Monday, June 16, 2008

Suited for the New Diplomacy - A New Career Plan?

James P. DeHart, a career U.S. Foreign Service officer, and a fellow at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy has a piece in WaPo (Sunday, June 15, 2008; B02) entitled Suited for the New Diplomacy? Mr. DeHart who will also begin an assignment with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan next year writes:

"Today, we're seeing not only transformational diplomacy but also the transformation of diplomacy. Foreign Service officers emerging from war zones are in many cases being promoted ahead of their peers. This is understandable, but as they rise up the chain and gain a bigger say in future personnel decisions, the practitioners of more "traditional" diplomacy may find themselves relegated to an even slower track.

In recent years, the number of Foreign Service assignments categorized as "unaccompanied" -- that is, too dangerous for families -- has surged from 200 to 900. If the trend continues, new recruits may no longer view the Foreign Service as a career but as something to do for a few years before settling down to real life -- a bit like the Peace Corps, minus the peace. In a recent survey by the American Foreign Service Association, 44 percent of active Foreign Service officers said that "developments in the last few years" have made it less likely that they will remain in the Foreign Service for a full career.

Oh well. Maybe the State Department leadership will conclude that a new kind of diplomat is needed anyway, that a liberal arts degree isn't the best preparation for someone who has to learn to live with mortar fire. If so, will the diplomat of the future be just a little less cerebral and a little more likely to salute than to offer constructive dissent?"

His piece actually made me think of what a career plan might look like for the next crop of FS officers who may have no intention of having a full career in the FS. I imagine that it might look more or less like this: Career Plan of a Would-be FSO (2011-2021) 2011: Complete Grad School
Take the FS Exam while diploma is still hot!
2012 : Work in a temporary job, maybe contractor in Iraq or Afghanistan
Best to be busy while background security investigation is conducted.
2013: Start A100
Absorb Area Studies
2013: Go to first posting (2 years, directed assignment)
(Preferably in the visa mill posts - Manila, Seoul, Mexico City, Lagos)
Rationale: learn to manage multi-culture employees; the largest consular posts have more local employees and more opportunities to have hands-ons management experience even as a junior officer. Skill me up would be my personal motto.
2015: Request Language Training - aim for at least 4/4 level
(Preferably in global languages such as Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, etc; one shot at this, care is needed in selecting language of choice that fits into overall career plan)
I know, a DC tour is hard on a 35K pay grade but I'd take 365 days of pasta and spaghetti nights in exchange for all training available (IT, soft skills, management, etc.) at FSI and elsewhere that they're willing to send me. Skill me up would continue to be my personal motto.
2016: Go to second posting (2 years)
(Preferably one of the Chinese or Indian posts, Dubai, Dublin, Bogota where language skills and/or networking would be useful; practice language skills at every opportunity to reach the 5/5 level). Skill me up would continue to be my personal motto.
A consular tour would afford the most managerial experience when in comes to cross-culture employees, in addition to program and portfolio management, customer service and other client-oriented skills. If talented as talking head, public diplomacy cone would be best; multinationals could not easily ignore somebody who has language skills and media savvy. If more of an analytical mind, might try the econ or pol cone as prelude to a career in an NGO or think tank. Have not decided what I am. Note to self: choose wisely.
2018: Go to third posting (3 years, if tenured)
(Preferably a multifunction job; this would indicate flexibility and multi-functional skills. But need to bulk up expertise in one or two areas that are transferable to private or NGO sector. Note to self: hard-language training may not be authorized until after tenure, although it can certainly be requested. If language training does not occur after the first assignment, need to request it asap after tenure is granted). Job employability is key, not job security.
2021: Goodbye Foreign Service Let me put myself in the shoes of a candidate who joins the Service at 25 after Grad School. With three overseas assignment and possibly one hard language training, I could be out of the Service after 10 years with marketable skills. At 35, I could start a second career, get married and start a family. And I won't grow thin hair agonizing over tenure, promotion or directed assignments.
I bet this would also solve the problem of Foreign Service spouse employment! Either I don't get married until I am out of the Service or I get married during one of my tours. But either way, ten years would not totally jeopardize the career prospects and retirement security of my trailing spouse or partner.
I wonder if the State Department leadership has a table top exercise for this scenario.

1 comment:

Digger said...

Well said. Is that archaeology I hear calling my name?

I have linked to and commented on your post here: