Friday, December 3, 2010

How I got five jobs in a crap economy and dealt with unemployment

I want to preface this post by saying that this is by no means a laudatory story. To the contrary, I spent roughly 4 months unemployed and another month underemployed. This was an immensely stressful time for me and if it weren't for my closets friends and family I wouldn't have stayed afloat. Thank you!

After Red took an opportunity down here in Austin to work for an advertising agency, I was still in Dallas rocking out home loan modifications on a contract for a large bank (it rhymes with face). We still had a few months left on the lease and no prospects for a new place to live. In fact we were hesitant to sign anything because the late summer/fall rates were inflated due to the influx of college students to UT. We rented a room from Red's best friend Cake Baker and I quit my job and moved to Austin.

I seem to have perpetually been in application mode since returning from the Peace Corps in August 2009. I've held up to this point a total of 5 jobs. Two were complete failures on my part, one was out of my career path and the other didn't pay enough. The third paid right but the work was dismal at best. Finally, after moving to Austin, being picky and actually turning down an offer, I found two amazing positions that are challenging, fun and will add depth to my Foreign Service application.

What did I learn from this process? Applying for jobs sucks, being unemployed was embarrassing and shameful to me. What excuse did I have? I was a returned Peace Corps Volunteer and college grad. I felt like I was treading water with no boat or land in sight. You can see from my posting history that there is a significant block of time where I didn't write anything. I couldn't write because I couldn't think of anything to say. Thankfully, I had a wonderful girlfriend and an incredibly supportive family. They pushed me to keep at it and not give up. Trust me, when your unemployed everyday is a battle. It is really easy to throw up your hands because of a set back or speed bump. Thank you again to all of you that gave me support and help, I won't ever forget it.

I would hazard a guess that I applied for over 70 jobs in the Austin area. Of those 70 jobs I received 30 responses and 15 interviews. Of those 15 interviews I had 7 second interviews. Of those 7 second interviews I was offered 3 jobs. I took 2. My interview/application rate steadily increased over time. I equate this to writing better and more concise cover letters. It all comes down to having a well written cover letter and a pithy and clean resume.


I was working without a network of people, which of course can be a huge asset. I'm sure that we've all heard the saying "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Which is very true, nepotism and cronyism is how the world works.


I experimented with different cover letter lengths and found that I tended toward the longer rather than shorter. This was a mistake because many recruiters and potential employers will look at 7-8 paragraphs and simply skip to the resume, not good. Keep the cover letter to 4-5 paragraphs. Write clean, and reread them. I can't count the times where I would write what I thought was a killer CL only to find a glaring grammatical error after I had sent it. Avoid a template mentality when writing CLs. Include the job description points and how you fulfill them. Locate the HR person and use their name in the heading. Make it personal.

The experience aspect can be stretched, we all do it. Include anything that might apply to the position even if you think it was insignificant. Strike an even balance between professional and personal, just harping on your experience and not why you want the position sounds robotic and inhuman.

Your resume should be 1 page unless you have lots of experience in one field. Find older and more experienced people to look at it. Send it out in .pdf format, this keeps the spacing locked and looks really clean when employers open it.

Interviews are another beast all together. This part was more nebulous to me because several times I walked out feeling that I had it, only to receive a letter politely telling me "Thanks but not thanks".  Other times, I felt I bombed completely only to be offered the job the next week.

Attire was another mixed bag. I initially went in dressed to the T, clean shaven and the whole nine yards. After several attempts I changed it up, wore more relaxed clothes (business casual) and let my facial hair get a bit scruffy. I felt I had more success dressing how I normally dress, though this could be psychological perhaps making me feel more relaxed.

Finally, this is a terrible job market. I asked most of the people I interviewed with how many applications they had received. Every job I applied for had over 100 applicants and most had over 300. One in particular had over 650. Remember, this is in Austin, with one of the best job markets in the country. Making it to an interview says a lot, that you were one of ten they selected out of hundreds, so take heart in that.

To anyone out there that is unemployed, keep your chin up. It's okay to feel pissed off, upset and dejected. I tried to put on a happy and optimistic face all the time but the reality is, it sucks, you are allowed to let it show occasionally. A strong determination to make things better doesn't mean it's going to be easy or that you have to like it.

