FSS Infographic
What you need to know about the Foreign Service Specialist Selection Process

Now that you have chosen the Foreign Service Specialist position for which you may qualify, the next step is to refer to the specific vacancy announcement and complete all additional required procedures.

A completed application package contains all of the material listed announcement. An application can be terminated whenever the materials do not support the basic eligibility requirements for employment in the Foreign Service.

Applications must be submitted through the online application system via USAJOBS. Please visit the Available Jobs section of the careers site views a list of open – and closed – vacancies, and to subscribe to receive email updates.

Candidates forwarded by the qualifications process are invited to Washington, D.C. at their own expense to the Foreign Service Assessment Center to participate in an Oral Assessment. Some specialties may also be offered the chance to test in other domestic U.S. locations.

You are evaluated solely against the 12 dimensions by trained examiners. When you come to the Oral Assessment, you will be asked to read and sign the following forms pertaining to the conditions for taking the Oral Assessment and conditions of employment in the Foreign Service. If you are not willing to abide by these conditions, you should not schedule an Oral Assessment.

All Foreign Service Specialist oral assessments share common elements and are judged according to the same dimensions, but there are some differences in the exam according to specialty. These differences are greatest between Diplomatic Security and non-Diplomatic Security positions. While we list below some of the elements found in all the oral assessments, candidates should consult the Information Guide (pdf) linked above to see the specific details regarding the assessment for their specialty.

Writing Exercise

Candidates will be presented a hypothetical problem set in a workplace environment related to the candidate’s area of specialization. The candidate will be required to write a two-page memo outlining how to solve the problem presented. The candidate will have 45 minutes for the writing exercise. He/she will have a computer available to use, but may write the essay or memo in longhand.

Structured Interview

The interview will be conducted by two examiners, a Foreign Service generalist and a Foreign Service specialist or generalist working in your field. The candidate will be asked about his/her motivation for joining the Foreign Service and about background experiences that might be relevant to their work as a Foreign Service specialist. The interviewer will ask questions in the candidate’s field and provide hypothetical workplace problems to resolve. Candidates are expected to use common sense and good judgment and to make assumptions they believe are appropriate in responding to the hypothetical situations.

Competency Exam

Candidates may be given a computer-based, multiple-choice exam that presents a series of technical and/or situational judgment questions. It is intended to measure job-related knowledge and how the candidate might apply that knowledge on the job. The exam is designed to present more questions than can generally be answered in the time allowed, so candidates should not expect to answer every question.

Exit Interview

The examiners will inform all candidates on the day of their assessment whether or not they reached the cut-off score which will enable the State Department to continue the candidacy. If the candidate reaches the cut-off score, the examiners will brief him/her on the next steps in the pre-employment process.

What to bring to the Assessment Center

It is essential that you visit the Download Center for a list of what you should prepare and bring to the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment (pdf). In addition to valid U.S. state or federal government-issued photo identification, you will need to bring various completed forms to show or submit if you pass the Oral Assessment. Some of the release forms must be signed by your spouse or estranged spouse, co-habitant, or fiancé(e).

All candidates must receive medical and security clearances in order to be hired and serve abroad.

Medical Clearance
The Office of Medical Services of the Department of State determines a candidate’s medical fitness and ability to serve overseas. Many Foreign Service posts are located in remote areas with extremely limited medical support; therefore, each candidate must meet rigorous medical standards in order to qualify for the required worldwide medical clearance. Medical clearance determination by Medical Services is based on its thorough review of each candidate’s medical history and physical examination, including an individual assessment of his/her specific medical needs and the medical capabilities of Foreign Service posts to meet those needs. All children under six must have their medicals done by their pediatrician.

After receiving a Conditional Offer of employment, each candidate is provided with the necessary examination forms (with instructions) to give to the examining health care practitioner (MD, DO, NP, PA). We also provide an authorization for the Department of State to pay for the examination. Candidates who live within 50 miles of Washington, DC must schedule their medical exams at the State Department’s Office of Medical Services. Those who live more than 50 miles from Washington may have them done by their own physician or at the State Department. Children under the age of six must be seen by their own pediatrician, regardless of location.

Regardless of who administers the medical clearance exam, the Department’s Office of Medical Services determines whether or not a candidate is medically eligible for assignment to all Department of State posts worldwide. While a candidate may effectively manage a chronic health condition or limitation within the United States or in specific areas outside of the U.S., the Office of Medical Services might well determine that the same individual is not eligible for a worldwide ("Class One") medical clearance. Such clearances may only be issued to candidates whom the Office of Medical Services deems able to serve at the most isolated and restricted overseas posts.

