Now that I am safely panelled and ready to start getting travel orders and so on, I feel like I can talk about third-tour bidding without calling down some sort of jinx and getting my awesome job taken away by the gods or the fates or the Needs of the Service. This was my first stab at mid-level bidding, and here’s what I learned:
Bid Early – This is something everyone tells you, and it’s SO true. Bids opened at the beginning of August and closed mid-October, so it sounds like you have ten weeks to play with. You do not. The more competitive jobs I bid on had a short list of candidates put together after only two weeks, and all of them had their top choices picked, interviewed, and laid out in rank order by the week before bids closed. No matter what kind of work-related or personal craziness you have going on in your life at the time, as soon as bids open you had better be making your list and sending out resumes or you will be left in the cold.
In-Cone Experience Is VITAL – For this round of bidding I was an econ-coned officer looking for an econ job, but with more consular experience than anything else. That’s just how the luck of the draw and the Needs of the Service set up my first two tours. Were any of my interviewers even slightly interested in all the exciting and worthwhile things I’ve done in consular? Not even a teeny tiny bit. I got my new job entirely on the strength of my one year of econ experience in Conakry, and that’s it. For hiring purposes the last two and a half years may as well not have happened. I have a friend who was not assigned any in-cone experience in his first two tours and he had a terrible time bidding for his third tour. He ended up sacrificing all other considerations to get an in-cone job, ANY in-cone job, because if he didn’t get one now he’d be even less competitive next time, and then what?
Be Realistic – Most of the mentor-types I talked to, when asked about bidding, said some variation of “just bid on jobs you think are interesting and everything will work out.” So I did. What I learned is that many of the jobs I thought were interesting were also interesting to other bidders – dozens and dozens of other bidders. Not just the plush European posts either; jobs in places most people would never consider as vacation destinations were also mobbed with applicants. As a third-tour bidder you are either a freshly-promoted 03 or still an 04, and you’re competing against others like you, but also against people who have one or multiple 03 tours under their belt already. Those people have way more experience than you and are going to be more competitive candidates for highly-sought jobs. So temper that advice above and bid on jobs that interest you, but make sure at least some of them are also jobs you realistically think you can get. If all of your top choices have tons of bidders and posts haven’t shown much special interest in you, it may be time to lower your expectations and look at the list with fresh eyes. You may one day get to Paris, but probably not on your third tour.