I became a tenured Foreign Service Officer this month! It was unexpected, which made it all the more sweet. It was the first year I was eligible for this type of promotion and I knew it’s not likely to happen right away—most people get tenured the second year they’re eligible, after completing four years of service.
I don’t have bragging rights though, because almost my entire “class” (the people who joined the Foreign Service at the same time as me) got tenured. We got lucky because the State Department apparently needs a lot of new mid-level officers.
I only ever heard of tenure in regards to university lecturers. It means you're permanent staff and can’t get fired if you’re no longer needed in your current position. Your employer still has to continue paying your salary and place you somewhere in a position within the organization. It’s extreme job security.
In the Foreign Service this is true, as long as you meet certain benchmarks. You still have to figure out how to get promoted up the ranks. You start at a lowly level four or five and try to make your way up to level one within 10-20 years. Getting promoted isn’t rocket science, but of course things can go wrong. You can get bad reviews due to small security violations, for example, or certain types of negligence. You have to stay alert not to accidentally make one of these mistakes. Fortunately most Foreign Service Officers are very alert and basically nobody is getting fired.
Getting tenured made me feel bulletproof, at least for a couple of days. I received lots of congratulatory emails from within the Department, including FSOs I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years. Being hired as a diplomat is one thing, but being told you’re meeting expectations and you can stay until retirement is a big deal too.
Now I’m a mid-level officer instead of an entry-level one. Rather than being “sent” to my next post after ranking ten or more positions and essentially being forced to accept where human resources want me to go, I'll only have to apply for the jobs I really want. That's not a guarantee I’ll get my preferred posting, but I'll have a lot more influence during the assignment process.
Also, the types of jobs I’ll apply for are going to be different in nature. For consular officers, mid-level positions are almost all management positions. This means I'll go from working “on the line” and adjudicating hundreds of visas per week to overseeing others doing it, training and reviewing them, organizing and attending meetings, and implementing management controls. Basically jobs that feel less like grunt work but carry a lot more responsibility.