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Promoted and leaning in

So, I’m a manager now! I’m still posted in Mumbai for another year, but my job here has changed dramatically. Bottom line: no more visa interviews for me.


Promotions aren’t all that


I didn’t write about my promotion (to the 03 level) last year because I didn’t think it was a consequential event. I celebrated the pay increase with my husband, but I didn’t want to draw attention to it and perpetuate the myth (in my view) that it’s a major personal accomplishment. The Foreign Service is designed for people to get regular promotions as long as you do a good job, particularly for those at the lower levels who are early in their career.


Foreign Service colleagues who obsess over promotions stress me out a little—I think it creates anxiety over (almost) nothing. I believe, broadly speaking, that in the FS promotions aren’t necessarily tied to people’s individual performance or achievements. We  mostly work as a team and everyone who does well with that gets promoted—some perhaps a little quicker than others.


The only people who have any business fretting over their evaluations (the basis for promotions) or the score they received in my opinion are those who, for whatever reason, are seriously falling behind their peers. Some officers haven’t had many opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and missed the numeric “cut off” on the list of those recommended for promotion for several consecutive years (yes, you can be recommended and still not get promoted!). At some point that gets frustrating, obviously. But even falling several years behind doesn’t usually mean the end of your career or, for that matter, that you can’t land a good posting next.


Promotions are flattering and good for your bank account but there are some downsides too. Unless you have unlimited ambition and energy, and nothing (like health or family issues) to distract you from work, I don’t see why you’d want to be thrust into positions with heavy responsibilities before having lots of experience working at the other levels first. It seems a lot more healthy to me to take my time building all the important skills—social, technical, substantive—before being the boss. There’s a right time for everything.


Anyway, that’s my opinion on promotions and how I approach my own Foreign Service career, which is largely informed by seeing my husband (also a foreign service officer) wrestle with it for 15 years, always feeling disappointed when he wasn’t promoted at the first opportunity, only to be promoted to the highest level (01) in a perfectly average, logical, and acceptable point in his career!


More responsibility


My promotion didn’t change the career path I’m on. I was always going to do a third year in Mumbai and take on more managerial tasks, whether I was gonna get a promotion this year or not. So here I am, two years into my three-year tour, taking on the role of manager—a deputy NIV manager, to be precise.


This means I’m no longer a first or second tour (or ‘entry level’) officer. I’m no longer interviewing and adjudicating on the ‘visa line’ every day. Along with the NIV Chief and the soon-to-arrive co-deputy I’m charged with running the daily operations of our 60+ person NIV unit, which interviews and processes up to 2,000 visas per day. Which is as busy and complex as it sounds!


So how does it feel to be the manager…


My new job has been a welcome change. Interviewing over a hundred people every day wasn’t the worst way to earn a salary, but it can feel stressful and repetitive. It’s also a bit claustrophobic, because you’re manning a window for four hours straight and literally have to reach a target number every day—like an assembly line worker. Then again, it’s also really interesting and fun to interact with so many people. It’s a unique experience, truly. You also have a lot of power, even though it’s tightly constrained by U.S. immigration law.


I also love how stepping into a new role makes you grow. While it felt weird to suddenly ‘manage’ my peers, many of whom are friends, the work itself fits like a glove. Everything I’ve learned over the past four years about nonimmigrant visas, immigration and American citizens services is coming together. And because it’s all super fresh in my mind I feel like I can be the helpful, down to earth manager everyone deserves. I still have a foot in both worlds—I can adjudicate at record speed but I can also outline the bigger picture and explain all the different migration paths, cultural circumstances, potential risks and ineligibilities to someone who just newly arrived. It’s fun to be the manager I’ve always wanted to have myself.


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