Dutch Man

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

FSOT Redux

Another move? But of course, by now you know that 6 months is about the maximum amount of time Red and I can stay in one place. We are finally settling into our new condo which had a beautiful view of Lady Bird Lake and as anyone who has been to Austin knows is nothing more than a river. How long of a lease did we sign you might be asking yourself? Why, 6 months of course! The advantage of signing a 6 month lease on a condo is that our landlord is more than willing to go month to month after that, at the same rate. How could we pass that up?

Red has been a flurry of activity the last month and has carved out a nice niche for herself at the marketing agency. She's been putting in some major hours leading up to last week but finally crested the wave and is now enjoying back-to-back three day work weeks. Her Mom is coming this week to spend several nights with us and will be our first overnight guest. I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with her being that she lives in Amarillo and we rarely get to see each other.

A quick update on Downtown, she is loving the Ukraine and integrating just as quickly as I knew she would.  Here's a message she sent me a few weeks ago:

"today at lunch we had plain noodles with cutlit, and there was some mayo on the table and I thought that I would spice things up and I put some mayo on the plain noodles and I liked it.... mmm mayo noodles!! It made me think of when you told me that within 3 months I would be putting mayo on everyting and I told you that you were so wrong!! haha"

That made me smile and also miss my days in the old bloc. On a related note, I am flying to Denver after New Years to visit my PC buddies Peanut, Earth Baby, Z and Kare Bear. Maybe even Z's little dog Ursalica. We are having our first reunion and silliness, laughter and merriment are sure to be had in excess. I'm very happy that we are making this happen especially since its been over a year, barely but still...

It is closing in on that time and my preparations for FSOT Redux has officially begun. I've pulled out the books and completed but not sent in the application. I'm waiting until mid-January to submit it because I want as many eyes to edit it as possible.

This, upon further review of my last attempt, was my Wounded Knee. I reviewed my last application and had to turn off the computer in disgust.

A list of why my application stank

  • I did not include my entire job history
  • My job descriptions were vague and short
  • My qualifications section was vague and short
  • I came in woefully under the allotted character count
  • I did not sell myself well enough as a viable candidate

 My failure was due to hubris. I felt I would shellack the test, which I did, but failed to realize the QEP was as stringent as it was. I moved from FSOT preparation to FSOA preparation and cockily assumed my safe passage through QEP was a given. If I had a beard at the time I should have eaten it. Ok enough self-pity, yes I am a middle child so this a forte of mine.

How am I approaching the FSOT differently my second time around? I am not worrying much about the Job Knowledge and English Expression aspects, I will do some review of the Constitution, Econ and Management theory along with keeping up-to-date from my news sources. I am spending the majority of my time practicing the essay portion and Bio section. Although my Bio section score was strong, it felt the weakest. I am practicing by highlighting relevant events from my past that are applicable to this section. I would suggest coming up with ten events and experiences that would answer typical interview questions such as how have you managed a project or people in the past, etc... Having "sound bites" in your quiver is a great way to keep plodding through the Bio section.

The essay section is like a running a race. Training will allow you to finish faster and therefore correct the unavoidable mistakes and grammatical errors. I've found that one or two a week is good and upping to three the week before can't hurt. Time yourself of course and disable spellcheck. Try and finish with at least 5 minutes remaining, this is doable, but again, with practice. Don't second guess yourself, if something reads awkwardly, like many of these blog posts, delete it and rewrite it. Keep it punchy and vary sentence length. Follow the tried and true format:

  1. Intro/Thesis
  2. Transition/Point 1
  3. Transition/Point 2
  4. Transition/Point 3
  5. Conclusion/Restate thesis and summarize points

I wouldn't recommend trying for more than three points/ideas unless your typing skills are superb. I can consistently hit the high 50's and rarely get a 4th and 5th point into my practice essays. I know plenty of people that can type faster than me but at some point you're going to have to reread and edit what you wrote.

