Help me choose between two good options
February 17, 2013 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I was recently added to the list of potential hires for the foreign service. Great! I can expect a call anytime. The same day I got another solid job offer that's tempting but causes some logistical and financial complications. Do I take the bird in the hand?

First, I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to have two great options, and I’m very excited to have this “problem.” That being said, I’m still having a terrible time making a decision. I've seen some similar posts, here and here for example, but they don't quite address my situation.

I passed the final round of testing to join the foreign service back in November, and recently got my clearances and was added to the register of potential hires. Whenever a person is added to the register they are ranked based on the score they received during the application process. Each time they hire a new class of officers (scheduled to be every eight weeks for the rest of the year) they send out invitations starting at the top of the current list and working their way down. This adds some uncertainty: somebody who is high up on the list right now could fall further down as people with higher scores are added, and nobody knows (especially with all the budget shenanigans) how many people will be invited to a given class.

I have lots of reasons, including past hiring data and my current rank on the register, to believe that with my score I should get a fairly quick invitation, but there are also scenarios in which that doesn’t happen and I just stay on the register for months. If I were to be on the list for 18 months without getting hired, I’d be removed and have to go through the whole application process again.

I’m currently working a couple part-time positions that are fine and pay well, but which are unpredictable, located in an area where I have few friends, and are doing nothing for me career-wise. My original plan once I got my clearances was to quit my job here, take a road trip to see family and friends, and then move to another country where I could live cheaply, volunteer, and improve my language skills (which would incidentally boost my position on the hiring list…) while waiting for an invitation from the state department. This has the obvious drawback that that call may never come, but even so it shouldn’t be difficult to find another situation similar to what I'd be leaving behind. FWIW I have a year’s worth of frugal living expenses in an emergency fund and enough frequent flier miles to move anywhere.

However, the opportunity cost of that plan went way up when I got an unexpected solid job offer, Job B. It’s a good job, in my field, and would set me up for some great opportunities in the future if I decided not to go the foreign service route. Feeling like I’m moving forward, after spending half a year puttering around being un- and underemployed, is very appealing. I know that opportunities like this are rare, and if it had come a few months ago I would have accepted it in a heartbeat. However, I now have some concerns. 1) I still prefer the foreign service. If I accept Job B, I’ll *probably* get an offer fairly soon from the FS and I’ll either quit Job B, which would be inconvenient for everyone, or I would put off the FS in order to put in a solid amount of time at Job B, with no guarantee that I'd get another chance. 2) Job B is also located in DC. If I accept, I’ll need to move myself there and find a place to stay while still paying off the iron-clad lease I have here. If I wait and join the FS, as an out-of-town hire I’ll be eligible for a free move, free housing during the 4-12 months of training, and a substantial per diem on top of salary. If I’m hired after moving to the district I get none of those benefits, which are worth about $20,000-$30,000. Money obviously isn’t everything, but that’s still pretty substantial amount in return for not working for a few months.

What would you do?
posted by exutima to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you really want to join the Foreign Service. If that's true, I'd wait for a bit and see what happens. If you're interested in international work, the foreign service is really your best bet - there will always be other DC opportunities.
posted by lunasol at 12:00 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

If it weren't for the lease and the assistance moving for the FS, I might advise you to take the job offer and wait to see what happens with the FS. I know it would be inconvenient for people for you to leave right away if the FS then came through, but honestly I don't see anything terrible about acting in your self interest in these situations.

However, since it would end up costing you money to take the other job offer, you seem relatively confident that you will get called up for the FS, and you state a preference for the FS, I would say wait it out, maybe go with your original plan of volunteering abroad in the meantime.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can afford to wait for the foreign service, you benefit financially from doing so, and you aren't really at a place in your head where you could commit to the other job fully. Your original plan sounds like a fantastic but prudent adventure, and those don't come up too frequently in life. I say forget job b and go for your dream. Good luck!
posted by hazyjane at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2013

It sounds like you prefer the foreign service and, while not fulfilling, your current part-time work is paying the bills. Given your own evaluation of your chances (i.e. there's a very good chance of you getting a FS position) and the possible financial challenges that taking Job B would present, I'd wait for the FS call.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2013

I would also say that your plan to go hang out somewhere and study a foreign language is the way to go. However, two things to keep in mind:

If the sequester happens, I would be shocked if State keeps hiring at anything like the rate of the last decade, if that's the "past hiring data" you're looking at. It's really hard to say what State would do, but if the choice is between angering all the currently entrenched members of the bureaucracy with furloughs, or only running one hiring class this year, guess which is going to win?

In the grand scheme of things, getting per diem while on training in DC is definitely a nice bonus but not something to base a life decision on. $20k a year base salary? Maybe. A one-time $20k bonus? No way.

Good luck!
posted by Pseudonaut at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2013

You're going to kick yourself if you turn down the firm job offer and the foreign service doesn't work out. If the worst case scenario is accepting a job and then having to give notice, that's a better option than staying where you are without either.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:24 PM on February 17, 2013

Check your MeMail.
posted by whitewall at 9:20 PM on February 17, 2013

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