Thursday, May 30, 2013

Next Stop...the World!!

"It is my pleasure to formally extend to you an appointment offer to join the July 15, 2013 Specialist Orientation Class as an Information Management Specialist"!

With that, I have officially been offered (and have accepted) a position with the US State Department as an Information Management Specialist. Huh? What is this? Basically we're joining the Foreign Service. The State Departments description of what the duties of IMS are can be found here (note this is a link for an old IMS vacancy announcement).

To give you a little back story on my application process and history. I first heard of the IMS opening about 2 years ago (2011?). My first application didn't make it past the QEP. The application process is nothing like I've ever experienced before. Besides submitting a resume (which you have to do through the USAJobs, which in and of itself is an experience). The application consists of answering questions regarding your experience (not just in IT but in your professional and personal life) as well as essays. Yes essays. You submit the application, along with your resume, college transcripts, and copies of any IT certifications you may have. If you do not have a degree in some sort IT area, you have to have a certification from the Department of States "approved" certification list. I have both my CISSP and MCITP:SA/MCSA:2008, however you only need one on the list of approved certifications.

After you submit your paperwork, you wait to hear back (soon after the position closes) whether or not you meet the "minimum" qualifications (whatever those are). Your application is then passed to the Qualification Evaluation Panel, or QEP. This part can take 2-3 months, as they review in detail your application, resume, etc and determine if they think you would make a good candidate for the Foreign Service. If you pass the QEP, you get invited to travel to Washington DC, on your own dime, for an all day interview, aka the Oral Assessment (OA). During the OA, you have more essays to write, multiple choice tests, and then about a 2-3 hour face to face interview. More details on the OA process can be found on the Foreign Service Specialist Study Guide, located on the State Departments website. Anyone who has gone through this process can attest to how stressful this is. Once you are done with the face to face interview, you go back to the waiting room while the assessors calculate your scores. The OA score is on a scale of 1-7, and it is calculated based on how you do on the essays, tests and your oral interview. Usually, you need to score about a 5.3 or higher to move on (aka "pass") the OA. Once your score is calculated, they call you back and you find out your score. If you make the cutoff, you are given a tentative offer, and have a chance to talk to the assessors in a more personal setting about life in the foreign service, etc. Once you are done, you have an initial meeting with security, where you review your SF-86. The SF-86 is basically where you document your entire life history - where you have lived, worked, known, traveled, etc. One of the requirements for the Foreign Service is you have to have a Top Secret clearance. If everything is "good" you certify and release the SF-86 for DoS security to begin their background investigation on you. And just when you think you are done....

Welcome to the medical clearance! Department of State mandates that not only does the potential Foreign Service Specialist have a Class 1 Medical Clearance (aka worldwide availability), anyone who may be travelling with you has to be cleared medically as well. Basically, what you have to get is what is commonly called a "fit for duty" physical. There are all sorts of tests, blood draws, x-rays etc you and your family have to get. Deb and I were fine with the physicals, but it was stressful on Clarissa and Mason because they both had to get blood draws. Mason didn't like it, but we bribed him with some Legos he really wanted. Clarissa, that almost broke my heart. During the blood draw she was screaming and kept asking "why mommy why daddy?" I almost called off the whole thing, because as a dad I did not like seeing my daughter suffer. Half way through her draw, the blood stopped flowing and the nurse said they would have to draw in her other arm! Not fun. Clarissa also benefited from the guilt and got a trunk of sparkly princess dresses and crowns. Since I have a history of asthma and allergies, I went one step further and scheduled an appointment with my allergist. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For the past umpteen years I have been on allergy injections. When I was reviewing the document with my allergist, he did a few tests on me and determined I no longer needed to be on allergy injections!! He also took me off any medication I had and said "use it when you need to"! We submitted all of our forms and paperwork to the DoS Medical Office and within a week we all had our Class 1 Clearance! Next up...

Security Clearance! All members of the Foreign Service are required to have and maintain a security clearance. For various reasons I'm not going to go in to much detail here, but there is information online regarding the clearance process. It's not that painful. You fill out a bunch of paperwork (SF-86) on your life going back a certain number of years (employment history, life history, where you've lived, people who know you, etc). You submit the initial documentation when/if you pass the OA in DC. Roughly 30 days or so after your OA (again if you pass), you are then contacted by a Diplomatic Security officer to schedule your face to face interview. He/she will go over the documents with you, discuss any points they may find/need clarification on, confirm the information on the acquaintances you mentioned, and then they will start doing their research. Usually this takes a few weeks, and then they compile their findings in to a report and send it in to DoS for adjudication. This process and the time it takes for adjudication is somewhat a mystery. It can take up to a few weeks or a few months. Once your clearance is granted...

Congratulations, you've made it on the register. The register is the list of people (for the position you applied for) who have made it through all of the hoops I mentioned above. Your ranking on the register is the score you got at the OA plus any foreign language points and/or prior military service. I didn't have any of the later, but my OA score was a 5.9 (out of possible 7). You can contact the registrars office to find out your ranking. I was 4 out of 19 people, so I knew that I was almost definitely going to get called for the next Specialist class.  Now it was just waiting on the next class to get announced...

And that leads us to where we are today. At the beginning of May I got the official "offer" to join the next Foreign Service Specialist Class, which is scheduled for July 17. Once you accept the offer, there are more forms to fill out, and preparation to begin. We are in the midst of trying to sell out house (anyone want to buy a house?!), schedule our pack out date (one perk of the State Department, if you are in the Foreign Service they send movers to pack up all of your stuff, and ship it to your assignment or store it for you).

So that is what has been happening with us the past (almost) 3 years. This has been a long process, but our fun is just about to begin!

We're Going On a Trip!


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Buzz Buzz....we've been as busy as those bees outside.....

March ended with some excitement.....Mason raced in his second pinewood derby race....did much better the second year....aerodynamics aren't as important as proper weighting! Mason won his first heat and ended up racing in the finals! His fastest time was 181.8 mph!

The Easter bunny stopped by....
We got new glasses (its amazing how the chance of getting 2 kids smiling nicely and both looking at the camera increases exponentially with just the addition of one more kid!)
April was super as well busy....Clarissa's 3rd birthday Royal Bar-b-que fun

Along with celebrating on our actually birthday...
Making the biggest leaf pile ever (and jumping into with our cousins)....joy of live oaks being green all winter....they drop leaves in the spring!

Field Trips galore.....Bull Island with Marine Biology and Environmental Science
Charleston Tea Plantation with 2nd grade class. I didn't realize that it was the ONLY tea plantation in North America!! (And the tea used in Firefly Vodka Sweet Tea....grown right there too!)
Kayaking with Marine Biology and Environmental Science
I co-hosted a Bridal Shower and partook in the Bachelorette weekend fun for my grad school friend Colleen....

Mason's had his dance recital....yes, yes, Elvis left the building that afternoon!
 In addition to the usual school, work, homework, scouts, play dates, daily bubble blowing
Trips to the aquarium (with friends...so it might fall under the play date category), tea parties with all types of princesses
Throwing in some exam writing, spring cleaning purging, doing whatever it is little fairies do
So some how on this mother's day...I needed a nap after going out for breakfast and walking down to pineapple fountain park (it probably has an official name....but anyone local knows where I'm talking about....so it works)
Tomorrow night, Mason will graduated to a Bear Cub in scouts....so the busy continues!

We have some exciting plans coming up that are going to keep us even busier.....can't wait to tell everyone, but hopefully these pictures updated you on what is some of the craziness at the Middleton Household lately....