Without a doubt, one of the biggest things to happen to us in 2014 was going through our first season of mid-level bidding. In the U.S. Foreign Service, the first two assignments are “directed” — which means officers have little-to-no say in where they go. With the first assignment, a big bid list comes out toward the end of the A-100 training class, and each officer has to rank every potential job “high,” “medium,” or “low” (for more on getting a first assignment, check out flag day revisited). For the second post, about halfway through an officer’s first tour, he or she gets a new bid list, and must rank order a top 30, taking into account timing and potential training needed, among other things.
For both of those bid cycles, all you can really do is order the assignments in a way that makes sense to you and then hope for the best. Tashkent, Uzbekistan was not on Grant’s “high” list (though so many other places were — he wasn’t very picky!) but it is what he got. Looking back on it, we feel very lucky to have had it as a first assignment, for many reasons.
Coming out of Tashkent, we had rather high expectations for our second assignment. Although Belgrade was not at the top of our list, it was near the top, and we feel very lucky having gotten it. It is a very easy place to live, with a low cost of living, yet very close to some incredible places that make for great weekend trips and other traveling. Sure, we have our issues here (chief among them being my lack of employment, but that’s a story for another day), but if we could have extended, we would have. Two years is not enough time!
Third assignment bidding is an entirely different matter. The one thing it shares in common with entry-level bidding is that it, too, has a bid list; but that is where the similarities end. Grant put it best, I think, when he likened bidding to dating, although I would like to specify and say that it reminds me more specifically of high school dating (where, I feel, there is more immaturity and uncertainty than at later times in life). Instead of just submitting an ordered list, mid-level officers must contact each job they are interested in and lobby for it, hoping for an interview and some indication of where they stand with each position.
There is no good guidance available for first time mid-level bidders, so in preparation for going through the process for the first time, we read what we could find and talked to everyone about what to expect and what to do. You can look at a projected bid list, but once the actual list comes out, things get real pretty fast. You look at the spreadsheet and try to keep everything straight while thinking, somewhere on this list, there is a job that will determine the next one to three years of our life. And then you take a deep breath, break out the highlighter, and get to work. The goal is to have as much control over your future as possible, and to make it a future you can look forward to having.
Bidding is rather nightmarish. We spent hours talking over the options, prioritizing jobs, only to change our minds again as we learned more about post X or position Y. Grant spent many, many hours doing research, sending (probably hundreds of) emails, having interviews, requesting recommendations. We went on R&R back to the States shortly after the list came out, so he did much of this while on “vacation” — and the rest was done at work after-hours and for many hours on the weekends following our return. For a couple of months, it was like he had two jobs!
Although bidders have some requirements to fulfill regarding the number of bids submitted and some aspects of bids (only a certain number can be within one geographical bureau or outside one’s job level, etc.), it is really up to the individual to figure out jobs that work and that are actually possible to get, particularly during competitive bidding cycles. Bids have to be submitted through an official system, but merely submitting a bid does nothing to help you get the job. It is a lot of work and took up a good portion of our energy in 2014, so we are very happy it is over!