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Policy Podcast: Department Recruitment

Marianne Myles, Department Director for Recruitment
Sean McCormack, Department Spokesman

Washington, D.C.
July 18, 2007

MR. MCCORMACK: Marianne Myles, welcome.

MS. MYLES: Thank you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Thank you very much for being with us. You're the State Department's Director for Recruitment?

MS. MYLES: That's right.

MR. MCCORMACK: What I want to do is talk a little bit about the recruitment process for the State Department. One of the things that caught my attention just the other day was we put out a notice internally about changes to the Foreign Service Exam.

MS. MYLES: That's right.

MR. MCCORMACK: Now, I remember when I came in, it took me about a year, or a year-and-a-half, from start to finish, to get in.

MS. MYLES: I won't ask you how long ago that was.

MR. MCCORMACK: (Laughter.) Yes, thank you. So anyway, I wanted to have you talk a little bit about the changes to the testing system. What are the new emphases and about how long can people expect to wait, from start to finish, now throughout the process?

MS. MYLES: Okay. Well, I'm glad to talk about it because it's something we're very excited about; it's a really big change. It's a big change in two ways. The first thing is that in the past, you know, we only gave the Foreign Service Exam once a year. And so if somebody became interested in the Foreign Service at some point after the exam, they'd have to wait eight or nine or ten or 11 months in order to enter the process.

And one of our main goals now is to give it more options, so we're planning four times a year, and the first time will be this upcoming September. So people will have the opportunity to express an interest and enter the system four times a year. And the exam will be given over a one-week period, so it's not just a one-shot deal. It makes it a lot more accessible and a lot easier to enter the process.

But maybe the better news is that once the exam has been taken, people pass it and move on through the system. The timeline for getting hired is much, much shorter than it used to be.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

MS. MYLES: You know, we were not doing very well in getting people onboard in the past, and I think that we're going to be much more successful now in getting people hired within a six-month period. And so we can expect to get the best and the brightest before they're plucked away for -- to some other employer, see?

MR. MCCORMACK: Now where -- let me back up, where can people go to register for the exam? Do they do this online?

MS. MYLES: Yes. That's another great thing about it, is that's all automated now. It's all online. It's no longer the paper and pencil bluebook, spend a whole Saturday trying to fill up a blue book with pencil writing. It's now online at our website which has just been launched.

MR. MCCORMACK: What's the address for that one?

MS. MYLES: www.careers.state.gov and, in fact, I hope you share that with all of your friends --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we certainly will.

MS. MYLES: -- because we have just a wealth of information on that website. It talks not only about the new Foreign Service Officer test, but it talks about all kinds of other opportunities here at State, involving student programs and involving the civil service. But the reason why we're so excited about the new website is because that's where Foreign Service Officer candidates enter the process. There's a button that leads directly to the registration process and by completing that registration process, candidates can get a seat to take the test.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you a little bit about something else that I noticed in the notice that you put out earlier this week, and that is that you're going to focus more on the whole person --

MS. MYLES: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- you know, not just the test results. They have to meet the standards there. So you're focusing on the whole person. And one of the other things that I noticed was that a new emphasis on other capabilities --

MS. MYLES: Right.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- that people might bring to the table; things from either their background or their professional experience, including language abilities. Talk a little bit about that.

MS. MYLES: Okay. The process is called the total candidate process because we really do want to see what people bring to the table. Passing a test is a good thing and that tell us a lot about the person, but it's not the only thing that we want to know. We want to know what kinds of experiences they've had. And those experiences aren't necessarily just work experiences.

We're looking for young people too who maybe are still in their senior year of college or in graduate school and they've done things during the time that they've been in school: volunteer work; maybe they've worked on teams to do academic projects; maybe they've worked with their sorority or fraternity to put on a big event. And those kinds of experiences show leadership and show innovation, and those are the kinds of things that we're looking for.

