Upon completing the Foreign Service Officer Test, you will receive a Personal Narrative. This will be emailed to you and needs to be filled out 3 weeks after the PN is sent to you.
The PN is then sent to a Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) who will read your response and decide which candidates will make it to the next step, the Foreign Service Oral Assessment.
Reading State’s discussion on the PN and the QEP process is practically useless. According to the Official State website, the PN covers 6 areas: Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, Communication Skills, Management Skills, Intellectual Skills, and Substantive Knowledge. Pretty broad right?
The only part that I believe they do a good job of covering is their discussion on the three precepts you should focus on when answering the questions:
- Give positive examples that demonstrate your abilities
- Identify learning experiences
- Indicate how your learning experience will contribute to success in your chosen track
Good advice, right?
But let’s take it a step further.
How to Pass the QEP
The biggest mistakes that I saw when sitting on the QEP panel was that candidates gave what I call a “shotgun” answer. It was as if they sat down and wrote out every possible thing that is great about themselves but never focused on something particular.
Don’t laugh, because if you hadn’t of read this, you probably would have too.
The FSO organization does not care that you play the bag pipes or that you won state as a goalie in ice hockey. These really mean nothing to us. They might sound exceptional, but we are looking for a specific type of exceptional – we are looking for Diplomats.
Furthermore, I read many responses that didn’t seem to fit the question being asked. Many candidates have something that they REALLY want to put in there and you’d be surprised how creative some people get in trying fit the story or piece of information into the question. This is usually a very bad idea.
That is why, when you go to write your Personal Narrative, look at every piece of information you provide and ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this a good example of how I would make a good Diplomat?
- Does this actually answer the question?
If your answer doesn’t prove to the QEP that you would make a fine diplomat, then find something else to talk about. If it isn’t evident why that would make you a candidate, then tell us. We might not understand why being a black belt in Jiu Jitsu is Diplomat worthy. But when you talk about self-control and discipline, then it starts to make sense. In a way, if your information isn’t obvious to being proof of diplomatic characteristics, then you better spend some time selling it to us as being such.
Although, I would say that if you think that mentioning something like Jiu Jitsu is something you should put in it, then you are going to struggle in passing the QEP. Your responses should be obvious to a Diplomat’s life style. I’ll get into characteristics and traits that will help you out later in this post.
With respect to question #2, it’s absolutely obvious when you are trying to fit some piece of information in your response that is a stretch to answering the question. It comes off as being fake and tells the panel that you don’t have anything better to use for your answer. Instead of impressing us with that particular response, it only turns us off.
Things to Include in Your PN
Your response will definitely depend on the question…of course. But you should try to show the following type of experiences/points when applicable.
The below list is not perfect and just because you don’t have these things on your resume, doesn’t mean you won’t do fine. But if you do have these, then try to incorporate them over naturally. These are the sort of stories or highlights to feature in your response if you can:
College Degree or Masters in political field
Leadership positions worthy of diplomatic discussions
Foreign Language proficiency
Service (non-profit to military)
Real hardships and accomplishments through adversity
Last Advice on Passing the QEP
Before submitting your Personal Narrative, seriously have trusted people review your responses. An instant disqualifier (un-officially, but seriously…shouldn’t it?) is poor grammar or misspellings.
But before you ask your parents, spouses or best friends, you may want to reconsider.
When having someone review your stuff, you need someone who is good with grammar and English skills. This person should correct you mistakes and help to improve your sentence structure and ultimately your responses.
You should also have someone who doesn’t know you read through them. It’s best if they know the process, but don’t specifically know you. That way, you can get the opinion of a stranger, which is exactly what the members of the QEP should be. Someone who doesn’t know you will be able to tell you when they don’t understand something or when your response doesn’t paint you in the best light.
Finally, I would HIGHLY recommend that you have a FSO review your PN before submitting. Having someone like this could be your best resource.
The QEP and PN Conclusion
Simply put, you need to sell you.
This is your non-face-to-face interview that will hopefully tell the QEP panel that you are a top candidate, a diplomat and an intelligent person worthy of the next step.
Ensure your response exemplify this.
Oh, and one more thing…don’t wait until the last minute to fill this out. You’d be surprised how many people seem to do this. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I tell you that the panel knows which ones were rush and which ones were fleshed out over time.