Saturday, September 4, 2021

I Got Promoted to 03!

I was so thrilled to wake up on Saturday morning to a flurry of congratulations text messages and emails letting me know I was promoted! All Foreign Service Officers are hired somewhere between the grades of 06 and 04. They count up in reverse order, and regardless of where you started everyone progresses automatically to 04 by the time you're up for tenure. Every promotion after you get tenure is competitive and based on your Employee Evaluation Reports (EERs).

Going up a grade makes you competitive for higher-level jobs and comes with an increase in pay. Like the vast majority of U.S. federal government salaries, our pay scales are public and you can see them online. So I just went from 04 to 03! (The levels above that are 02, then 01, then the Senior Foreign Service. There aren't as many grades as you would expect.) Something unique about these promotions is that cables (basically special emails) go out to the entire Department of State announcing the full list of people who were promoted at each level. That's how so many friends and colleagues found out I was promoted even before I did. (I was fast asleep here in Seoul when the cable came out worldwide.)

I know some people really hate the public nature of tenure and promotion lists, but I personally love it. The past few years I haven't even been eligible for promotion, but I enjoyed seeing colleagues and mentors on the tenure and promotion cables throughout and sending them congratulations. It's a great opportunity to catch up, maintain your network, and share in the joy for people you care about and respect. I received congratulatory messages from people I haven't seen in years, and it was great to reconnect.

If I have any advice for people who are trying to get promoted from 04 to 03, it's to try to focus on doing the most interesting work you can get with the best bosses you can find. If you're passionate about your job and surrounded be great mentors and people, you'll have plenty of opportunities to shine (and the EERs are so much easier to write). I didn't get tenured on my first look, but that didn't stop me from getting promoted at the first opportunity. All I had this year were three EERs, one of which was only about six months long instead of the usual year thanks to COVID 19-related delays. But I was fortunate to do fun, fascinating work with an array of great managers who valued my contributions and with whom I'd be happy to work again.

Talking to my entry-level peers, I realize that is not the case for too many of us. And of course, you have limited control earlier in your career when your assignments are directed. But if you don't get promoted in your first two tours, the greater power you have at the mid-level to decide your next steps might be just what you need to blow the socks off the next promotion board.

Honestly, this promotion felt so validating at a time when I've been shedding some of the meekness and fear of taking up too much space I had when I first started public service. My latest career motto is "Some things are worth burning a little corridor reputation for" and I have been trying to stay true to it in my second tour. (I'll do a whole post on corridor reputation at some point, but to sum up it's the professional reputation that determines so much of your fate in the Foreign Service.)

I couldn't picture myself ignoring inappropriate comments and putting my head down even when I shouldn't have to for the next 10-20 years, so I've started speaking up more. And although it puts some people off, I've found it's also brought me many new connections and allies. I'm so grateful for the mentors who blazed the trail and made a better institution for me, and I want to make sure I do the same for those who follow. And today it feels like even in this notoriously rigid, bureaucratic, resistant-to-change organization that there may be space for people like me. (Or that we can make it ourselves.) And that is something worth celebrating!

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