All for now. I wanted to talk about the Wikileaks cablegate but will save that for a latter post.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's all about relocation, relocation, relocation

I will avoid the requisite apologies for the vast time gap between posts, I know alright, and get right into it. Red and I moved to beautiful Austin, an amazing city, after she was offered a job working for a marketing company. One exhausting weekend of furious packing, 200 miles in a Uhaul and we were on to another adventure. Saying goodbye to Dallas was harder than I thought, given my general malaise about the city. Living in Deep Ellum, especially in the last few months before the move, was overall, a plus. We met some great people and felt a sense of community. It's nice when you know your local watering hole, bartenders, baristas, neighbors and business owners by name. But then again, there is a that old feeling of change and adventure I get from packing for a new place which tickles my feet and makes my heart beat just a tick faster.

We've been staying with Cake Baker, Down Town's older sister, for a couple of months in her and her husband's new house. Living with a professional baker is just how it sounds, AWESOME! There is always cookies and cake to be had and she is constantly experimenting with new flavors and recipes.

Down Town is now officially a Peace Corps Trainee in Ukraine and I will gladly take some credit for helping her make the decision. She seems to have a great attitude about the whole experience and is surviving Pre Service Training like a champ. Pre Service Training or PST is an all out 3 month marathon learning session. High stress and high intensity. PC intentionally makes it difficult to weed out anyone still on the fence. The attrition rate is about 40% and a good share of that comes from PST early terminations.

I am gearing back up for the February FSOT exam. I feel as though I learned from my mistakes last year and know what my weak points were (my application). I have a higher target this year, making it through the orals. I do worry a bit about my experience level and that I am still a few years under the average successful applicant's age (30). Regardless, if I have learned anything in my 26 years (yes, yesterday was my birthday) it's that the truly important things in life cannot be easily attained or purchased. They require planning, consistent and diligent effort and luck (Malcolm Gladwell would probably add a few things).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thought for food

I am finding a certain sick schadenfreude(check it out, it's a sweet word) watching the markets tumble and surge. As of 10:27 a.m. central time the Dow is down 256 points. While oil, the Euro and most other commodities continue to tumble, the dollar is surging. It's nice to see that investors have so much confidence in the U.S. economy, but they are driving up the price of exports in doing so. While I know that trade deficits are not a competition, I would feel better seeing the gap shrink a bit.

I also can't wait to see the price of gold fall. It is obviously far to inflated and has been increasing in value due to speculation and market volatility. I never understood why it became so popular? If people wanted safer waters during the great recession, why not purchase bonds or t-bills with a guaranteed rate of return instead of a commodity highly susceptible to speculative price inflation.
I suppose what it comes down to is my view that markets, while rational in times of relative stability, are susceptible massive irrationality or behavior in times of economic uncertainty. Just as a herd of water buffalo will trample each other at the first sign of a lion, markets will over speculate prices causing massive bubbles and busts. Take for instance the Mandelbrot study of cotton prices over a period of time, he came up with fat tails. According to rationalists, markets should fall neatly into rational models.

On average, the market will move a little up, a little down, or stay about the same. Of course there will be days where the markets surges or plunges, but thats ok because this is a rarity and according to the law of large numbers, should only occur once in a blue moon. But to have consecutive days, weeks, months of massive drops is somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 standard deviations out of the bell curve. Imagine flipping a coin 5,000 times and getting heads every time. Now look at the model below, the top represents the fat tails that Mandelbrot warned us about and the bottom represents a rational market, which one looks more like the Dow?

If anything can be learned it's that prices will never continue to rise without speculation fueling a boom and bust. When the boom comes, people will trample each other to ride the surging prices for ever increasing profits and when prices began to come down the selling will rocket prices to artificially low levels.

Just some musing about the economy... thanks for sticking with me on this one.

Dutch Man

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Really? I mean REALLY?

I usually don't get to fired up by what I hear on the punditry faux news hours, especially about domestic issues, but once in awhile they can get under my skin. Recently, Glenn Beck compared the Peace Corps, Americorps and the Foreign Service to..... drum roll please.... The Nazi SS.

Can we please stop comparing everything to Nazi Germany? The new AZ immigration law is not like Nazi Germany, Health Care Reform is not like Nazi Germany and the freaking PEACE CORPS is not like the SS.

