even make it this far, so it is a big sigh of relief to get back to life as usual. I promise to start posting lots more inane, everyday stud and keep this blog updated. Can’t let the last 5 years go to waste! :)