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Foreign Service Officer


About the Foreign Service
Taking the Written Exam
About the Career Tracks
About the Oral Assessments
April 2004 Exam Results

About the Foreign Service

Q. What is the entry-level salary for a Foreign Service Officer?

A. The entry-level salary for Foreign Service Officers ranges from the mid-thirty to the high-sixty thousand dollar range, depending on education level and prior work experience. Junior officers generally serve their first two tours overseas, for a total of four years, and benefit from overseas allowances, including housing and financial incentives (e.g., hardship differential), which make for an attractive overall compensation package. For the complete list of benefits click here.

Q. Are there employment opportunities for spouses overseas?

A. Yes. Employment opportunities for spouses vary by country of assignment. The Department's Family Liaison Office maintains a listing of job opportunities at most posts and may be contacted directly once an assignment is known. The Department also has a growing number of "tandem couples" in which both spouses work for a foreign affairs agency of the U.S. government.

Q. Will my family get to travel and live overseas with me?

A. Spouses, children under age 21, and, in rare cases, dependent parents may accompany Foreign Service employees abroad at Government expense. However, the rules for claiming your parent or parent -in-law are strict, and involve showing proof that they have been more than 51% dependent on you for an extended period of time. Security concerns and lack of adequate educational or health facilities at certain posts may dictate against eligible family members accompanying the officer to such posts.

Q. Do many FSOs bring their own vehicles on assignment?

A. Yes, certainly. They might opt to bring their own car, or they might buy one from a departing colleague when they arrive at post. There are a number of possibilities. Just keep in mind though that you are limited sometimes by certain restrictions - right-hand drive cars, sometimes limitations on retractable headlights, emissions, etc. All of this information about a particular country is readily available to you as part of the assignment bidding process so you can be well informed.

Q. Are there programs that help JOs (Junior Officers) adjust to their new duty station?

A. Yes - each overseas post and American Embassy has an Orientation Program for all new arrivals at post. You are also assigned a "sponsor," an official sponsor and a community sponsor who matches your interests and family composition. You are very well cared for!

Q. What household items do you recommend a JO store and which do you recommend they bring to their new duty station?

A. Good question. Of course it depends on your state of life, i.e., married, single with kids, etc. I took stuff I wanted to have and didn't worry about it but when I joined I was coming out of grad school and didn't have much. It also depends on whether the post is a limited or full shipment post. You should always bring things that will make your home overseas your personal home.

Q. Does the Department of State consider lesbians and gays for employment? What if I have a live-in partner?

A. It is the policy of the Department of State to provide equal opportunity and fair and equitable treatment in employment to all persons without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, political affiliation or marital status, or sexual orientation.

Q. How much exposure/experience in the local culture do you have an opportunity to enjoy?

A. You have lots of opportunity to enjoy the local culture - compare it to the time you have available right now when you go home after work. The host country is your home - after work every day and on weekends. You are a U.S. government representative - but you are also a resident and a tourist if you want to maximize it!

Q. Can I defer my entry in the Foreign Service?

A. The appointment process to become a Foreign Service Officer requires strong commitment. Occasionally, candidates do request deferral of an offer of employment for a variety of reasons, including job, family or continuing education commitments. Extensions of up to two years may be granted for time spent on required activity or reserve military duty, or in U.S. civilian government service abroad, including Peace Corps. Requests for extensions on any other basis will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Candidates remain subject to the time limitations set on how long their names can remain on the career track list of eligible hires and the register.

Q. Do I have to accept every assignment that is offered?

A. Foreign Service personnel can express their preference for postings, but must be willing to serve worldwide according to the needs of the Service.

Q. Does the system tolerate dissent?

A. As public servants, Foreign Service Officers must publicly defend U.S. government policy, despite personal reservations. There is an internal channel through which an employee may present dissenting views on specific foreign policy issues. If an officer cannot publicly defend official U.S. policy, he or she has the option to resign.

Q. Will the Federal government repay my college loans?

A. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has implemented a program for the repayment of student loans. Under this program, agencies may pay up to $4,000 per employee per year. In return, an employee must agree to remain with the paying agency for at least three years. For the complete list of benefits click here. (link to foreign service benefits page)

Q. Are veterans given hiring preference?

A. Veterans who qualify as preference eligibles are entitled to an additional 5 to 10 points added onto their earned rating in a competitive civil service examination. In all other situations, veterans' preference is not a factor.

Q. Are non-citizens eligible for Federal employment?

A. Under Executive Order 11935, only United States citizens and nationals may compete for competitive jobs. Agencies are permitted to hire non-citizens only when there are no qualified citizens available. A non-citizen may only be given an excepted appointment and may not be promoted or reassigned to another position in the competitive service, except in situations where a qualified citizen is not available. The non-citizen may be hired only if permitted by the appropriations act and the immigration law.

