The Easiest Way to Find a Job at the State Department

The easiest way to get a job in the State Department is through an internship.
Of course,  there are other ways to land a position inside the Harry Truman building or one of the satellite offices dotting DC and northern VA. But in my experience as a Foreign Service officer and manager, those with good networking skills and the ability to identify which bureau or office has an urgent, pressing need can secure a job.  The first job may be only temporary, but if you work (extra) hard, earn the respect of your colleagues and bosses, and expand your network, you will find another position, one that could lead to a permanent hire — even in these budget-constrained times.
The reason why the odds of scoring a job at State soar when you’re an intern is that you’ve got a foot in the door, people know you, most will like you, many will be grateful for how hard you work and the cheerful way you accept new responsibilities.  In short, you become a known person and you’ve proven yourself.  Frankly, there is no comparison between hiring a ‘known and proven person’ or someone from a resume or application form, even if everyone is interviewed for the job.  Furthermore, you should reach out to groups at State to improve your chances — almost every minority has chapter in the State Department.  If you’re a woman, there are major opportunities to network with FSOs, civil servants, and political appointees.  Every group — and the State Department as an institution — wants to boost the numbers of minorities.  If you don’t believe me, check out where the diplomats-in-residence are posted across the United States and you’ll see the targets
I will discuss the various internships in my next post, but the biggest hurdle to landing a permanent job at State is securing an internship, much harder than one would think, especially for those non-paying intern slots.
Moreover, even if you qualify for an internship, you must undergo a background check to obtain your security clearance.  It is almost never a quick process or quick enough.  The agony of waiting for some retired FBI agent to review your fitness is painful.  Therefore make it as easy as possible for them.
Spend a lot of time identifying good (i.e., favorable) references, if you’ve lived overseas be as specific as possible on dates and addresses (the investigator will likely call on the RSO at the nearest embassy to help him or her), identify your ‘good’ neighbors or employers, not the jerk downstairs who kicked your dog or the Baskin & Robbins supervisor who accused you of stealing a gallon of mint chocolate chip.  By all means, identify your friends and relatives and ‘good’ neighbors.  Why wouldn’t you?
Warn your friends/relatives/neighbors who an investigator will contact them to check on your background.  It’s not against the rules to give  them a few tips, even coach them. (Note: this is for applicants who truly don’t have bad things in their past; if you do and you’re using my tips because your Russian control officer doesn’t have a clue, well, I hope you end up in the federal SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado so you can share bedtime stories with Ted Kaczynski and the Underwear Bomber.
Tell you friend/relatives/neighbors to:
— be polite with the investigator who is harried by too many security investigations and not enough time.  He or she likes when an investigation goes smoothly;
— only answer the questions asked; don’t elaborate.  There’s no rule that your friend needs to mention how you got caught as a junior smoking dope on the roof of your high school;
— if the investigator asks for other references, make sure that your friend only give names you’re okay with.  You might even encourage your friends and neighbors when asked for others to say ‘there’s no one who comes to mind; i mean I was her best friend; I knew her best.’  This requesting other people who knew you is the best way to find dirt on you.  It’s like dropping a stone in a pond, the ripples expand and ultimately lead to someone who knew you and didn’t like you.  Or, worse, someone who not only didn’t like you — a guy you wouldn’t let cheat on a final or a girl you dumped — but also someone who wants to deep-six your career before it even starts.
— In spite of the cautions above, you will likely sail through the security background check, especially if you’re younger and haven’t lived anywhere overseas.  Again, there are just too many reviews for too few investigators which mean cursory reviews, even if you were caught smoking dope on the roof of your high school.
The investigators are looking for ‘red flags’ ) 1st generation Americans whose heritage might be trouble (e.g., any Arab country, if you were involved in serious criminal activity (e.g., dealing drugs, a gang member, etc), and if you were a member of the Communist Party, the John Birch Society, various militias — basically any group who has expressed a desire for the collapse or destruction of the American government).
Good luck

Comments

  1. Barika Andrews says:

    I found this article very informative.

    • Thanks. That’s great. Follow my Twitter feed for new vacancies at State Dept. They’re Civil Service positions in the Human Rights; Conflict and Stabilization Operations; and International Health and Biodefense.

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