Excercise 2: Structured Interview

All candidates participate individually in a Structured Interview conducted by two assessors. For this portion of the Oral Assessment, assessors will have reviewed the candidate’s ACT Application Form, Statement of Interest and stated career track preference. Candidates are expected to respond to questions based on their personal background, experience and motivation.  This portion of the assessment consists of three testing modules lasting a total of approximately one hour.

Experience and Motivation Interview

In this portion of the assessment, the candidate should convey to the examiners a clear and precise picture of him/herself, including personality traits, and his/her understanding of the Foreign Service. The assessors consider the candidate’s work experience, cross-cultural skills and motivation to join the Foreign Service. Assessors will evaluate a candidate’s potential to serve successfully as a Foreign Service Officer, particular in his/her selected career track, by discussing what the candidate has done with the opportunities presented to this point in his or her life.

Candidates must be succinct and persuasive in responding to the examiner’s questions. Candidates should have previously informed themselves about the Foreign Service in general and also about the work related to the career track they have selected.

Hypothetical Scenarios

The second assessment module in the Structured Interview consists of a series of hypothetical scenarios designed to test the candidate’s situational judgment.

Assessors will give the candidate a brief scenario to read that provides information about the country and the candidate’s position in the embassy, setting the scene for the hypothetical situation. Assessors’ questions test the candidate’s interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, initiative, objectivity, judgment, planning and organizing skills, composure, and cultural adaptability. Although the problems presented in this exercise are hypothetical, they are closely related to real-life situations regularly encountered by Foreign Service Officers overseas. Candidates are advised, however, that, while the problems occur in a Foreign Service setting, candidates are not expected to know how an Embassy operates or to be familiar with government rules and regulations. They are asked to fashion a solution that employs good judgment and common sense.

The hypothetical scenarios challenge candidates to think quickly. Assessors look for a candidate who can organize for action, take responsibility and respond to new situations creatively and effectively. While there is no single correct answer, a strong candidate will demonstrate mature thinking, recognize alternative approaches, and consider both the long- and short-term consequences of responses.

Sample Hypothetical Exercises

Earthquake Scenario

You are working in a small embassy in a developing tropical island country. Relations with the United States have been strained for some time, although the island is visited by increasing numbers of American tourists lured by its beautiful beaches, national parks and wildlife, and interesting archaeological sites. The island has experienced numerous tremors recently and ten years ago suffered a major earthquake, which destroyed the port and much of the capital city.

You have been at this embassy for almost two years and are looking forward to moving on to your next post.

When you first arrived at post, you worked in the consular section, which is responsible for assisting American citizens in distress and for issuing visas to host country nationals wishing to visit the United States. You then rotated for a stint in the management section, responsible for maintenance and upkeep of staff housing. You supervised the local Foreign Service National (FSN) staff charged with maintaining the embassy buildings and grounds. This past six months, you have been working as the ambassador’s aide, which required you to move to an apartment three blocks from the embassy.

The communications officer has called you in to the embassy on a Saturday afternoon for an urgent incoming telegram that needs immediate action. As you enter the embassy gate, you see two FSNs enter the building. Walking toward the building, you feel a sudden jolt and immediately realize you are in the middle of an earthquake. You have difficulty standing and see windows in the embassy shatter. Then the earthquake ends. What do you do?

(possible responses: If appears safe, check on the FSN staff and help as needed; determine cable contents; inform ambassador and Washington; inform and motivate staff to take appropriate actions including finding out how much damage employee residences sustained; make sure someone checks on resident American citizens and American tourists.)

The earthquake hit residential areas hard, and many embassy officers and FSNs lack shelter. Building materials are scarce and the airport is temporarily closed. A local nightclub owner, known for his flashy life-style, offers building materials and labor to the embassy. The security office’s head FSN reports that the businessman is rumored to be engaged in drug smuggling and strongly urges you to decline this offer. What do you do?

(possible responses: Discuss offer with colleagues; determine facts in case, excluding hearsay; weigh only proven cons against pros of needed help; seek other sources of supply, including U.S. embassies in neighboring countries; seek other housing options; contact the U.S. military to determine if they can transport portable housing units or building materials by ship or helicopter.)

Past Behavioral Interview

In the final segment of the Structured Interview, the assessors ask the candidate a series of questions, to which the candidate should respond with examples from his or her own experience. The questions are designed to assess a range of dimensions determined through a documented job analysis to be linked to successful performance as a Foreign Service Officer. Those dimensions are Planning and Organizing, Working with Others, Cultural Adaptability, Initiative and Leadership, Objectivity and Integrity, Composure and Oral Communication.

Structured Interview Tips & Strategies

The assessors need to fair and remain objective as they move between candidates. As a result, they will provide you with little feedback on your answers and might make little or no eye contact.

This doesn’t mean you are doing poorly but does mean that you need to take extra strides to remain confident in your answers.

As with the rest of the Oral Assessment, ensure that you follow directions and answer only the questions asked and that you answer them fully.

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