Friday, February 4, 2022

Where We're Going Next!

I'm so excited I can finally share the news about our next assignment! I've known about it for months, but I wanted to wait to post about it until my departure date was confirmed. (That part turned out to be more complicated than expected.) We're thrilled to share we'll be returning home for me to take a one-year assignment in Washington, DC!

So what's the job? I'll be a Staff Assistant for the Front Office of the Near East Affairs (NEA) bureau. At the Department of State, NEA covers the Middle East and North Africa. (If you're curious, you can see the full list of covered countries and areas on the State website.) It will be a very intense year, but I'm excited to make my way back to the bureau where I originally envisioned spending most of my career. It should also set me up nicely for an onward assignment in the region, but the jury's out on that benefit until after the next bidding season.

I mentioned the departure date was a little complicated... Since my arrival to Korea was delayed during the pandemic, I was technically pushed from the summer bidding cycle (with my original planned arrival date of July 2020) to the winter cycle (with my actual arrival of November 2020). With a two-year assignment, that means my estimated departure date was November 2022 and I was scheduled to bid mid-level for the first time on the winter cycle. As the winter cycle approached, however, I saw two job openings pop up on the summer cycle that I really wanted to go for: a PD job in Doha and the Staff Assistant job in DC.

After giving my Career Development Officers (CDOs - I have two because I'm on the border between entry-level and mid-level right now) a heads-up, I decided to apply for both jobs. I heard bidding mid-level for the first time could be brutal, so I figured if I didn't get either job then I would just bid normally on the winter cycle as I'd previously planned. It's tough because new mid-level officers have to compete with those with more experience, tours, and connections under their belt. I heard a lot of horror stories about great Foreign Service Officers who couldn't get a single offer on handshake day (the day when offices and posts extend their official offers in the form of what are called handshakes). So I collected references, updated my resume, and hoped for the best.

Needless to say, my bidding experience was extremely unusual. I only had one interview for the Staff Assistant job, and they even sent me (and all the applicants) questions in advance so we could prepare our best answers. I was very impressed with the office's clear and prompt communication on their expectations and timeline. Even though I knew lobbying is a critical component of bidding, I decided not to ask my mentors and others to lobby for me for a few reasons. First of all, I wanted to save my lobbying firepower for the winter cycle where I thought it was more likely I'd need it. Second, most of the people I worked with in Africa and East Asia didn't seem to know the decisionmakers in NEA anyway. To my astonishment, three people at my current post lobbied for me anyway after I asked them for information about the job and the office I was bidding - including one person who had never even worked with me but who was willing to put his reputation on the line for my sake on the sole basis of my corridor reputation. I was very moved, especially because that individual had such a stellar reputation himself.

A few weeks later, with no additional effort, I received the Staff Assistant job offer and accepted it. I still had multiple interviews scheduled for the Doha job, so I contacted those decisionmakers to let them know I'd accepted an offer for another position and needed to cancel my interviews. I was also thoroughly surprised at the positive response I received to my request to cancel those interviews: everyone was courteous, professional, and a few of the interviewers even told me they hoped I would consider their office for future bidding because they thought I'd be a great fit. NEA has an outstanding reputation for bidding, and that matched my experience. I couldn't help but chuckle remembering some of my negative bidding experiences in other bureaus from when I was originally looking for a post-Baghdad assignment and some offices didn't take me as seriously as a newer officer.

The catch was, my new office wanted me there in August and my current post didn't want me to go until November. After much negotiation, angst, and stress (for me), I finally worked out a September 2022 departure. The hardest part of that whole process was seeking approval from ELGEN, the part of the CDA/EL office at the Department of State that approves departure adjustments of more than +/- 30 days for entry-level Foreign Service Generalists like me. I highly recommending avoiding it if at all possible.

Nevertheless, we're looking forward to being back home, especially with our little one in tow, this year. And there's such peace of mind in having at least our next assignment sorted out along with a timeframe. This is one of my favorite parts of my job, and I can't wait to see where it takes us next.

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