Let's Get Personal (Narratives)

Oh hey, you passed the Foreign Service Officers Test (FSOT)! Dope, good for you. Hope the six weeks of waiting for your score wasn’t too stressful, but regardless, that’s all behind you now. Time to look ahead to step four: the Personal Narratives.

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This is probably the portion of the application process that is the most vague. There isn’t really a step one through five to it and you’re never entirely sure what is being measured. The short answer: the Qualification Evaluation Panel (QEP) is seeing if you’re of the right character and experience for the job. Think of it as a written pre-interview interview. Likely, if you’ve ever filled out a relatively in-depth job application before you’ll recognize the sort of narratives you’re asked to provide.

The QEPs look at the “total candidate” to rank order all the candidates in a given career track. (careers.state.gov)

Candidates are asked to address six key areas: Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, Communication Skills, Management Skills, Intellectual Skills, and Substantive Knowledge. Further, you will be asked to provide a reference to potentially pledge confidence to what you have written. So if, for example, you worked somewhere in a management role but had a poor relationship with your boss, maybe choose someone else to verify your skills in that particular realm. You may have noticed how these six areas are not specific to any one career track/cone; this is because the QEP is less concerned with you as a [INSERT TRACK HERE] Officer and more concerned with your ability to be a strong, efficient member of the mission. FSO’s, particularly in their first two tours, will often be asked to work outside of their career track and thus, the QEP is looking to understand a more complete version of you beyond a résumé and a test score.

It’s not  THAT  bad. Just almost.

It’s not THAT bad. Just almost.

My advice? Read each question carefully and jot down some ideas. Think deeply on your experience and conclude which experience of yours best suits each individual area. You are welcome to use a role more than once, but I would recommend showing some variety. I myself used my AmeriCorps NCCC experience a couple times but made sure to mix in my time in VISTA, internships, college groups, and even my time as a barista to give the fullest painting. Once you have your ideas down, take a break, go to bed, go for a run, and come back later to review your choices. You have three weeks to get this done, so don’t rush it. 

State offers some general advice, “The PNs allow candidates to draw attention not only to what they have done, but also how they did it, why it mattered, and what effect it had. Simple lists of accomplishments, recaps of candidates’ resumes, or theories learned in school are not effective.”

So tell your story, showcase your ability to talk about yourself, no one knows you better than you so tell them why you kick ass and they’d be lucky to have you…modestly. No one likes a showboat.

My final piece of advice for the narratives is this: EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. You have all this time so don’t be afraid to write drafts, rip them apart, and rewrite them. I recommend writing everything in Word first and then slowly and deliberately copying them into the online boxes. Your answers ought to be concise and effective. Cut superfluous language, choose your words wisely, and have someone else look it over. If you use the words “very” or “a lot,” so help me God.

Now that you’ve submitted your Personal Narratives, sit back, relax, and try not to worry too much over the next six-to-eight weeks. You’re doing great.