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Feature Story:

Record Year for Hiring at the State Department

By Michael G. Anderson and Veda Engel
Mr. Anderson is an examiner with BEX. Ms. Engel is outreach branch chief. Also contributing to the article were Richard Esper, student programs branch chief, and Stephanie Brown, special projects coordinator.


The folks in the Bureau of Personnel's Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment, or REE, are smiling these days. And well they should. There were record numbers of hires for Foreign Service positions and for nine student programs.

To meet the director general's FY 1999 hiring targets, the 25-member Board of Examiners, or BEX, conducted oral assessments of Foreign Service generalist candidates in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans between July 1998 and May 1999. Of the 2,405 candidates assessed, 856 passed the orals, and 313 were hired as junior officers in FY 1999. Many of the others, along with successful candidates from the November 1999 written exam, will be receiving job offers in FY 2000.

New junior officer class.

A new junior officer class is sworn in at the Foreign Service Institute.
Photo by Shawn Moore

At the same time, BEX assessors, with help from Diplomatic Security and other Department experts, assessed more than 900 specialist candidates--600 of whom were ultimately hired by the Department in FY 1999. The largest categories of new specialists were security officers (222), office management specialists (94) and information management specialists and technicians (114). These numbers represent by far the largest intake of new generalist and specialist hires in any recent fiscal year (see bar graphs).

This record-breaking year for REE's Foreign Service­Civil Service team required concerted action, from setting hiring targets to executing plans--without additional resources.

In setting the plan in motion, Department recruiters visited some 53 schools at least once during the fiscal year, ensuring that word got out about the Department's hiring and student program needs.

"They worked hard and as a result the numbers were up," commented John Collins, REE's director.

Along with the generalist and specialist programs, REE's student programs portfolio also enjoyed a record year in FY 1999. During 1999 the Department benefited from the mostly unpaid services of some 900 eager student interns in Washington, D.C., and at posts around the world. Selected from 2,400 applicants, the students captured some of the most sought-after internships in the federal government. The student intern program has grown from 400 participants in 1993.

In addition, REE runs a number of other student programs for high school age through graduate school. Two of the most notable programs are aimed at university students. In the past year, the prestigious Presidential Management Intern Program attracted 49 highly qualified students with graduate degrees to the Department's Civil Service ranks.

The Foreign Affairs Fellowship program, or FAF, also continued to grow in FY 99. Through the FAF program--a sort of diplomatic ROTC--the Department assists outstanding students interested in Foreign Service careers with their college and graduate school expenses. In return, they work for the Department for a period of years following graduation. All FAF participants must pass the Foreign Service written and oral exams before receiving tenure as Foreign Service officers. Fifteen outstanding FAF participants entered the Foreign Service in FY 1999. All of these student programs serve the Department's interests at many levels--from increasing diversity to bridging the academic and student communities.

Rather than resting on its laurels, REE is already busy sorting through thousands of applications for next summer's student intern openings and has begun preparing for next year's intake of Foreign Service officers. Getting information and applications to those interested in taking the Foreign Service Written Examination, which was given Nov. 6, was the first step in this process. More than 13,640 people registered for the 1999 exam. Of those registering, about 28 percent were minorities and approximately 40 percent were women. About two-thirds of the candidates registered online at REE's web site (http://1997-2001.state.gov/careers)--the first time for electronic registration.

The Department welcomed the computer age in another way this past year by making the Exam Study Guide available for purchase via the Internet. More than two-thirds of the 6,634 people who ordered the guide did so online. Although applicants could download the guide from the web site, three out of four people still preferred to receive a hard copy.

The Department also conducted a pilot program that identified candidates for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment by studying their "accomplishment" records and other biographical data rather than by requiring them to take and pass the Foreign Service Written Examination. The Department received 625 applications for the Alternative Examination Program, or AEP, currently open only to federal employees and those with noncompetitive eligibility. Between last September and early December, 200 of these applicants were invited for oral assessments at the Department's new Assessment Center in Washington, D.C.

REE's Collins attributed the high productivity to his staff's planning and employing new ways to get the job done faster and with more of a focus on customer service. "It's obviously been successful, and we will work hard to continue to improve our service in the new millennium," Mr. Collins said.

Looking ahead, the Department's plans call for hiring some 250 new junior officers and 210 Foreign Service specialists during FY 2000. Meeting the Department's personnel needs has become even more challenging in the last few years as the nation's economy booms and talented people are being snapped up by private industry. The "War for Talent" means the Bureau of Personnel, and particularly REE, has its work cut out in the new millennium. But recruiting and selecting the Department's future human resources continues to be a source of satisfaction to all of those involved.

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