MR. MCCORMACK: This sounds almost a little bit more like the process that we're accustomed to for college entrance or graduate school entrance --

MS. MYLES: That's exactly right.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- where you really have to focus --

MS. MYLES: Right. Your scores matter, but they're not the only factor that is taken into account. So we want to see exactly what people are bringing to the table and we want to know as much as we can about the people. But you know, there's also the idea of a total team; when you have a team, people have different skill sets and they have to be able to do different things. You don't mount a whole team of quarterbacks; they'd never win a game.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

MS. MYLES: But they'd each, individually, be great. So we're looking at different kinds of skill sets in addition to the young person that has had lots of academic experience and volunteerism. We're looking for mid-career professionals. We're also looking for people who have finished a first career and are looking at a second career. So our spectrum is really, really wide, and that means that lots and lots of people in the United States have the opportunity.

MR. MCCORMACK: And there are other pathways to join the State Department. You can apply for mid-career programs. You can apply for --

MS. MYLES: The civil service.

MR. MCCORMACK: -- the civil service and Presidential Management Fellows.

MS. MYLES: That's exactly right.

MR. MCCORMACK: If you could just cover those as well. So there are a lot of different pathways to meet people's career desires, whether or not they want to serve here in Washington or other places in the U.S. or they want a career that's both Washington and overseas.

MS. MYLES: That's exactly right and the great thing about this website is that all of that information is on there. And if you're looking at civil service opportunities because you want to serve in Washington, there's a whole category of information on that. If you're looking for student opportunities or internships or fellowships, there's a whole category about those opportunities. And then there is, of course, the Foreign Service being divided into two parts, both generalist and specialist; we have two different categories there, too.

So the website -- and I'm going to tell you the address again so you know --

MR. MCCORMACK: Please, as many times as you want.

MS. MYLES: www.careers.state.gov and that website will tell you everything that you need to know.

MR. MCCORMACK: Terrific. And let me also -- let me switch a little bit and --

MS. MYLES: Okay.

MR. MCCORMACK: I have here a couple of releases that we put out in the State Department. It talks about the State Department consistently ranking among young people as the place where they want to work, up there with Google and other --

MS. MYLES: Isn't that great?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, absolutely. Tell me a little bit about why, in your experience, people find the State Department an attractive place to work. You know, we rate highly on these surveys, but what's behind that?

MS. MYLES: Well --

MR. MCCORMACK: What is it that's really driving people to come here?

MS. MYLES: You know, it's really a unique workplace, and I think we can offer many, many things that other employers can't. One of the things that we offer is challenging work that is interesting, but it is also done in many different places around the world. And so Foreign Service Officers, Foreign Service Specialists have the opportunity not only to work in challenging areas, but to do it in places where most Americans would not have the opportunity to go out and represent our nation.

Civil Service employees also have the opportunity to do very important, very challenging and very satisfying work here in Washington. We do have a lot of flexibility between the two personnel systems so that Civil Service employees also can take advantage of the fact that we have many locations overseas in which to work.

I think the thing that really excites people about a State Department career is you can make a difference --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

MS. MYLES: -- and you can do it in a way that is also satisfying for you. So we also have wonderful, wonderful benefits. So it is also good for your family, if you have a family that you have at home. So we have -- for young people, for example, we have a student loan repayment program, we have teleworking arrangements, we have many, many benefits. And one thing that I think is not all that well-known -- it's kind of a secret -- is that we do have frequent rotations and so you have the opportunity to do different things --

MR. MCCORMACK: Right.

MS. MYLES: -- challenging things and yet you don't have to leave your employer in order to do that.

MR. MCCORMACK: You don't have to lead a cubicle life here at the State Department --

MS. MYLES: Exactly right, exactly right. So you can take advantage of the thrill and the challenge that comes from doing something new and different and doing something meaningful and changing -- having that change every couple of years and yet still retaining your basic employment, your basic benefits, your retirement contributions, and all of the things that become important later on as your career progresses.

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can tell you from personal experience that it is a great career. You can meet people, do things, see things that you never could've imagined. It's been a very rich career for me. So I --

MS. MYLES: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: -- heartily endorse that point of view. Marianne, thank you very much for joining us. And for all those who missed the website address, it's, once again --

MS. MYLES: It's www.careers.state.gov.

MR. MCCORMACK: Terrific. Thanks very much.

MS. MYLES: Great. Nice chatting with you.

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