Such a post could feature extreme isolation in terms of limitations on reliable air service in and out of the country, unreliable Internet and telecommunications connections, and/or unreliable postal and delivery systems. Any of these limited services can have a severe adverse impact in terms of both bringing in required medical services and/or supplies, and/or permitting timely medical evacuations. Other infrastructure at such a post might also be inadequate. There might be a poor or negligible public health system, poor sanitation, unreliable electricity and a lack of potable water. There might also be infectious and communicable diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, rabies, encephalitis and gastrointestinal diseases. There might be no health unit at the post and next to no local medical facilities. The emergency room, for example, might be completely inadequate, without ventilators, defibrillators, x-ray capabilities, etc. There often would be no blood bank or medical supplies or medications available locally. Because of political instability, security could be a concern.

Candidates should be aware that these posts are not few in number nor confined to a specific geographic region. Also, there are numerous other posts — in Asia and Europe for example — where conditions appear similar to that of the U.S. but which also feature some of these restrictive characteristics.

As a result of these characteristics of a post, the stress level among employees might be very high. Given these concerns, the Department of State would only assign employees with unrestricted medical clearances to such posts (of which there are many), and is unable to hire new employees without such clearances.

While the candidate must be medically cleared for worldwide service, the Department of State does not consider the medical condition of eligible family members for employment purposes. State does, however, require that each eligible family member have a medical clearance before they can travel overseas at U. S. Government expense when accompanying an employee on assignment.

Please note that employees with a family member who has been issued a limited medical clearance (not worldwide) may be assigned to posts where that family member cannot accompany them. We strongly advise candidates to consider this situation as they pursue employment with the Department of State.

On request, the Director General of the Foreign Service, or designee, may consider granting a waiver of the worldwide availability requirement for a candidate who is unable to qualify for a worldwide medical clearance. Candidates should be aware, however, that the granting of such waivers is rare.

For more information on medical clearances, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page, or visit the Forums.

Security Clearance
Candidates who pass the Oral Assessment must apply for the security clearance required for appointment to the Foreign Service. A comprehensive background investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, will provide the information necessary to determine a candidate’s suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance. The process considers such factors as: failure to repay a U.S. Government-guaranteed loan or meet tax obligations; failure to register for the Selective Service; past problems with credit or bankruptcy; unsatisfactory employment records; a criminal record or other violations of the law; drug or alcohol abuse; and less than honorable discharge from the armed forces.

Candidates who hold dual citizenship (pdf), have had extensive travel, education, residence and /or employment overseas, or who have foreign contacts, a foreign-born spouse, immediate family members or relatives who are not citizens of the United States, should be aware that the clearance process will take longer to complete. The background investigation includes interviews with current and previous contacts, supervisors and coworkers. Candidates who do not receive a security clearance are ineligible for appointment. Potential candidates who have any serious issues that may prevent them from receiving a clearance should give some thought to the likelihood of their being found ineligible before starting this process.

Upon completion of the background investigation, a Suitability Review Panel will examine a candidate’s file (minus any privileged medical information) to determine suitability for employment with the Foreign Service.

The attainment of U.S. foreign policy objectives depends substantially on the confidence of the public (both American and foreign) in the individuals selected to serve in the Foreign Service. The Department of State, therefore, requires the highest standards of conduct by employees of the Foreign Service, including an especially high degree of integrity, reliability, and prudence. Given the representational nature of employment in the Service, employees must observe proper standards at all times. The purpose of the suitability review is to determine, from the candidate’s total record, whether the candidate is indeed suitable to represent the United States. The Suitability Review Panel has the authority to terminate a candidacy.

In evaluating suitability, the Suitability Review Panel takes into consideration the following factors:

  • Misconduct in prior employment, including marginal performance or inability to interact effectively with others
  • Criminal, dishonest, or disgraceful conduct
  • Misrepresentation, including deception or fraud, in the application process
  • Repeated or habitual use to excess of intoxicating beverages affecting the ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the employee’s position
  • Trafficking in or abuse of narcotics or controlled substances
  • Reasonable doubt as to loyalty to the U.S. Government
  • Conduct which clearly shows poor judgment and or lack of discretion which may reasonably affect an individual or the agency’s ability to carry out its responsibilities or mission
  • Financial irresponsibility, including a history of not meeting financial obligations or an inability to satisfy debts
Some other things to consider

Active Military and Veterans

Qualifying, active military duty candidates may request unrestricted additional time to schedule the Oral Assessment after passing the Qualifications Evaluation Panel review. Candidates must notify BEX when they are discharged from the military and reschedule an Oral Assessment within six months of the discharge date.