While I can fall subject to hyperbole once in awhile, I mostly maintain an even keel (I leave the rants and raves to Red, she's much more adept at haranguing the pundits then I am). The problem here is using such unhinged comparisons. By juxtaposing every major new change to the Nazis, it is immediately impossible to make any kind of compromise. Simply put, it is divisive. As both parties paint themselves into corners, I find it harder to straddle the middle as I have done for so many years. When will cooler heads prevail?

Red recently spent Mother's Day and her Mother's Birthday up in North West Texas. Left to my own devices, I spent most of my time tidying up, researching OA online material and treating myself to a steak dinner. Apart from that I have been a bit of a gym rat, choosing to divide my time between cranking out the miles on a stationary bike or throwing around some weights. Finally, all the lactic acid has worked its way out of my muscles and I am slowly but surely adding minutes and pounds to each new work out.

Red's brother in law Roark (He's an architect and likes Ayn Rand, I'm sure you get the reference) is graduating this weekend so we are headed back out to east Texas for some R&R. I'm looking forward to getting out of the city for a few days.

In some other sad news, Downtown just learned that she won't be leaving for Peace Corps until at least September. While it will be nice to have her around for awhile longer, I feel bad that she has to reorganize her life again. The upside is that her new host country will be one of the following: Azerbaijani, Macedonia, Morocco and Mongolia. Awesome possibilities and she even has the coveted holy grail of PC countries, Morocco.

All for now.

Dutch Man

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On your mark, get set, WAIT!

Red has been putting me to shame lately on posts (we are competitive... really competitive) so it is time to fill in the gaps. I passed the FSOT, hurray, and submitted my PNQs (5 essays about myself in relation to the 13 dimensions from which State evaluates candidates) and now I wait for the mercurial QEP (Qualification Evaluation Panel) to divine my fate. How long do I have to bide my time? A maddening 3-7 weeks, yet another nebulous amount of indeterminate time put forth by my future employer.

Passing the FSOT was a massive relief. I no longer feel as though I am dangling off the edge of a cliff. At least I have the confidence boost and validation that comes with realizing the first goal in a string of ever increasingly more difficult goals. If I had failed I would have had to retake the exam 11 months from now.

Next up is the OA (Oral Assessment) which is an all day interview, structured in three parts, GE (Group Exercise), SI (Structured Interview) and CM (Case Management). I will go more in-depth about each of these parts in later posts. The bottom line of the OA is the magic score of 5.25. This is the minimum score needed to pass along to the next ring of fire. Of course, all potential FSOs aim for a higher score in order to be quickly pulled of the register of qualified applicants and placed in the highly coveted a-100 class. A-100 is the goal of all of this, the name of original room as the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) where all future FSOs trained.

Now comes a level of strategy. There are ways to get bonus points added to your overall score. I can add .17 to my score by testing out of a foreign language (Romanian for me of course) but that comes with the caveat that I must serve in a country thats speaks said language (Romanian) in one of my first two tours. Because Romanian is only spoken in two countries (Romania and Moldova) I am some what limited in my choices. Luckily I can register for a foreign language test "after" my OA. So, if my score comes to an anemic 5.25-5.3, you can bet an additional .17 becomes a lot more attractive.

In other exciting news, I am no longer a banking shill. Saturday was my last day at the bank and I am off to the soul fulfilling work of grassroots community organizing. I've joined up with an environmental lobby working to pass new clean water legislation through government mandated take back laws of electronics. Old laptop? Don't know what to do with it? Soon you will be able to chuck it in with the rest of the glass bottles, old newspapers and empty milk jugs. That is if we don't get vetoed.

Red and I rocked out a massive top to bottom cleaning of the apartment today. The concrete is shinning, the ducts are dusted and the bed is made. Z watched us whiz around the apartment happily perched on her favorite couch cushion. The pure enjoyment I get from a clean apartment cannot be measured.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fan Paparazzi Online Media on Facebook

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why are Southerners so ignorant?

