Sunday, August 11, 2013

Are You Too Old For The Foreign Service?

I have been asked this question so many times now, that I thought it deserved its own carefully thought out post. Here it goes:

Q: Are you over 58.5?
A: No.

You are Ok. Go apply.

Phew. That took a load off.

What? It's not thoughtful enough for you? Sheesh...Ok, fine, here it goes in unnecessary detail.

According to the State Department, "Career candidate appointments to the Foreign Service shall be made before the candidate's 60th birthday. The maximum age for appointment is based on the requirement that all career candidates shall be able to: (a) complete at least two full tours of duty abroad, exclusive of orientation and training; (b) complete the requisite eligibility period for tenure consideration, and (c) complete the requisite eligibility period to receive retirement benefits before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. (Note: one needs a minimum of 5 years of service in order to have retirement benefits.) Thus, new hires must be no older than 59 years and 364 days on the day of entry into service." Now, we all know how long it takes to get into the Foreign Service (if you don't, go to my particularly poignant posts on the application process here) - let's say conservatively it is about 1.5 years, assuming you get in from the first try and your security clearance process lasts about 6 months, and you get off the waiting list pretty much right away. That is a LOT of "if" and "but." But let's say that you are awesome and the administration is feeling perky and benevolent. So, drink some vodka, do some math, blow your nose and come to the conclusion that if you are over 58.5 when you first down and stare at the antiquated computers in the FSOT testing room, chances that you will make it are rather minimal. Not because you are not awesome and could not go from a junior officer to Ambassador in 5 years. I bet you could with bells on. The problem is that we get pensioned at 65. I think it is nice. It gives me a good excuse to stop working, jump on a seniors' cruise in the Caribbean and dance fragile and contained salsa till 11 pm with equally fragile folk, to the singular consternation of a less nimble, sedentary Diplomat. Some complain. I guess they are not into senior salsa.

I suppose the real question is what is realistically an upper age to enter the service. I think that the entrance process is sufficiently emotionally grueling and physiologically damaging to your liver that if you are ready to torture yourself with it, that you need to ask yourself how many tours you want out of it. As the regulation states, you need to be able to serve at least two tours. Each of your first 2 entry tours should last 2 years (unless you decide that the best way to entertain yourself at this precious age is to go to Afghanistan or, say, Yemen, which are 1 year tours). For at least one of them, you will need to learn language, which will be anywhere from 6 to 12 months in general. You will also go through the rather fascinating A-100 training, which is another useful 6 weeks of your life. So, that means - 4 years of in-country service, plus 8 mos of language and professional training, plus another 2 months of other training, plus 2-3 months of home leave, random classes and not knowing what is happening to you. Ok, I have had some wine now, so I am too confused to count. I hope for your sake you do that. If you want to serve longer...figure it out.

Besides the practical consideration of the Department regulations, I honestly do not know how much your age plays in during the exams. It sure brings in a lot of varied experience (unless, of course, you have been herding cows all of your life in Montana, which is not all THAT varied, I suppose; but then again, I have never herded anything but Son and the Diplomat at the airport, so what do I know), which is valued highly, I think. For your own sake, it might help if you are sprightly. At least in spirit. Or mind. Or in something. I always feel sprightly is a great thing to be.

I have known people in the Service who have entered at the gentle and impressionable ages of 22 and of 57. In fact, I have had several of them in my own class (huge shout-out to my man in Manila!). They are all loving it. At least they have said so. I trust them. So go on, my dear middle-aged, nervous reader - apply! The Foreign Service wants you!


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  2. I hope you see this comment, but how is the FSOT exam? I decided to leave the field of marketing, but I'm still young in my career as I'm only 24 (turning 25 at the end of the year). I wanted to get involved with public service or foreign affairs as I my interests line up more with these fields, and I used to be involved in student government, local political campaigns, and worked as an election judge during my high school years.

  3. Hey mr Anderson, I suggest you read the posts I had on How to Become a FSO, links on the top right!

  4. Dear Diplomatic Mama

    I'm not quite sure if you still reply to emails from your blog, but I thought I would try anyways. First, let me just say that I find your website to be very informative and I am sure it also helps many others.

    I spent four years in Korea. My last year, I unfortunately worked for a very small local company where in the end, we parted on very bad terms. I don't believe I was at fault, but of course, who is going to believe me? I will just say that if they ever contacted the boss, it would be categorized under misconduct at work, misuse of company info etc. (This is not true.)

    I have only just begun applying, perhaps, in the end, I would be rejected before this. I have one contact from that previous job whom I will provide her information. My concern is, will they contact anyone else from that company? Will they pressure her to provide any other coworkers or the boss' contact information. I want to provide a friend's contact informaiton and have her say that she used to work there. Could they possibly find out?

    I am saddened that I may never be able to work as a foreign service office because of this.

    Thank you for reading this very long question

  5. Hi April. Honestly, I have no clue! But if you want this, I say go for it regardless. You will have an interview with your security guy and you can certainly mention that to him. Good luck either way!!!

  6. I know this is an old post, but I still wanted to say thanks for it. I am 47, and want to take the FSOT. My husband won't be ready to leave his job for several more years, so I can't start the State Dept application process for at least that long. Good to know I still have plenty of time to take a shot at the exam and a diplomatic job.

  7. Thanks for this blog and this post. I'm 50 and just passed the FSOT on my 2nd try. It's been my dream to become a Foreign Service Officer for quite some time, but I got sidetracked by a private sector career. Time now to focus on the PN. Thanks, again!

  8. This is such great and timely information for me! Thank you!! I've just finished two weeks in Vietnam and Thailand and after travelling to Africa last year, I'm realizing how much I love meeting new people and learning about their cultures. My husband suggested I look into becoming a diplomat and I am thrilled at the prospect of it. I immediately thought it would be impossible but after reading your post, I have a glimmer of hope! I have a (never used) BA in sociology and am a quick learner--- I just have one problem. Of 4 children, two are off in college and two are still at home. I am their full time caretaker. I am 48... I may not have enough time!! Our youngest is 10. Oh well.... unless I can convince her to leave her friends and move to a developing country.. I might be out of luck. Thanks for the great post though!! I'll continue to dream. Cam àn (thank you in Vietnamese) Ka pun ka ( thank you in Thai) Asante sana (thank you in Swahili);))))

    1. Ies, if you truly think you'd like the job and your husband is willing to follow you overseas, then why not give it a shot?? Your 10-year old will have the most amazing and enriching life overseas. Whatever friends she thinks she has now, she will make many more all over the world (and honestly, what kind of lasting friendships one forms at that age anyway?!). Rather than learn about geography, she will be living it. You are most certainly not out of luck!

  9. Hello,
    I am 57.5 and interested in becoming a Diplomat. Is it stilla real possibility at my age? I have a BA degree, excellent work history, in the fields of criminology,law,and human rights and of good health.
    Also, is it correct that if you only serve for 5 years you recieve a full retirement? I must have misread the blog.
    Thank you for your time and assistance!

    1. Based on my calculations above, I'd say so, yes! And we just removed the hiring freeze, so go for it!