Applicants are sitting for the Foreign Service’s notoriously difficult multiple choice entrance exam this week. They are the first cadre of future diplomats to be selected through the service’s updated hiring process.
Previously, the Foreign Service Officer Test served as the first gateway to the rest of the selection steps. If applicants failed to achieve or exceed a variable cutoff score, they were not invited to move forward in the process.
Those few that did progress had their personal narrative statements and an essay written during the exam evaluated by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel, which seeks to asses how well applicants demonstrate core service tenants known as the “13 Dimensions.” Once an applicant moved onto the QEP, their FSOT score no longer had any bearing on the rest of the hiring process.
In late April, the State Department announced that starting with the June testing period - the FSOT would no longer serve as a mechanism to cull the ranks of applicants. Instead all applicants would move forward onto the QEP and their FSOT score would be factored into the evaluation along with the other materials.
The updated process “will give the Department a more balanced view of candidates who will be selected for the next phase of the selection process, the Foreign Service Oral Assessment,” the department wrote in their announcement. “This is the most significant change to the Foreign Service Selection process since 1930. We anticipate that this change will result in identifying a more qualified pool of candidates.”
The announcement came as a surprise to many, including the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association for FSOs. The association said it was not informed of or consulted about the change prior to the announcement. The AFSA has expressed their concern about the lack of transparency from the State Department.
The association said it supports the undertaking of comprehensive review of how the Foreign Service selects members and that it’s not opposed to fundamental changes.
“We remain concerned that these unilateral changes risk being seen as excessively subjective and subject to partisan influence,” the AFSA wrote in their June addition of the Foreign Service Journal. “It is important to protect against potential future politicization of hiring through manipulation of a process that is now less easily explained.”
Despite the concerns from the AFSA and uproar from critics who have argued for the preservation of the status quo in opinion columns, the State Department has been relatively silent regarding the change beyond the initial announcements.
“We urge fuller transparency regarding hiring decisions made through this new system and further discussions with stakeholders on its implementation,” the AFSA said.
Ryan White is a reporting intern at Sightline Media. He is currently a senior at The University of Maryland, College Park studying journalism.