Friday, October 16, 2020

Mid-Level Bidding Again

I wrote about the Foreign Service assignment process in these blog entries from 3 years ago: Mid-Level Bidding Game and Mid-Level Bidding Continued. Now it's time to find a new place to work since my current tour ends next year. Yes, I'm tenured for this career through retirement, but we all have to compete for new assignments each time our tours end. It's the same crazy game as last time so I won't rehash the whole painful process.

I was bidding at the FS-04 pay grade with about 50 choices for the last time I did this. I'm an FS-03 now so this season gives me about 70 available overseas assignments. The biggest bubble of people in our Information Management Specialist (IMS) career field is at this FS-03 level. There's a wider variety of jobs and management responsibilities with various job titles. IMO, IPO, ISO, IMS, oh my! These are just some options in our acronym soup.

My wife and I started with an interest in about a dozen posts for further research, which was a little more than the 10 bids limit. I looked at the jobs and we researched the locations together before paring down the list to 9 bids. We're approaching the end of the game now and only 4 of those bids appear to be viable options. I wasn't put on the preliminary short lists for the other 5 bids based on the feedback I could gather.

A couple of posts said I was a strong candidate, but there were plenty of strong candidates possessing more experience at this pay grade since I haven't worked at this level yet. They wished me better luck in the future after I gain more experience. They may say that to all of their rejects, but it doesn't really matter since the end result is the same. 2 posts were heavily bid and didn't ask me for an interview or provide any other feedback after their initial thanks for the interest. I collected a real mixed bag of reactions across my bids similar to last time.

I can keep my bids submitted for those unlikely jobs until they're officially filled. It won't do much good until everyone on a short list rejects that job in favor of other jobs. If the post's short list is filled with people taking other jobs then they have to replenish their short list with available bidders until they match with an accepted "handshake."

If I'm not the leading candidate for a job right at the start then it might be better to find other short lists to get on instead of waiting for everyone ahead of me to choose. It's like trying to find the shortest line at the grocery store. Most of the lines are firmed up now with at least one bidder at the bidding deadline. I could be stuck at #2 or #3 in a line when the other lines suddenly free up with nobody waiting. If the people in those lines ultimately pick other jobs then those jobs stay available.

Everyone who isn't matched with a first handshake offer will get to adjust their bids to the leftovers. It's better to choose well at the beginning to have a chance of getting one of the better options. What's "better" is subjective for each person, but bidders are often enough going after the same jobs as their top choices. I hate this part of the process and the idea of scrambling for the "better" leftovers if the "good" jobs are all taken.

I would be nervous about falling into place for a good job in a desirable location based on the feedback so far. I would be worried that my 4 viable options aren't enough to get me to the head of a line before the register closes and that "next line please" sign goes up. I would be looking at reworking my bid list to try to get on more short lists. I would have all of those anxious thoughts if my first choice didn't seem to be a golden ticket made just for us.

Most of my bids have 2 to 20 other bidders for them. Somehow I ended up being the only person bidding on our top choice. It does have a high amount of hardship pay, but other jobs have more bidders with the same hardship. It's less hardship than Caracas was and we enjoyed living there despite, and possibly because of, the challenges there. There's some other factors for my top bid that might be negatives for other people, but they're generally positives for us. I won't get into that here until the job is locked in on November 2nd with that handshake. Hmm, maybe it should be called an elbow bump this year instead of a handshake.

I'll end these musings with this lesson learned from bidding this time. One key to success is to have different goals than everyone else. It's easier to reach the finish line if you're the only one competing in that one odd category on that one peculiar track. It's like the Robert Frost quote about the road less traveled. Alternative roads can be more interesting with uncommon beauty and unusual experiences. Why follow the herd when the herd might block the road?


  1. So far I'm a "top contender but not our #1" on every place I've bid. Probably going to round 2...

    1. There's still time for something good to fall into place. There's 3 short lists that I'm on where I'll get out of line, so lots of people will do the same. Good luck!