The Long Road from EFM to FSO

I guess it’s time for me to go public: In a little while, I will no longer be an EFM (Eligible Family Member). Oh don’t worry, my husband and I didn’t divorce. It’s just that I recently received an invitation to the Department of State’s 181st A-100 class, which means my acronym will soon morph into three different letters: FSO (Foreign Service Officer).

Any FSO can tell you what a relief this is. The process to become employed by the Foreign Service is a long and arduous one. Here’s the not-so-short version of mine: After a post-bocce discussion way back in the summer of ’11, I signed up to take the free general Foreign Service Officer Test. Despite my lack of affinity for history and politics, I managed to pass. This meant I was allowed to submit my Personal Narrative responses to another three-letter acronym: the QEP, or Qualifications Evaluation Panel. The panel was so impressed — or confused — by my answers that I was invited to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment of this extended tryout in the fall of that same year. Once again, a miracle occurred, and I scraped by with a just-barely-above-board score.

Even after passing all of the tests, my suitability was still up for review. I had to go through medical and security checks. Even with my numerous addresses, (including just a few overseas) the Final Review Panel declared me suitable in early 2012. Being declared “suitable” means you are placed on a “register” of acceptable candidates. When the Foreign Service calls up new officers, they invite people from the top of this register; if you are not called within 18 months, you drop off the list completely and must start the entire process all over again.

By virtue of my low “orals” score, I was at the bottom of the list, and therefore I had little hope. So in an act of desperation, I tried to boost my score by proving my Spanish-language skills over the phone. The proof, as they say, was not in the pudding, so I opted to “freeze” my candidacy for 24 months while I followed my husband around to Mexico and Pakistan; this meant my 18-month “diplomatic clock” was not ticking down for those two years.

When we returned to the States for training in 2014, I had no choice but to restart my clock. But as the little hand was so slowly moving, I was studying Russian. Just in the nick of time, I managed to earn some language bonus points with my Russian-speaking skills, which boosted me toward the top of the candidate list. Not long after, a new class of officers was called up, and I was among them.

So, the process to get a job as an FSO took 3-1/2 years (I can’t be sure, but this could be some kind of record for a one-time candidacy). And indeed, this process was often challenging and sometimes frustrating. Coincidentally, I also have been an EFM for about 3-1/2 years, and for much of that time I was actively looking for employment.

Before I fully make the switch to FSO, I want to give a much-deserved shout-out to my fellow EFMs because their process to find a job is often just as long and arduous.

Here’s the not-so-short list of the efforts I went through to try to become employed as I “trailed” my spouse overseas:

  • I took private-sector jobs below my level of expertise in order to not have gaps in my resumé.
  • I applied for every job advertised at post to demonstrate my serious interest; each time, I had to fill out the exact same lengthy form, and I was not allowed to simply indicate that no details had changed since my last application.
  • I waited only a short time to receive a security clearance for my first embassy job (another acronym:  CLO, or Community Liaison Officer Coordinator), mainly because the process had already been initiated after I passed the “orals” (many other EFMs wait months or years to start a job because it takes that long to get a clearance).
  • I worked a hodgepodge of four part-time jobs to give myself full-time work.
  • I took at-post and distance-learning language courses in my “spare time.”
  • I woke up at the crack of dawn to consult with my language instructor or to interview for jobs (stupid time zones).
  • I stayed up late at night to consult with a Global Employment Initiative adviser about resume formats and job prospects (again, stupid time zones).
  • I regularly stalked USAJobsdevex, the PROPs group on LinkedIn, and The Network.
  • I attended numerous daylong workshops on employment tools, portable careers, and non-governmental organizations.
  • I attended multi-week functional training classes, such as the Basic Consular Course, otherwise known as ConGen.
  • I established qualifications in six areas of the Expanded Professional Associates Program.
  • I successfully applied for the EFM Consular Adjudicator Pilot Program.
  • I sought a Professional Development Fellowship to pay for classes to earn a certificate that would help expand my career opportunities.

That’s a pretty long list, right? It might seem like I’m complaining (and I am, a little). Actually, I am extremely thankful for all the opportunities that the State Department, especially the Family Liaison Office, provides. But it takes a great deal of effort to take advantage of all of these programs. In other words, the process to become employed as an EFM is often as stressful and difficult as — if not more stressful and difficult than — the process to become employed as an FSO. And EFMs have to go through this process not just once, but every time their spouses change post! (I know, I know, some FSOs went through the testing process multiple times before they were hired, but that was by their choice.)

Obtaining a job as an EFM is often a job within itself. Therefore, it is no surprise to me when EFMs give up on the process or opt out of post employment altogether. I do not have children to take care of, and I did not give up an extremely high-paying career — and still, at times, I felt more than daunted and jaded about the possibility of finding employment.

Incidentally, upon reading this post and finding out about my new job, a lot of people

probably will congratulate me. And trust me, I will appreciate all those well wishes.

But if you really want to spread some joy, congratulate the next EFM you know who gets a job. He or she worked hard for it.

Kim Eggerton worked for the Department of State in Tijuana, Mexico, and Islamabad, Pakistan. Before her husband joined the Foreign Service, she was a journalist and teacher, and she had lived in Costa Rica and Israel. She blogs at Diplomatic Impunity.

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