The Oral Assessment consists of 3 components: The Group Exercise, the Structured Interview and the Case Management. The Group Exercise measures how well you work with others, as you are put with a group of strangers and given some sort of project to figure out how to allocate scarce resources. The Structured Interview is more like a typical job interview, with the addition of fun Hypotheticals (example: What would you do if there was an earthquake?). The Case Management portion gives you a binder of information and you have to write a 2 page memo coming up with a solution. Each section lasts about an hour and a half. My own Oral Assessment began at 7:00am in January 2015 and I was released after 6:00pm that night. Quite the long day!
You may find a lot of the day-of information vague, but I am trying to keep this summary as Non-Disclosure-Agreement compliant as possible. I’ve tried to focus on the strategies I used rather than the actual content of the assessment. I’m sure it will differ for everybody, and the main key is find what works best for you before the Assessment day.
My flight arrived in Washington D.C. around 3:00pm the day before the assessment. I had booked a room at the Holiday Inn and so I settled in and tried to keep calm. I ate dinner with another FSOA candidate and we talked about our previous experiences. It was nice to talk to somebody beforehand, knowing I would have at least one friendly face at the testing center the next day.
The great thing about Holiday Inn is that I didn’t even have to go outside the next morning to get to the testing site AND the Starbucks opened at 5:30am so I could get coffee and breakfast. On the other hand, my room’s heater wasn’t working so I ended up switching rooms at 10:00pm, and my wake-up call did not happen – luckily, I’d set my own alarm.
I was the first person to arrive around 6:30am. I went outside for a couple minutes and the freezing cold air woke me up and cleared my mind. Gradually more and more folks showed up. There were 11 total, 3 female and 8 male. I think only 1 was a 2nd timer and the rest of us were first-timers. Everybody was super nice, intelligent, and had great stories. They made the waiting so much better!! We were escorted upstairs to fill out paperwork and begin the GE.
GE: I used the quadrant and spreadsheet methods, but honestly it was a bit of a mess. I think if I had practiced those methods more when I was with my study group, I would have been better organized. I was able to keep my presentation at about 4.5 minutes and had 2-3 questions from everybody else about my project. I volunteered to keep time and alerted everybody at the 10 minute and 5 minute mark, which kept us moving pretty well. The rest came together and we finished the memo exactly on time. I had a good group to work with so I felt lucky, although I felt like I was fumbling the entire time. The Ambassador’s briefing was stressful, but blessedly “brief”.
CM: The first thing I did was take off my coat and get comfortable! I pulled out a few of the more important pages and left the rest in the binder. I typed up the questions/requests on the computer document itself and then delved through each page, typing up information I thought would be important or relevant. Once I’d gone through everything, I could then start to see some trends and polish the memo. I was able to address all the points/questions given to me but ran out of time and could not edit as much as I wanted. I thought that some of my solutions were weak, but I tried to back them up from evidence in the binder. It was A LOT of information. I tried to use as much math as I could, but realized I was spending too much time trying to pick apart the information, and had to stop myself. When time was called, I thought “If I’d had another hour, that memo could have been fantastic.” I spent 50 minutes reading through the info + taking notes, typing for about 30 minutes and then spending 5-10 minutes editing. I tried to add some human like touches to the beginning and the end. [Example: not actually what I wrote] “Dear Daffy, I hope your trip was fantastic. I received and reviewed the documents from Mickey about the shortage of ducks and I have created the following plan of action…”
The format I used was:
– Summary of question and situation (3 sentences)
– Recommendations as numbers
– Paragraphs that support my recommendations, starting with a bold, underlined sentence that described the point of the paragraph.
– Conclusion, action items, volunteered to take the lead
SI: I had practiced with the example questions on the yahoo group, particularly “Questions organized by Dimension.xls”. I felt these prepared me fairly well. I had a friend ask me the questions, and then I also answered them to myself until I felt comfortable with my answers. I practiced Hypotheticals using https://fsoahypotheticals.wordpress.com/ and attempted to follow this format:
- Verify reliability of info
- Meet with all relevant parties in a diplomatic way to enlist cooperation
- Deploy Offer standard embassy services. Make use of other agencies. Long term and short term consequences.
- Report. Inform all appropriate parties what you did and what happened and document
I ate at Pot Belly’s nearby with a few others, then went to a botanical garden near the Capitol. It was great to get some fresh air and be around plants. It took my mind off the upcoming afternoon and I went back in refreshed and ready.
When we returned for our “Exit interviews”, I was the very last to be called and I was brought into a room by myself. I thought I had failed and was sincerely surprised when they congratulated me on passing. I passed all 3 sections. I was the only female to pass. I’m not sure about the other’s scores.
My best advice:
- GE -> Try to take some sort of responsibility in the GE. Don’t forget about the Ambassador briefing (try to remember some important points about why your group came to the decisions they did).
- CM -> Address ALL points you are asked to even if you don’t address them very well. Volunteer to take some sort of action (follow up with so-and-so, etc). Try not to get mired down in the math and the fluff. Leave enough time at the end to edit.
- SI -> Practice and find stories from your past that demonstrate the 13Ds. Get a friend to just sit and hear you out when you work your way through your answers. Keep your answers brief and to the point.
- Overall: I made sure that I sat up straight when assessors were in the room. When they were explaining something, I gave them my undivided attention. When my group members were talking in the GE, I also tried to make eye contact when appropriate. I kept my face pleasant and smile as I talked. Although I was incredibly nervous, I tried to act as though I were confident and thoughtful in my answers.
So that was my day.