Wednesday, September 21, 2011


First of all I want to thank everyone for the supportive comments, and there is life after not passing the OA. It has been an interesting time in Jerusalem and Palestine. Right after the OA I flew to Tel Aviv to continue working on a project for Mercy Corps. It is always good to be back in Jerusalem, especially when your office looks down on the Dome of the Rock in the Old City. One the first day of Ramadan the IDF entered the Qalandia Refugee Camp, which actually doesn't look like a camp, and killed two young Palestinians who allegedly had done some bad things. We had meetings inn Ramallah the next day when the burial and protests were going to take place and made a quick exit through a checkpoint for NGO's. There is a picture on the digital NY Times right now of the area where the usual protests take place.

The project I am working on is very different than what I imagine life would be as an FSO. It is definitely less structured, and even before I took the OA I knew that if I had passed I would not have taken the position. The NGO challenge is much more in line with what I have done in the private sector, and there is a lot more flexibility for my family.

Basically, I am responsible for kick-starting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the West Bank and Gaza. I have been working on strategic relationships with companies in Silicon Valley, and the team has deals in place with some of the leading tech companies in the world who are providing financial investments and sending engineers to Gaza and the West Bank to train young Palestinians on Android, HTML 5, App Engine, iOS, and other programming platforms. We have also secured several million dollars to start a seed investment fund that will back young Palestinian entrepreneurs.

Given what is going on at the UN this week I can't imagine doing anything more important than this right now. Best of luck to everyone in the process, and thanks again for the well wishes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

OA Results

Well it wasn't pretty. I had to travel half way around the world after the OA so this is my first chance to share the gory details. I actually wound up doing worse than last year, only passed the SI this time, and wound up with a 5.0. There were twelve of us and don't know how many passed as I was the sixth called out from the room. The only really surprising thing during the brief exit interview is that my examiner went on and on about the numbers, and budget implications on hiring. She very well could have been trying to ease the sting, but was surprised since the 13 D's should be consistently applied in the best of times or the worst of times.

The only thing that I can add without going into the NDA realm is that the different group dynamics during the GE from year to to year will always make it a new experience. Three people from my GE group were still standing and hopefully one of them made it. Everyone was an upgrade IMO from last years group and if the three of us who didn't pass this time fell short of the mark I am even more confused with how the GE is scored. The entire group worked well, adovcated, and pushed back where needed to focus on giving the ambassador the best recommendations. I thought the project we supported wasn't particularly a strong one and was vocal about that without being an ass( or so I think) so I don't have much else to offer.

The SI IMO is still the most straight forward part of the day and I thought the questions were very fair and thought provoking.

I am 0/2 on the CM so don't have the foggiest idea so won't give anyone any bad advice. I definitely had more time to address the quant issues this time around, and definitely devoted more of the memo to facts and figures. There is definitely something in the grading rubric that I must be totally missing.

Having done this twice now I am even more perplexed of what to think about it. In the chit chat that takes place in between sessions and what you see of of 4-5 others during the GE it was the usual, very interesting and diverse group. I'm not sure the process gets it right per se, but with the quality I have seen the last two years I am not sure the OA has to necessarily get it right to assess great people into The State Department.

Friday, July 22, 2011

DC Bound

I just printed off my SOI and double checked everything and the suit which I seem to only where once a year for government interviews or oral assessments still fits. I can't say that I had the sort of preparation as I did last year. There wasn't much if any of a Denver/Boulder contingent this time around, and I just had a hard time this year.

So I am hoping that the old adage that the best preparation is having taken the OA before. I remember when we had our final break last year and several of us went down to the Starbucks around the corner and I remember saying that I had no idea how I had done. I thought I had done well enough to pass, but didn't. I would definitely encourage everyone who does not pass or passes, but doesn't pass with a high enough score plus bonus points to submit an FOIA for your scores.

While I didn't pass last time it really came down to a lousy hypothetical performance during the SI. So I spent a lot of time going over that and I definitely recall a few things I said last time which led to the 4.8. I really thought I did well on the GE, but only scored a 5.3. I do think there is a degree of a rising tide lifts all boats during the GE. I was the only one that finished the presentation in time to allow for questions, and we wasted the first five to ten minutes going over things that could have been covered during the presentation phase. I honestly don't think I would have done anything differently. I drew out the two quiet members in our group, went first, asked questions, advocated, but evidently didn't do enough of the right things. The one part I personally felt conflicted about was walking the fine line between letting other members of the group have their voice versus stepping in when they took the conversation in the weeds. So I think this time around if that happens I will be a little more assertive.

I wrote several new SI stories and two for the one question that sort of stumped me last time around. I didn't think that I got off to the smoothest of starts, but wound up with 5.7 and 5.6 on those two components of the SI so I was wrong yet again.

The CM is the CM and seems to be the one section that gets the most people. Last time around I think I made a technical/admin problem so I really thought I bombed it. I won't make that mistake again, I will have my reading glasses in case the lights go out again so I can read the material in the binder, and I will make sure to ask the proctor what s/he wants us to do in case something goes wrong during the exercise. Our proctor said she would check in on us last time, but never did.

I guess I am going into the OA this time assuming that I will probably not pass the CM so I didn't do as much prep as last time, but did write two essays and read all of the sample answers. As bad as things went last time I don't think I can do much worse than a 4.9.