So I had an epiphany the other day, well it was a long time coming because I have always struggled with this, but I think I may have found a reason to our ignorance... and yes, I said "our", as in, I am including myself in this band of dignified Southern idiots...

I've always considered myself a smart girl, I love to learn and if my classes were engaging enough (which for the most part, tended to be) I performed pretty well in them. I was involved in after school programs, I took all Honors and AP classes, but when I moved North for college, I could not help but be slapped in the face, daily, with my clear lack of knowledge... And in the South, I was considered one of the smart ones in my class! Sure they knew VERY little about the Alamo, the Battle of San Jacinto, and that there were in fact six flags that flew over Texas... But, I didn't even realize there was an "Upper Peninsula" to Michigan and my lack of worldly knowledge was flat-out embarrassing. I covered it up as much as possible, and tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible, but living day in and day out with a Yankee has forced me to re-evaluate the situation, and ponder if it was just me, or our whole Southern mentality.
I know what you are thinking, "Good 'ol W. Bush, cleared that up for us over the last 8 years Amber" and I agree, but it isn't the Fact that Southerners lack the worldly knowledge of Northern counterparts, it's the WHY.... Why, if I have put as much time into my education as he has, why am I still so far behind?

In a book I read recently, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, you can see my post on Outliers that provided a little insight into the education system and the differences in schooling for low income families versus higher income families... Basically it showed that due to the lower income families inability to involve their children in the after school and summer camp activities like higher income families, the lower income children lose a lot of their education over the summer. Meaning that students all learn at the same level, but due to the lack of stimulating activities, they fall behind. Well, I was from a middle class family and I did activities... So what the Heck?

So I thought a little more about my summer school and a majority of my after school activities, (which most of my Southern friends also involved in), and came to a realization.....
Most of my stimulating activity involved the church... Could it be? The church, which taught me many things about how to behave in life, taught me so little about worldly knowledge, or to question authority and "look it up myself". Could we be dumbing down our Southern generations with Jesus?
I am not going to get into a religious debate, but I am sure I could tell you the books of the New Testament, quote a parable for a troubling life issue, and go through the 10 commandments without hesitation. But ask me about the Bill of Rights and I am going to struggle, ask me to name all of the continents and I may be able to sweat them out, but it comes with a very strong maybe. Heck, ask me about to point out Iran and Iraq on a world map and I am lost.
If the church is the main place we (Southerners) turn to to raise our children with the proper values and life lessons, shouldn't we be equally as concerned about their knowledgeability in worldly lessons? Shouldn't we be instilling in them past historical lessons or worldly values. If we really want our children to succeed in world that is becoming increasingly smaller and increasingly flatter, why do we not ensure their success with education. We've seen what happens when someone that lacks this worldly knowledge comes into power... I've already named one, but I am sure we could all rattle of a bit more. How can we, the South keep going back!?!? Have you seen Texas's newest additions to our children's textbooks? It's pathetic. And even today we keep pushing more religion! Really?! My family was not even that religious and I assure you in my adult life, more religion was not what I needed. And now, we are closing schools, I believe 55 schools in this area due to lack of funds, but yet I swear I see a new mega church monthly, if not weekly.
I think it's way past time for a priority change Texas! I know Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth, but let's not make idiots out of our children to ensure the "South rises again".

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Red's First Entry
Well I'm finally doing it, adding the "Red" to The Adventures of Dutch and Red... You know it's funny, I have been writing blog posts for my clients for years but when it comes down to writing one for myself, I just really don't know where to start. Introductions sound silly, because chances are if you're reading this, you already know who "Red" is and living like I do with my emotions and opinions right on my sleeve, I am pretty sure you know well... And personally, I feel a little more comfortable saying my opinions, rather than writing them... they change too often to be able to be held that accountable :)

Nonetheless, I'll try to keep some focus to these, maybe cover specific topics, but that's not normally how things go, so bare with me...

