Monday, January 9, 2017

My Foreign Service Timeline

When I was applying to be a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, I checked FS personal blogs to see how long each phase of the process had taken others. I knew deep down that it varied wildly from cycle to cycle and from candidate to candidate, but I still felt better informed having seen timelines - especially recent ones. As a result, I'll provide my entire (successful) application timeline here. (I made it to the A-100 offer on my third attempt, failing at the QEP stage both of the previous two times.)

A brief explanation of each stage:

  1. The FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test) is the written exam.
  2. PNs (personal narratives) are submitted if you pass the FSOT.
  3. Your FSOT score, PNs, and CV are evaluated by the QEP (Qualification Evaluation Panel).
  4. You are invited to take the FSOA (Foreign Service Oral Assessment) if you pass the QEP.
  5. If you pass the FSOA, you apply for a medical and security clearance.
  6. After receiving your medical and security clearance, your file is submitted for a Final Suitability Review (i.e., where your whole application is evaluated to make sure you'd be a good fit).
  7. If you pass the Final Suitability Review, you get added to the Register (i.e., a hiring list) for your cone (i.e., career track).
  8. You stay on the Register, ranked by your FSOA score (plus some bonus points for things like language skills), until you are invited to an A-100 (i.e., orientation class).
  9. You accept your A-100 offer and make it off the Register.

Now, my timeline:

  • Oct. 9, 2015: Took FSOT
  • Oct. 29, 2015: Learned I passed FSOT and invited to submit PNs
  • Nov. 17, 2015: Submitted PNs (they were due Nov. 19, 2015)
  • Jan. 8, 2016: Learned I passed QEP and invited to FSOA
  • Jan. 11, 2016: Scheduled FSOA
  • Feb. 18, 2016: Took and passed FSOA (yes, they tell you the same day!) and started paperwork for medical and security clearances
  • Jun. 14, 2016: Received medical clearance
  • Sep. 28, 2016: Received security clearance
  • Oct. 5, 2016: Added to Register (Public Diplomacy) and ranked #3 with FSOA score of 6.0
  • Nov. 28, 2016: Received A-100 offer for March 2017

My experience is just one data point among many. I had a little over a year from my FSOT to my A-100 offer, which seems rather fast based on conversations with other applicants. That's partially due to the fact that I scheduled my FSOA right away (instead of six months in advance) and partially because my security clearance (the longest part) went more quickly than expected.

I'll try to go into more detail on certain non-obvious aspects of this process (without violating any non-disclosure agreements) as well as helpful advice I received in future posts.


  1. Hi,

    I think your blog creates some great insights into the life of a Foreign Service Officer! I am conducting research on diplomats as cosmopolitans for my MA Thesis. I would love talk to you for a qualitative interview. I am mainly interested in the everyday life and the challenges of living a mobile and transnational lifestyle. If you are interested and have some time, please reach out to me via my email ([email protected]) and I would love to provide some additional information about my project.


  2. An interesting podcast. Thank you. However, the US Foreign Service is not only the Department of State. There are commissioned Foreign Service Officers in the Departments of Agriculture (Foreign agriculture service, APHIS), Commerce and USAID. Perhaps a podcast about the diversity of the FS would be beneficial. Frankly, many State FSOs traditionally forget about fellow diplomatic passport holders in the other Foreign Affairs agencies.

    1. Great point! I try to mention the variety of Foreign Service jobs out there whenever I talk to interested folks, but I neglected to specify here that I'm talking about State. I am not qualified to talk outside of my own knowledge and experience as a State FSO, but please do recommend blogs from Foreign Service Officers at other agencies in the comments!

  3. Hi there!
    I found your blog from the "Employed" podcast. If I'm being honest, I listen to that episode often as motivation to achieve my career aspirations of being an FSO.
    However, one of my fears as an aspiring FSO is the idea of having to uproot my future family, is the only option for the SO of an FSO to work remotely?
    I find your tips on passing the FSOT super helpful, going to be taking it for the third time in Oct of 2023.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment! Some spouses work remotely (as mine currently does), some work in the private sector on the local economy of each country where the couple lives, some start their own businesses, some try to find spouse jobs at the embassy (as there are usually some jobs designated for spouses), and some join the federal government either as Foreign Service or as a remote-eligible Civil Service employee who can work in person when they're Stateside but go remote when they're overseas. I hope that's helpful.