Looking for newbie advice on applying for State Department/federal jobs
January 9, 2017 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Just looking for an understanding on how to get these jobs, or whether it is even accessible without further schooling.

I'm an American/Canadian dual citizen in my mid 20's, I speak english, french, and am working on spanish. I have a Bachelor's of Arts in history. Otherwise I have no special qualifications or education.

I just missed a Visa Assistant job in Montreal, because it had very narrow requirements, like, "Must have an ability to acquire a standard knowledge of the consular operational environment; strong familiarity with Mission Canada and Bureau of Consular Affairs priorities and key activities; authoritative knowledge of relevant law, regulations, procedures and processes."

Now, by the time I had seen the job opening, there was no time to study and then subsequently demonstrate any knowledge. I'm here to ask if there are any repositories of information for the State Department, so that I could perhaps learn some of the regulations, procedures, laws, and processes involved in time for the next job to pop up. And I do not mean for this position alone.

Do they have publicly available instructional or primer material, or are these jobs often structured in such a way that you have to be on the inside to begin with? If even I knew the contours of what laws and regulations I'd need to be familiar with for a visa assistant job, or any other bureaucratic position, I could easily get to work on independent study.

I very much like living in Canada, though I would like to work my way into the federal jobs system in case I ever want to return. It also seems like a place where there are opportunities for careers, pension, etc. Additionally it might provide further opportunities for challenge, growth, and the leveraging of my second and third languages.

I apologise if this is very naive. I'm stuck in that liberal arts degree post graduation barista life (not literally), and I'd very much like to move on for personal growth and security's sake. I have no knowledge of disciplines outside of the useless training I received in university. It's time to overcome the trepidation of "adult jobs" and find what I need to earn them and the respect of those who offer them.
posted by constantinescharity to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Generally when an employer is asking for an "authorative knowledge" of laws and regulations it's not something you can self teach. They won't quiz you in the interview as much as want to see that you've already worked with them. It's not an entry level position, in other words. Not many government jobs are entry level unless you have a specific skill set and probably a graduate degree.

I would do the following:
- look for internship or recent graduate programs at government agencies you are interested in. The US govt does this, I'd imagine Canada does too.
- Find out a lot about jobs that you might apply for, either because of interest or they come up a lot and get some relevant JOB experience. So for example for the above I imagine the easiest way to get some relevant experience as a history grad is to volunteer with an organization that serves immigrants and continually express your interest in immigration law and processes. Get hired on if you can by a non-profit or law firm, then apply to the government job. If that sounds like a years-long process, well becoming an authoritative figure on things generally is. I am our authority on a very niche thing and it was years of experience. Similarly, most of my coworkers are either experts in a narrow field or working on becoming experts.
posted by fshgrl at 7:34 PM on January 9, 2017

I am a federal employee. I am not a Canadian federal employee.

In the US context at least, when I see things like "Must have an ability to acquire a standard knowledge of the consular operational environment," they mean in my experience only what they say: Must have an ability to acquire the knowledge you need to do the job.

You are not expected to understand the legal niceties of visa issuance when you walk in the door. It's not expected that you have sprung, Athena-like, from the brow of the Cabinet member with X remit. Basically: are you trainable? Moderately intelligent? Tend not to become easily flustered by previously-unencountered situations? Great.

So far as the US Dept of State goes, they have an entire website dedicated to explaining what their people do in multiple career tracks. Don't be intimidated. Start reading.

I am not a State Dept. employee, but if you have general questions, feel free to reach out.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:59 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

When you say you "just missed" this job, do you mean you missed applying for it? If so, don't do that to yourself! Apply next time and let the employer make that decision.

If you mean you didn't get it, do you know for a fact it's because of this qualification? If so, then I would reach out to the person who told you that and ask what you can do about it. If not, I wouldn't necessarily assume it was because of that. The fact is, when you're in that post-grad phase, there are always going to be a lot of qualified people for any given position - not getting a job does not necessarily mean you are unqualified.
posted by lunasol at 8:46 PM on January 9, 2017

I am reading this as: "Must have an ability to acquire a standard knowledge of the consular operational environment; (must have) strong familiarity with Mission Canada and Bureau of Consular Affairs priorities and key activities; (must have) authoritative knowledge of relevant law, regulations, procedures and processes." ie not an entry level job where they will teach you, one where they want to hire people with a lot of knowledge already.
posted by fshgrl at 12:43 AM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Most U.S. federal jobs are General Schedule positions. Organizations and agencies do their own hiring, but procedures are standardized. I.e., you file an application. If that makes it through the initial review process, you may be called in for interviews.

A BA degree is fine for many, many, of these jobs. Language skills are obviously a plus for jobs that need them.

Smaller places may advertise to fill one specific vacancy. Large organizations sometimes need to fill many entry level positions, and that obviously may increase your odds a bit.

State Department people who staff embassies are typically Foreign Service personnel. They rotate between Washington and overseas assignments. State does not expect newbies to have experience working at an embassy. Those accepted as Foreign Service officers are trained before their initial overseas assignment.

Information about General Schedules vacancies, application procedures, etc., is available online but you'll need to do some looking around. There's nothing wrong with calling and asking questions, either.

The first step into being a Foreign Service officer is to apply and be accepted into the program.
posted by justcorbly at 5:50 AM on January 10, 2017

If you're interested in the Canadian side, virtually all foreign service officers at Global Affairs are hired through the post-secondary recruitment program, which just closed for this year. IIRC, applications open in late Fall. Here, they do require that you have at least an intermediate level of ability in a second language.

They don't really expect people to know the subject matter details of the job going in - these are entry-level development programs designed to gradually ramp up one's knowlegde.
posted by blerghamot at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2017

There's a pretty important distinction to draw here. American embassies and consulates are staffed in two different ways: by American direct hires of the federal government (mostly foreign service officers working for the State Department) who rotate from post to post every few years, and by locally employed staff, who are hired by the post itself to fill a particular job and remain in that job indefinitely. The job that you applied for is a locally employed position. That means that you don't go through usajobs.gov and you wouldn't be a federal employee in the sense of having access to the U.S. federal pension system or health insurance or TSP, or the formal preferential hiring for other federal positions in the U.S. Instead, these jobs are governed by local labor laws, and will offer benefits through local providers and adapted to the local context.

I don't know if that changes your interest in the position, if your main goal is to make your way into the federal jobs system. However, the consulate may still offer a challenging work environment and opportunities for good pay and benefits and moving up in the local system, if you're content to stay in Montreal.

Anyway, the advice you've gotten so far that they don't truly expect a new hire to know the ins and outs of laws and regulations is spot on. It sounds like the job description might have been written in hopes of hiring internally, or hiring a family member of a foreign service officer who may have worked in a consular section in a different post before (though consulates and embassies do hire external candidates for these types of roles as well). There's no practical way to acquire useful knowledge for this kind of job without actually doing it, though if you had experience working in a consular section of an embassy of another country, or working in an immigration or social services-related field, I'm sure that would be generally helpful.
posted by exutima at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2017

Response by poster: Hey thanks guys!

So yeah, I'm looking at these and this is really helping me understand. The distinction between local employees and foreign officers is a good one.

Also, the suggestion of maybe looking at Global Affairs Canada strikes is a really good idea. No one questions your loyalty if you switch between two foreign services for different countries of which you're a citizen, right?
posted by constantinescharity at 5:41 PM on January 11, 2017

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