As you know, a lot of things have been going on in the world of Dutch and Red... well since it's became a "world of Dutch and Red" a lot of things keep going on, and more seems to keep coming. Which by the way, is wonderful to me... I am sure I will get to a point where I yearn for quiet, stability and routine, but that's not where I am now... now I love all the ideas of new and exciting things to come .. not knowing exactly what or where things are going, but just working hard to try to make the most of the opportunities that come by. That's not to say that everything going on right now is where we want to be, but we are working to get to where we want to be, while understanding that the certain aspects of our life we would like to change, are helping us learn and grow in other ways we never thought we needed.
Actually, I believe that'll be "Red's" focus for these things (I need a point, otherwise I will just end up rambling nonsensically until not even I know what I was talking about anymore). Trying to gain experience or knowledge from the happenings of our life. That way, if Dutch and I are the only ones reading this, at least some knowledge or good with come from this blog :)

If It's Sunday, Then It Must Be Meet The Dutch

There is something truly amazing about Sundays. I'm not sure if its the brunch mentality, the morning political talk shows or the anticipation for the week to come. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy a good Sunday.

I've spent the last week working and trying to bolster a few lagging areas I have for the FSOT. Mainly its been writing out "talking points" for different essay topics, coming up with examples for the Bio section and reviewing some grammar. I plan on taking a practice test, start to finish, at some point before the test, more to gauge the time then anything else.

My studying is starting to pay dividends. My history and trade policy knowledge is much broader now, which were my weakest points a month ago. Also, my knowledge of the constitution is pretty solid but I fret over the fact that I may have spent too much time memorizing the articles and amendments and should have spent more time on congressional history e.g. bills, major decision etc... I guess its back to the books for now.

Wish me luck!
Dutch Man

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Saturday Afternoon Post

As the days go by, the test date (March 4th) is edging ever closer. With only ten days to go, I am in study overdrive mode. I've felt my confidence increase over the last few weeks and I feel as though I am doing all that I can to prepare. I have to say it will be a welcome relief when it's over.

The FSOT has been looming on the horizon for the past few months and has devoured vast swaths of my time. The more knowledge I consume the more gaps I feel I have. It's a bit of a whack-a-mole mentality, every time I cover a new subject, more and more issues and information seems to arise. Thats quite the juxtaposition isn't it?

Red has been doing a fantastic job supporting me and pushing me to keep at it. We rely on each other so much for support, especially at this intense time in our lives. I have to say that I do enjoy the pressure. Perhaps it's the fact that I will be competing against other candidates in a truly meritocratic way. No nepotism, no bias, no partisanship, only skill and knowledge determine who moves on.

My routine, while grueling at times, has been a nice change of pace from the free wheeling Peace Corps days. Waking up early to watch the news, work for most of the day, return and study for a few hours and find time to keep Red happy. I have a deep sense of satisfaction as my head hits the pillow every night; the feeling that this is the right path for me; the feeling that through the challenge and adversity, I have the ability to rise and meet it.

Currently I am working on these subjects:

  • Memorizing the Constitution
  • Reading Diplomacy Lessons
  • Reading Global Economics and Trade
  • Reading The Economist
  • Reading Bloomberg News
  • Writing an essay every couple of days
  • Writing my Bio highlights
  • Reviewing Grammar rules
  • Playing Trivial Pursuit with Red
  • Taking practice FSOT tests
Enough with the FS compendium.

Life in the City has been a mix of emotions. I struggle to make friends and meet people that share common interests with me. Although, I have joined some of the RPCV (Returned Peace Corp Volunteer) groups in the area and met up with a RPCV from Ukraine. Being able to talk about our experiences was really a great time. Having someone who truly understands what living in eastern Europe is like made me feel a real sense of camaraderie with him.

Also, I've been working with a woman from Romania, which provides me a great opportunity to dust off my language skills. I worry about losing the language, so its a welcome treat to be able to talk with a native speaker once in a while.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Move along now

Just got back from a camping trip with Red that ended in complete disaster. It started so promising with a visit to Red's best friend "Cake Baker" down in Austin. We had a great time watching the Saints win with some crazy Louisianians.

The next day we charged up with coffee and headed out to Colorado Bend State Park, about a hour and a half drive from Austin. The weather channel called for 60's and sun with an overnight around the 40's. What we got was 60's and clouds and an overnight in the low 20's. Needless to say, camping in sub-freezing temperatures is a miserable experience.

