Third tour and beyond is completely different. Basically, we apply for jobs and each post or bureau picks its favorite candidate. You're guaranteed a job, but which job and where is entirely dependent on someone picking you for the job. It's a bit like rushing a fraternity or a sorority. The best candidates can get offer or 'handshake' to several jobs, while others may not get a handshake initially. Bidders want to get their highest ranked job that wants them. Posts want to get their top candidate who will accept the job. Handshakes can't go out until a certain date and there is a lot of discussion that goes on before that. "IF I were to offer, would you likely accept?" Many in the foreign service actually call these non-offer offers "air kisses." Seriously, air kisses.
I, of course, added an additional complication in bidding this year. I am no longer just looking out for me, but I have to think about Sara. Our only real rule for bidding on this tour was that we both would be going. No unaccompanied posts. We're spending too much time apart already.
The official bid list came out back in August, but I had been looking at the projected bid list for a few months. I got an idea of what types of jobs and what types of locations were available and Sara and I began to discuss our priorities. Some of the important priorities include that we were together, both our dogs could join us, kids allowed in case we have some in the next few years, work options for Sara, like to be abroad again no later than 2017 (including any language training), and prefer consular jobs (my cone).
Once we had the list narrowed down to a manageable number, I began the lobbying process. Lobbying is the process of trying to get the job. The actual process differs for every job (State Department motto - "it depends"). For the most part, I would email the person in the position to find out a bit more about the job and the post, do a bit of research about living in the place (pets allowed? medical conditions? housing conditions? etc) and contact the office in Washington that would ultimately make the decision about whether I would be offered the job. Then, you begin the 360 process, where you ask current or former colleagues, subordinates, and supervisors to write a review of you. Some places want you to send resumes and cover letters. If you know people at that post or in the bureau, you might give them a call to say a word on your behalf.
For better or worse, bidding in Consular Affairs (CA) is a bit different than the rest of the State Department. For most every other job, the post/bureau wants their top candidate and they don't care who goes to the other posts. CA has taken a different approach. For the most part, they have removed posts from getting any say in the candidate selection. They put all the candidates together and stitch together offers that make the most sense for all of the posts and jobs. In theory, they even take into account the 'equity' you've built up in the past. Go to a hard post one time, they will reward you the next. In many ways, it is similar to entry-level bidding. You give them a list of jobs you are interested in and at the end of the process, they will make you an offer (or not). From the bidder perspective, this system has its plusses and minuses.
On the plus side, it is infinitely easier and less time consuming. I had one POC and didn't have to talk to a dozen different posts about the job. All of my 360s were combined in one form so it saved them tons of time. On the negative side, it takes a bit of the decision making process out of my hands. CA is only going to offer me one job. If I show a willingness to go to a harder-to-fill post, they have an incentive to put me there, even if I would be great for my top choice job. They are only offering me one position and I can either take it or not.
In the end, Sara and I selected a wide variety of jobs across the globe. A few domestic positions and about a dozen overseas jobs. I think we bid five different continents and six different languages. Almost all of the positions are unit chief or deputy unit chief positions. All are in medium or large consular sections. I am pretty sure I will get an offer on Monday and I am fairly sure for which post. I am going to wait until its official before I say anything on here though.
Until next week...