Friday, August 14, 2009

Bidding Sucks, No, Really …

It’s that time of year again when FS folks are subjected to a routine stress test that is unique to the Foreign Service. Every couple of years or so you get to pour your eyes out over a list; mind you it’s no ordinary list. It’s a list of places where you (and your family) could potentially spend the next 2-3 or 4 years of your lives in. And it's not just coming up with your own list, which is difficult enough but the process also includes getting post, the bureau and your guardian angels to "yes" on at least one post on your list, preferably your number #1 pick.

“Don’t get your hopes up” or “Don’t set your heart on XPost” you tell each other during this bidding season. That is, not until you get that cable officially announcing your assignment or you set yourselves up for a disappointment. Because we all know that a “handshake” is just a handshake, an offer can be broken, somebody’s top dog might bark louder than your top dog (and there goes the bone), the bureau might flip, and the sky might rain toads and frogs and you can end up in a place that’s not even in your bidlist … It's not altogether different from a roller coaster ride at times. Remember that time when you've been offered and you've reconciled yourself to going to Managua (#5 on your list) and then the incumbent decided at the very last day that he wanted to stay on that job after all? Party-pooper. What about Suriname? they asked. Can you imagine what it's like having to reconcile yourself the second time to going to another post like Suriname? Yep, it's best not to keep one's hopes up.

The bidding season also includes one tradition from American politics that dates back to the 1800s -- lobbying. I don't know anyone who appreciate those K Street lobbyists -- backdoor influence and all that. But what about those C Street lobbyists? I mean, the well connected, the self promoters, the skilled impression managers do get an edge over others without those skills when it comes to scrambling for the best jobs. Corridor reputation, my god, despite what HR says, still rocks. I wonder if this kind of job lobbying would eventually move into the social networking sphere or into a virtual corridor one day. Knowing the right people is important, not pissing off the right people is just as important. And you wonder why this organization has a pretty risk-averse culture?

The irony here, of course, is everybody gets into the FS on merit and then once you're in, who you know trumps what you know. In fairness, lots of smart folks out there. But with all smarts bring equal, the one who is best connected/well networked/has best guardian angel gets the prize. I've read somewhere some top honcho saying they are making the bidding process more transparent. Is it, transparent, yet? Can you see who's lobbying on behalf of which candidate on job #1 in your bidlist? For some reason, I don't know why, this often reminds me of a certain VP's energy task force.

There's one good news. If you survive this ritual (and you will), you won’t have to do this again until 2012 or later. Around the blogosphere the stress test is on:

Donna from Email From the Embassy writes Apples Vs. Elephants: The Bidding Process:

This is really, really stressful. Because how do you compare, say, a small South American city where crime is rampant but the air is clean, with no direct flights but a great school, to a mid-sized European city where the tourism opportunities are abundant but the winters are dark and the language is unlearnable? How about a country where you have to find your own housing v a place where you need to rely on local medical care? A 12-room school v a place that requires high altitude medication be taken upon arrival? A place where you’re likely to be carjacked vs a place where you could get encephalitis?

KG from Diplodocus writes So Where Have I Been?

Now: we’re bidding. And planning a vacation. There’s a list of jobs and places that we’re staring at every day, and emails we’re sending to friends around the world for advice, for insight, for contacts. The entire exercise of trying to figure out where to go next is harrowing and frustrating. Actually, that’s too kind. Let’s be honest: no matter how good or how connected you are, bidding sucks. Show me an officer who says they enjoy bidding, and I’ll show you a liar.

The Girl in the Rain writes The Bid List is Out

Just typing that phrase gives me huge knots in my stomach. Now that there’s a list of positions I might be eligible to bid on (and lobby for, and kick and scratch and fight over, all hopefully without sounding either obsequious or malicious), I’m giving myself the very rare permission to think about the future. My immediate response to this is, “Oh God oh God oh God.” This whole bidding thing didn’t go well the first time. It went particularly un-well the second time, when I’d allowed myself to hope and then was left completely devastated. And now, the third time, the process has changed and it’s all about knowing the right people from having gotten the right positions the first two times. Um, yeah. Oh God oh God oh God oh God.

Digger of Life After Jerusalem writes a comment

I sympathize. I hate hate hate bidding. On the one hand, you think about the possibilities. Then you think about the fear of not getting a good job, or for us, not getting jobs together. And the whole lobbying thing drives me nuts. I think you should look at my resume and say, hmm, she sounds interesting. And then interview me. Instead I have to rely on previous bosses, some of whom I had to turn in to DS. Ick ick ick


Digger said...

I am hoping that *this time* I will not have to bid again until 2012 or so. But after three back-to-back one year tours, I am currently bidding for the fourth time in four years. Ick.

diplopundit said...

Digger - I hope you get a longer tour this time; it can't be easy doing one year tours in four years. That kind of reminds me of "rovers" that used to go around doing short term tours; but they've been normally specialists in the past not generalists. Good luck on bidding, may you end up in an interesting place!