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Taking the Written Exam

Q. Where can I find sample exam questions?

A. The 2004 Exam Registration Booklet contains sample questions. You may download the booklet from this web site:

Q. Does the Foreign Service look more favorably on individuals with advanced degrees or foreign language skills?

A. There is no set educational level or foreign language skill required to join the Foreign Service as an Officer. Some F. S. Specialist positions do have degree requirements. Most officer candidates possess a Bachelor's degree; over three quarters of recent hires have advanced degrees, typically in public administration, international relations, history, law, or public administration. Candidates may qualify for bonus points to improve their position within the register list by taking a telephonic language test which assesses speaking proficiency only. The Foreign Service will train officers in job skills or languages required for assignments.

Q. If the retirement age is 65, would the Foreign Service hire someone over 55 knowing that they will only have a 10-year return on their investment?

A. To enter the foreign service you must be tested and processed in through clearances and be ready to enter an A-100 class by the time you are 59.

Q. Do applicants fill out an application prior to taking the written exam or does that occur afterwards?

A. Passers of the written exam fill out the Application for Federal Employment.

Q. What is the minimum passing score for the written exam? Secondly, if I do not pass, can I retake, and how often?

A. The cut score varies from year to year and is dependent upon hiring needs. You may retake the exam as often as it is offered.

Q. When is the best time for us to be at the test center, not too early and not too late?

A. 8am.

Q. Can I switch career tracks before the test?

A. Yes, the day of the written exam is your last chance.

Q. Do most people actually show for the exam?

A. Yes, more than half.

Q. Are there timed sections of the written, and if so, is it difficult to finish on time?

A. All the sections are timed and you will need to pace yourself.

Q. Are there any set strategies for taking the test?

A. It pays to guess, eliminate any obvious wrong answers, get a good night's sleep, and have a hearty breakfast.

Q. What happens if you don't speak a foreign language but pass the written and oral?

A. You will be trained in the language that you need for your assignment.

Q. Does everyone take the same written exam, regardless of which track we will ultimately pursue?

A. Yes.

Q. What percentage of takers pass the written exam?

A. There is no set percentage that pass. The "passing score" depends on our hiring needs. In general, however, about one third of takers have been asked to continue on to the next phase, the oral assessment.

Q. Just to make sure; other than the admissions letter and perhaps a pencil or pen, is there anything else I should bring with me to the written test?

A. You'll need pencil and pen, your admissions ticket, AND a photo I. D.

Q. Who prepared the exam? College professors or State Dept. officials?

A. Professional "test-makers" at ACT prepare our exam questions.

Q. Can you give me an idea of the average time frame from taking the written exam to completing the whole process (Oral, clearance, medical)?

A. It all depends on whether issues arise in either the medical or security clearance processes. It can take as little as 60 days (sometimes even less), but it can also drag on almost indefinitely if there are issues that defy resolution. Such cases, fortunately, are rather rare, and we generally know within 120 days or so whether the clearances will be forthcoming.

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About the Career Tracks

Q. What are the Career Tracks or Cones?

A. The Foreign Service is made up of five different career tracks, formerly known as cones. At the beginning of the hiring process, you must choose a track. The Tracks are Economic, Public Diplomacy, Consular, and Management & Political. To assist you with your decision, we developed a questionnaire to help you match your interests to the career track that may be right for you.

Q. As a potential Managerial FSO, what would be the kinds of positions available as a junior officer? I understand that the first tour is usually consular, but what kinds of things after that?

A. There are a lot of different possibilities depending on the size of a post. If you go to a large post you might serve as a General Services Officer or a Human Resources Officer. If you go to a small post, you might be in charge of all management issues.

Q. Does taking posts outside of your designated career track adversely affect you when it comes to tenure?

A. Your posts prior to tenure aren't "unlimited." Posts offered to Junior Officers are designed to give them the necessary career track experience to move them toward tenure.

Q. Can you explain more fully what is involved with a "consular" position? Contrast with "non-consular" positions?

A. Consular officers are specifically responsible for visa adjudication (both non-immigrant and immigrant) and with American citizen services. That is their particular area of expertise. Other officers in the post generally do not get involved in those areas unless emergencies arise or policy issues crop up.

Q. If possible, could you talk about the day-to-day job of an FSO, specifically a political officer?

A. Political officers get to know local political leaders, journalists, and labor leaders, as well as federal, state, and local government officials. If a political officer reads a controversial article in the local press one morning, he might call a local contact, arrange lunch to discuss the contact's views on the controversy, and spend the afternoon putting together a report for his boss or Washington.

Q. May I change to a different career track?

A. It is a long, difficult, formal process to do that. It's highly unlikely it would happen as such changes are based on the needs of the FS. There would have to be a shortage of officers in the career track which you prefer before you could apply to change.

Q. Besides selecting a career track, is it possible to develop a regional expertise, especially if one is fluent in one or more languages?

A. It is not unusual throughout a 20-30 year career that an officer will develop a regional specialty.

Q. Why does State require people to pick a track so early in the application process and then make it so hard to switch? Seems like a lot of people could choose poorly due to lack of info.

A. We need to know who wants to do what for workforce planning purposes and to look at their background at the oral assessment. We urge people to look carefully at the options before they choose.

Q. Is there a mentoring process? Who will, or should, provide initial career guidance?

A. There are mentoring processes which kick in from the minute you pass the oral assessment. Once you join an A-100 class you will have a formal Career Counselor as well as an assigned mentor from a group of volunteer mentors. You'll get lots of advice and guidance throughout your career.

Q. What is the difference between a specialist and an officer?

A. Specialists are. Medical Specialists, Office Management Specialists, Information Management Specialists, Diplomatic Security Agents, Human Resource Specialists, etc. Officers are generalists who enter in career tracks - Economic, Public Diplomacy, Consular, and Management & Political.

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About the Oral Assessments

Q. I just found out I passed the FSWE but the deadline for scheduling an assessment is passed. What do I do?

A. You may contact us by sending an e-mail to In your e-mail you must show your full name, social security number, state the reason for not meeting the deadline and indicate what would be the best date/location options for you. Please know that this will be the only opportunity you will have to secure an assessment. Failure to appear for your scheduled assessment will automatically terminate your candidacy.

For 2004-2005, oral assessments are planned for the following cities and dates, subject to change if needed:

Washington DC: 09/20/04 through late spring 2005
Chicago: 10/12/04 through 11/19/04
Seattle: 12/07/04 through 12/17/04
No assessments: 12/20/04 through 01/10/05
San Francisco: 01/10/05 through 03/04/05
Atlanta: 02/23/05 through 03/11/05

Please note oral assessments are not offered on weekends or federal holidays. Failure to make an assessment reservation or to appear for your scheduled assessment will automatically terminate your candidacy.

Q. Is there a limit to the number of oral assessments I may take?

A. No. However, there must be a 6 months (182 days) gap from one assessment to the other. In practice, almost all candidates would have to retake the written exam in order to be invited to the orals again. The written is only given once a year, in the spring.

Q. Can I have more than one active candidacy?

A. Yes, it is possible. Also, it is possible to have active candidacies in different career tracks.

Q. I have a disability that requires that I have special accommodations. What should I do?

A. Please e-mail and provide us with your contact information and a brief description of your disability and accommodation requested. We will contact you within the following week.

Q. I live overseas, can I be assessed at the American Embassy where I took the FSWE?

A. No. Oral assessments are only conducted in the Continental United States at the locations listed above.

Q. Will I be reimbursed for the expenses I incur to go to the assessment?

A. No.

Q. I am not sure when I’ll be available for the Assessment. Can I make several appointments to ensure I have a saved spot?

A. No. Each exam passer is allowed to make 1 appointment.

Q. My friend and I passed the Exam and want to take the Oral Assessment together. Can I make the appointment for him/her and myself?

A. No. Each candidate must make his/her own appointment. Assessing on the same day and location as a friend or relative is strongly discouraged.

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April 2004 Exam Results

Q. I took the April FSWE. How will I be notified of my results?

A. If you registered online, you will receive an email at the address you submitted when you registered for the exam, giving you instructions on how to retrieve your results. If you used a paper application, results will be mailed to the address indicated on that.

Q. I took the April FSWE but I haven't received my results.

A. Candidates were notified of test results in late July. If you have not received your results by either email or regular postal service, contact ACT, Inc. at (800) 205-6358.

Q. I have moved since taking the exam, whom should I contact for a change of address?

A. Call ACT, Inc. at (800) 205-6358 or (319) 341-2500 or submit in writing to: ACT, Inc., P.O. Box 4070, Foreign Service Written Examination (82), Iowa City, Iowa 52243-0168, to update your records.

Q. I no longer have the same e-mail address, whom should I contact?

A. Call ACT, Inc. at (800) 205-6358 or (319) 341-2500 or submit in writing to: ACT, Inc., P.O. Box 4070, Foreign Service Written Examination (82), Iowa City, Iowa 52243-0168, to update your records.

Q. I understand results are reported on a pass/fail basis. How can I have more information on my performance?

A. Although individual feedback cannot be provided, you may request a breakdown of your score. Your request must be in writing and show your full name, social security number, and your current mailing address. You may fax your request to ACT, Inc. at (319) 337-1122.

Q. I have taken the exam before and when I requested my score information, I was told it was too late. What is the time limit for score reporting?

A. All requests for scores must be made in writing within five months of the exam date to: ACT, Inc., P.O. Box 4070, Foreign Service Written Examination (82), Iowa City, Iowa 52243-0168. Test results will not be reported on the telephone.

Q. I suspect an error may have occurred when scoring my exam. Can I ask that my exam be scored again?

A. Yes. You may submit a written request for re-scoring. The answer documents for all three multiple-choice sections will be re-scored by hand for a fee of $30. The fee to re-evaluate the written essay section of the FSWE is $30. Copies of the written essay or multiple choice answer sheets will not be released or provided to examinees. The results of re-scoring will be reported to you in writing about two to three weeks after the request is received. Requests for re-scoring must be received by the FSWE Program Office at ACT within five months after the test date. In your letter, identify yourself by your full name, SSN, mailing address, and section of the test you want re-scored. Enclose a check or money order payable to ACT, Inc. for the appropriate amount and mail to Foreign Service Written Examination, P.O. Box 4070, Iowa City, Iowa 52243-4070.

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