Wednesday, September 22, 2021

What's Corridor Reputation?

I was surprised when writing my previous blog post on my recent promotion and referencing "corridor reputation" to realize that I hadn't done a blog post explaining it yet. So for those who are unfamiliar with how things work in the Foreign Service (or who are just very new), here's a brief introduction. Corridor reputation is kind of what it sounds like: what people know and say about you and whisper to each other in the literal and metaphorical hallways of the Department of State.

Where corridor reputation comes most into play in the Foreign Service is for bidding, or getting your next job. For decades, hiring managers have used corridor reputation to help determine whom they select for a job (and whom they avoid like the plague). Applicants do the same thing: for example, when I learned I was heading to Seoul for my second tour a friend of mine warned me about a particular manager at the Embassy there who had a terrible corridor reputation. Specifically, this manager was known for making inappropriate comments, picking on their subordinates, and overlooking the forest for the trees. And honestly, I saw for myself that that particular corridor reputation was well earned.

People tend to feel very strongly one way or another about corridor reputation. I've heard multiple experienced Foreign Service Officers say things like, "Promotions and awards are unfair, but bidding and corridor reputation are usually spot-on." At the same time, many officers - especially women and minorities - have pointed out how a process that relies on something as opaque and schmoozy as corridor reputation perpetuates networks of "old boys' clubs" and is rife with unconscious bias. Some argue it is no better than gossip subject to the same whims as any high school popularity contest.

I have conflicted feelings about it. I see the real damage it has caused but I've also seen people dodge bullets thanks to corridor reputation. I'm sure there must be a better way to keep the good parts and mitigate the bad, and there have been several very thoughtful pieces addressing this issue recently. This year, there are also several pilot programs ongoing with Department of State Foreign Service bidding that aim to explore alternatives to the existing, corridor reputation-dependent system.

So what do you think? Does corridor reputation help or hurt? Is there a better way we should be doing things? Let me know in the comments - I love hearing people's thoughts and new ideas about it!

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