I can definitely improve on the SI. I was very strong on two sections and worked on my SAR responses to all of the testable dimensions and really practiced on my approach to the hypotheticals. So I hope I can raise my overall score by improving on that part of the SI.

I don't think I can do too much better than I did on the GE last last time. While I didn't do any group sessions I did five or six presentations in front of the video camera and worked on my presentation strategy and transitions from section to section of the presentation.

Since I have a job offer in the Middle East working in the West Bank and Gaza I think the pressure should be a little lower this time around. The good folks at the Board of Examiners definitely threw us a curve ball last time so I will be expecting something different than the practice materials which should help as well.

Good luck to everyone!

Friday, July 15, 2011

OA Scores

My FOIA request for my OA scores showed up today, and boy was I surprised. The one thing you learn going through this is you really have no idea how things are evaluated. I really thought I did well on the GE, OK on the SI, and I knew that I didn't pass the CM, but didn't know if I blew it.

We are out of town so I had a friend read me the breakdown. I passed the GE with a 5.3. On the SI I scored a 5.7 on experience and motivation, 5.6 on past behavior, and a whopping 4.8 on the hypothetical for a 5.4 total score. I wound up with a 4.9 on the CM so I didn't totally blow it.

While I didn't pass the CM, the hypotheticals did me in. I actually thought I did OK on them so need to go back to the drawing board.

I have a week to put in some solid prep next week so with the actual scores now have a better idea what to focus on. I am looking forward to round two of this, and with an offer in hand will definitely be relaxed and see if I can improve a bit on the CM, GE, and hypotheticlas.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Personal Narratives

I know this is probably arrogant, but I wanted to write a few tidbits that I learned over the last two cycles of trying to do this. While I am 2/2 on getting to the OA I am still pretty certain that no one really has the inside scoop, even the great ones on the Yahoo board. There are too many people who speak with absolute authority on the process, and when you see people who are on the register either fail the written test or not make it past the PNQ you realize that no one really knows, and it can be a real crap shoot.

So with that as a backdrop this is my advice. Make sure that you understand the question being asked and answer the question. Really understand the dimensions being asked and make sure you address them in an engaging way that answers the question.

I have no way to back this up, but I also think the style of writing that leads to a passing score on the essay portion of the written test isn't necessarily the style of writing that leads to a good personal narrative. I know when I first sat down to write my narratives last year I tried to write a classic four or five paragraph essays and what I got was a lot of fluff, and couldn't adequately answer the question and show my personality in 1300 characters. Again I have to thank someone else for that bit of advice, but basically I shredded what I had written and essentially, for lack of a better word, just threw up on the page. You just don't have enough space to write the set-up or thesis paragraph that you find in a typical essay. Just get right down to the nitty gritty. That's what I have done both times. Remember it is a personal narrative and not an essay writing contest.

I think the other trap, especially if you are an older candidate like me, is to fall into the trap that the gravity of the experience or the personal resume will carry the day. I think that is wrong. I know that I looked for the "ah ha" sort of stories initially, but I don't think you need to have cured cancer or saved a comrade in combat to get the attention of the examiners. Remember that you are applying for a job as a generalist, and that technically you don't even need a college degree to become an FSO. So focus on the most engaging story that answers the question and shows the person who is wading through thousands of stories what makes you interesting.

I am a management cone candidate and where it made sense I tried to tailor the narratives to play upon my strengths as a management cone person, but I didn't try to force a square peg into a round hole. I think in both cycles two of my stories were more cone specific.

The other piece of great advice that I got was as you are writing think about how you would relate the story to a friend. I think this gets back to what works on the written test versus what gets you noticed during this part of the process. Again I have nothing to back this up, but some of the better, successful stories that I have read were more trivial in the grand scheme of life, but were written in a more familiar tone without being overly colloquial. The one common theme was the writer's personality came through loud and clear. I know as a former military guy we tended to write in an overlay formal and stiff way. Don't do that for sure.

Not that a ton of people read this stuff, but I hope that someone finds this useful. I know that I have gotten some great advice during this crazy process, and wanted to share what some really gracious people have share with me along the way.

Good luck!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Job Offer

Just had a conference call with the NGO that I did some pro bono work with in the Middle East, and they want me to join them full-time. The position would be to lead their entrepreneurial economic programs in the West Bank and Gaza as well as a little work in Egypt. I would be living in East Jerusalem and I could work out of my home in the US about a third of the time.

We are going to have a family pow wow later to discuss.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bad Omen?????????????

I must be quick on the refresh button because for the second year in a row I have an early OA date. I am not certain, but I think I have the first available day this cycle. We have some good friends who live in the DC area so the whole family flew out last year and we made a mini vacation out of it. It was the first time for my kids so we hit a lot of the major sites, and the icing on the the cake was a Goo Goo Dolls concert the night after the OA. They are one of my favorite if not my favorite groups to see in concert.

If you have read any of my dribble you know that I came up just short with a 5.2. With the budget crisis and hiring uncertainty I didn't like my chances to make it back to the OA. So I made it, have my OA date, and the Goo Goo Dolls are back in DC the night after my OA date for the second year in a row. As much as I would LOVE to see them again I am thinking I will just hop on the last plane back to Denver on the 25th. So, sorry Johnny Rzenik, but this year rather than drowning my sorrows with Name, Iris, and Slide I'll just sit in my middle seat in the back of the bus with those little bottles of scotch celebrating(hopefully) with the person who keeps stealing both arm rests.