Bidding as a tandem couple I: factors to consider
Updated: Oct 27, 2019
For most diplomats, the summer is “bidding season,” which means applying for new assignments. FSOs typically bid one year out, every two or three years.
We’re required to bid this summer. Since my husband is the FSO and I’m not even close (I've passed all the exams at this point, but I'm not even on the register yet), it’s more accurate to say that he is bidding. But since bidding affects both our lives, it's a family affair.
So where do we want to go next? For once, I don't really care about the country. My focus is on getting on the Register and joining an A-100 class in the summer of 2019. And since I have no idea which jobs are going to be open (to me) then, we have no way of knowing exactly which country to focus on now.
But we can't just let faith decide. If we want to optimize our chances of working in the same country for our next tour, there are a couple of things to consider when looking at the current vacancies (for my husband). For example:
First of all, we have to make sure my husband gets assigned someplace with are lots of entry-level jobs (for me). That means focusing on posts with large consular sections, because that's where new diplomats are needed most. The biggest consular posts are in China, Mexico, and India.
2-YEAR vs 3-YEAR
Another consideration is tour length. Apart from extreme hardship places like Iraq and Afghanistan, assignments are for either two or three years. My first assignment will be two years, so if we want to line up our tours perfectly we’ll have to find a two-year assignment for my husband (although he has the option to curtail his tour in order to sync up with me).
Once I join the Foreign Service, my husband will be less free to pursue whatever job is best for his career; we’ve talked about it and he's fine with it. Still, that doesn’t mean things have to be bad right from the start. Obviously, he's still going to look at jobs that will make sense for his career trajectory, and let him progress, like jobs that are "at grade" (at the grade he is currently at), "in cone" (within his specialty: public diplomacy) and carry a certain amount of responsibility (the Department looks particularly favorable upon those who manage large staffs and budgets).
We’re expecting the Department-wide promotion lists to come out in September this year. Although we consider it unlikely he'll be promoted this time around (it's a bit early for him to move up to the next grade because he recently got promoted), the possibility is still an important factor to consider because in the Foreign Service, your grade determines which jobs you're eligible for.
STAYING IN THE BUREAU
Our last two tours have been in the Europe & Eurasia regional bureau, which is something my husband is very happy about. He believes that if we leave this region during our next assignment there’s a chance he'll lose much of the network he’s built and that, as a result, it might become hard for us to "return" to Europe in the future.
Like I said, personal preference is not the most important thing for us right now. Sure, we'd like to go places where the schools are great, the air is clean, and the water is safe to drink, but we’re both trying to have a career and our main wish is to be posted together.
That said, there are certain posts we’re not considering for practical reasons. For example, we would like to avoid doing a 2-year language program because we don’t know how that would allow us to sync up our tours and—frankly speaking—we’re not overly interested in learning super hard languages like Chinese, Arabic, or Japanese.
Many of the jobs that are on the bid list now may disappear within the next two months because incumbents could “extend” their assignments. In other words, several jobs that look like they’ll be available next year may actually not be real.
In conclusion, there is a lot to consider and some of the factors even contradict each other, like the benefit of a 2-year tour (syncing up our tours) versus the benefit of a 3-year tour (these jobs are more certain to be on the actual bidding list).
Basically, all we can do is make a tentative list and wait until bidding season officially opens in September and not get caught up with any job in particular. And staying optimistic, of course!