Assignments and Training

Assignments and Training

As you consider a Foreign Service career, you are probably wondering how your initial assignments and training will work: Can I influence my assignments? Will I receive training, or will I just be sent to a post? The U.S. Department of State takes seriously its responsibility to prepare new officers not just for their first assignment, but for their career, as well. Here is some general information that will give you an overview of how this process works.

Orientation & Training

New FS Generalists begin their careers with a seven-week orientation program (A-100 course). The focus of the orientation is on introducing new employees to the structure and function of the Department and its role in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy; developing an understanding of the terms of employment; and enhancing core skills needed by all Foreign Service Officers.

The A-100 course, based at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, is primarily a classroom experience. But it also includes trips to Capitol Hill and to other federal agencies, as well as a three-day offsite at a nearby conference center. In addition to presentations by guest speakers and U.S. Department of State officials, A-100 also includes a series of practical exercises and case studies.

At the end of orientation, Foreign Service Generalists receive their first assignments, which will govern the type of specialized training that follows. For Generalists, that training may include public diplomacy training, consular training, political-economic tradecraft, or management training. Required language training can last for an additional six to nine months. Overall, newly hired Generalists can expect to spend from three months to one year in training before departure for their first overseas assignment.

Assignments

After orientation and training in Washington, the newly-hired Foreign Service Officer is assigned overseas. The first two overseas assignments (usually two years each) are designed to develop the new officer’s talents in different working environments and ensure that he or she has attained foreign language skills. The officer will hold a variety of positions in order to demonstrate his or her qualifications for tenure as a career Foreign Service Officer within a five-year probationary period and to see if the Foreign Service is the right fit. As part of this process, the new officer will perform two to three years on average of consular work during the probationary period, and may expect an assignment to at least one hardship post.

New officers are given the opportunity to express their preferences for postings from a list of positions available at the time of their entry into the Foreign Service. Personal and professional goals, training requirements, and medical and educational concerns for family members are the types of considerations the Department takes into account. When making assignments, however, the needs of the Service remain paramount. Some officers may not serve in positions related to their career track during the first two assignments. Officers who come in with critical language skills should expect to serve in positions using their language skills in their first or second assignment. Later, as mid-career officers, they may be required to serve again in a country which uses that language skill. All officers are considered worldwide available and must be prepared to go where needed.

The need to influence the rapid pace of world change effectively requires more assignments to hardship posts where such change is occurring. Some of these positions are in danger or war zones and a good number involve sending officers without their families, who usually remain in the U.S. for the duration of the particular assignment.

Hardship posts are those where living conditions are considered more difficult than in the United States. Climate, quality of local health care, crime rate, pollution levels, and availability of spouse employment opportunities are some of the factors considered in determining which locations as designated as hardship posts. Employees serving at hardship posts receive a “hardship” differential of between five and thirty-five percent of salary, depending upon the severity of the hardship. For example, in 2007, Asuncion, Paraguay is a 10% hardship differential post; Bucharest, Romania is a 15% post; and Kigali, Rwanda is a 25% post. There is an additional increment of pay for service at a designated danger post. For example, Baghdad has 35% danger pay as well as a 35% hardship differential.

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