Lessons Learned from Second-Tour Bidding

Last post about bidding, I promise, at least for another two years when I start Round 3. But this process has taught me some things I wish I had known the first time around, so they might be useful to other people too.

1. Equity: It Ain’t All That. I feel like we heard a lot about equity in A-100 when we were bidding for our first posts. I can see why – it’s a good way to cushion the blow for newbies who were hoping for Paris or London but got Conakry instead, and a little extra incentive for those of us of a more adventurous nature. Well, they may have oversold it a little. I know many people in posts with high hardship differentials who didn’t get anywhere close to their top choice, including someone from a post with higher hardship than mine who got an even lower choice post. Conversely, I know people from lower-hardship posts who got their #1 pick. It’s not that equity is a lie, just that it’s only one of a number of factors to consider in putting people in posts, the most important one of which is, as always, the Needs of the Service. The folks going to their first-choice posts happened to have desires that lined up with the Needs of the Service in a way that mine did not, mostly because my desires included doing a reporting job instead of more consular work (see #3).

2. Rotational Positions: It’s a Trap! (Kind Of). No one I know who got a rotational position for their first tour got one of their top picks for Post #2, including people at high-differential posts. This makes sense when you think about how the assignments process works; it’s kind of like fitting a mosaic of different-sized pieces into a frame. The big pieces are harder to place so you do those first. The smaller pieces can fit in anywhere, so those go in later. If you have a rotational job like mine, at the end of your first tour you’ve both worked in your cone and done some time on the visa line (and maybe met your language requirement too), so your tenure-related needs are filled. You can go anywhere, do anything, fill any position. You’re a small piece, and they’ll fit you in last. On the other hand, a first-tour rotation may be a chance to get to work at least one year in your cone, which doesn’t happen for everyone (see #3).

3. Nothing is Certain But Death, Taxes, and Consular Work. Another thing you hear about a lot in A-100 is consular requirements. Everyone must complete at least 12 months of consular work in order to qualify for tenure. That’s the regs, but then there’s the reality. The reality is that pretty much everyone’s gonna put in at least two years on the visa line. Minimum. Maybe you’ll do three years, maybe four, even if you’re not consular-coned. (The only reliable exception to this I can think of is people doing consular only for their second tour, in AIP, though there are probably some unreliable exceptions as well.) State is opening up new consulates right and left in places like China and Brazil, and more visa windows means they need more vice-consuls to fill them. When I was bidding the first time a lot of people talked about “getting consular out of the way” in one’s first tour; maybe that used to be something you could do, but it’s a new world out here. I know several people, especially management-coned folks, who will have put in two full tours in the FS before ever getting a job in their cone because they were needed to process visas instead. It is what it is, but it’s better if you know that from the beginning and align your expectations accordingly.

Or maybe this isn’t that helpful after all, since the most important lesson of second-tour bidding is You Don’t Get to Choose. This may seem kind of obvious since they tell you this up front, but all that agonizing and strategizing over bid lists sometimes makes you feel like you’re making momentous life decisions when you are not in fact choosing your next post. You are expressing preferences on a choice that will be made for you, and whatever the outcome of that choice is you will have to make it work.