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?
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
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! Manila