We woke up to find a thin layer of frost covering everything, looked at each other, and decided mother nature had won this time. After retreating to the car and trying to resuscitate our trembling limbs it was clear that we weren't going to be camping another night.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise because now I have more time to catch up on my reading. Diplomacy is a fascinating book and fills in the gaps, but with a such a huge cast of characters, countries and alliances, it takes a lot of concentration to keep everything straight.

All for now, I will upload a few photos from the camping trip as soon as I can find the camera.

Dutch Man

Monday, January 18, 2010

On Cones, Tests and Interns

Happy MLK day. I am using my day off to catch up on some studying, practice tests and writing an intern plan for "Red" and "Blondie's" company. Hopefully after I finish up the FSOT (Foreign Serive Officer Test) I will have time to play a more active role.

I would like to take a few minutes and explain exactly what the Foreign Service is, what "cone" I am choosing, and how the test is formatted.

First, what the Foreign Service is. I am essentially applying to become a diplomat. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 Foreign Service Officers employed by the State Department, organized into five different "cones" or specialties. They are as follows: Economic, Public Diplomacy, Political, Management and Consular. I've chosen Political.

The main duties of the Political cone are to follow political events within the host country and send any developments up the chain of command. Also, a political FSO (Foreign Service Officer) will communicate official statements from the U.S. government to host country officials.

A successful political FSO needs have reliable contacts within the host country, able provide consistent and accurate information; travel widely and understand local language and customs; be able to negotiate and communicate effectively with host country officials.

For more information check out the State Department's website.

The FSOT is the first step in the process, after the initial application, towards becoming a FSO. The FSOT has four sections comprising of one essay, a job knowledge portion, EE or English expression and a short answer/multiple choice biographical section.

To say the test is hard would be an understatement. Known as the test that can't be studied for or the Jeopardy test, the FSOT is a comprehensive examination of politics, history, the supreme court, congress, the president, management, economics, trade relations, popular culture, grammar, world history, geography, math and statistics.

With such a large swath of subjects to study, picking and choosing what books to read is crucial to passing the FSOT. I've opted for a mixture of text books including English grammar, essay writing, organizational management, AP world history, Oxford's history of the 20th century and two FSOT exam prep books. To supplement this I am also reading Kissinger's Diplomacy, listening to POTUS, NPR and BLOOMBERG news, reading the Economist, Foreign Policy and renting two 5 part documentaries on the Constitution and the Supreme Court. Throw in websites like, and the invaluable Yahoo group dedicated to the FSOT, and I feel as though I am covering my bases pretty well.

I will receive my testing date via email sometime in late January and most likely will take the exam towards the end of February. Until then it is nose-to-the-grindstone studying.

Dutch Man

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Yes I know, it's a pretty warmed over Chinese proverb but I feel that it still rings true. To bring you all up to speed, which means an audience of about 3, I am a returned Peace Corps volunteer or RPCV attempting to join the Foreign Service. More on that later.

I recently completed a two year and change stint in the country of Moldova working in a small village, promoting community development and health education. To say that the experience was life changing would be an understatement.

After an up and down two years, mostly up, with Peace Corps, I returned home for a nice leisurely jaunt around the United States for about 6 weeks with with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and great friend "little guy". We camped, we hiked, we ate and really got to know our home country again out of the back of a VW Jetta.

When the road trip to end all road trips finally did end, I moved in with my beautiful, smart and very patient girlfriend "red". The past two years had been tough on the both of us but also strengthened our relationship in ways I could not have foreseen.

So that brings us to now, the point of this blog. I am preparing to take the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test). I need a forum to write out my thoughts, perhaps place some of my practice essays up for universal criticism and generally receive feedback on how I am ruining my life or making one of the greatest Decisions EVER!

So what will you find here? Some musing on current events, meaningless personal anecdotes, some of life's follies and foibles and one man's journey of what feels like a thousand miles.

What won't you find? Personal attacks, names of friends and family, breaches of the Non-Disclosure Agreement and finally that all opinions are those of the writer and not of Peace Corp, State department or any other organization.

So stick around reader....

Dutch Man