Foreign Service Specialist candidates who can document creditable veterans’ service by submitting form DD-214 or other certification will be eligible to receive additional points on the Hiring Register. Candidates whose Oral Assessment is scored on a 7-point scale will receive 0.175 veteran preference points for a five-point standing and 0.35 for a 10-point standing as defined in 5 USC § 2108. Diplomatic Security Specialist candidates whose Oral Assessment is scored on a 100-point scale may receive five or 10 veteran preference points, respectively, based on their eligibility. In all cases any points are awarded once a candidate has passed the Oral Assessment. Instructions on how to claim these points are provided at that time.

Qualifying, preference-eligible veterans, including Diplomatic Security Special Agents, may be appointed from the rank-ordered Hiring Register at any time before they turn 65. If appointed between the ages of 60 to 65, a qualifying, preference-eligible veteran may serve five years prior to being mandatorily retired.

While Specialist candidates are not required to know a foreign language, proficiency in a language will enhance competitiveness on the hiring register by providing a slight increase in points.

Specialist candidates, who have passed the Oral Assessment and whose candidacies began after November 2, 2012, may earn .17, .25 or .38 pre-employment bump-up points on the hiring register. (Diplomatic Security candidates receive points prorated on a 100-point scale: .17 = 2.4 points, .25 = 3.6 points, and .38 = 5.4 points.)

To qualify for the .17 bump-up points, Specialist candidates, who have recently passed the Oral Assessment, may take a telephone test administered by FSI in any one language listed here. Candidates who demonstrate proficiency in the eight current priority recruitment languages of Arabic; Chinese (Mandarin); Hindi; Persian (Dari); Persian (Farsi); Pashto; Urdu; and Korean may also be eligible for additional bump-up points. Candidates who receive a speaking score of 2 or higher during telephone tests on any of these eight priority languages are eligible to receive .17 bump-up points. All other listed languages require a minimum speaking score of level 3 during the telephone test in order to qualify for the .17 bump-up.

To qualify for additional points in the eight priority languages, candidates who pass the telephone test will then need to take an in-person, two-hour speaking and reading test conducted by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, Virginia. Any outside costs associated with the in-person test (travel, lodging in Washington, etc.) are at the candidate’s expense. Candidates who test in more than one language will receive bonus points in only one.

Those who achieve a minimum score of 3 speaking and 2 reading (S3/R2) will be eligible to receive a total of .38 bump-up points. Candidates who receive a rating of at least 2 speaking and 1 reading (S2/R1) but less than 3 speaking and 2 reading (S3/R2) will be eligible to receive a total of .25 bump-up points.

To receive bump-up points of .25 and .38, Specialist candidates whose candidacies began after November 2, 2012 must agree in writing to serve one tour of their first two overseas assignments in a Language Designated Position or in a country where the recruitment language is a primary language.

For information to help you assess your own speaking level, visit http://www.govtilr.org and click on “Speaking” under the skill level descriptions for a general description of the expected proficiency. The speaking self-assessment tool, available on the same site, will also help you estimate your language proficiency.

For Specialist candidates whose candidacies began prior to November 2, 2012

Specialist candidates whose candidacies began prior to November 2, 2012, who have passed the Oral Assessment, can receive .17 bump-up points on the register for any one language listed here if they meet the specific speaking-level threshold required in the tested language during a telephone-administered language test conducted by the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington (FSI), Virginia. In order to receive the .17 bump-up points, a speaking level of 3 or higher during the telephone test is required for the following languages: Danish, Dutch, French, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. All other listed languages require a minimum level 2 speaking proficiency in order to receive bump-up points.

Those Specialist candidates whose candidacies began prior to November 2, 2012 who can demonstrate a speaking proficiency of level 2 or higher in the following recruitment languages – Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Singhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Turkish, Turkmen, Urdu, and Uzbek may earn a total of .40 points. Those with a speaking score of at least 2 in Arabic can earn a total of .50 points.

Pre-employment language tests for Specialist candidates under this category are conducted by telephone only, not in person. Upon entry on duty with the Department, those claiming competence in a given language must take a formal speaking and reading examination in person at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington, Va. in order to be judged competent in that language. Specialist candidates whose candidacies began prior to November 2, 2012 with a passing score in any of the identified languages are entitled to receive bump-up points without incurring an obligation to use that language in the future.

For qualified candidates who will require accommodation upon appointment, the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations Disability and Reasonable Accommodations Division determines reasonable accommodations. To qualify, a candidate must meet all requirements for appointment to the Foreign Service.

Anyone applying to be in the Foreign Service must be willing to accept the following three commitments of Foreign Service work: flexibility in assignments, public support of U.S. Government policies and worldwide availability.

Suitability Review Panels consider candidate involvement with controlled substances, including marijuana, in connection with suitability determinations for Foreign Service positions. Drug involvement raises questions about an individual’s reliability, judgment, and trustworthiness or ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules, and regulations, thus indicating his or her employment might not promote the efficiency or protect the integrity of the service. Each candidate’s conduct will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Read more >>