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Foreign Commercial Service Officers: Assignments

October 29, 2014

Barbara Farrar is the Assignments Officer for the International Trade Administration’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Note: The International Trade Administration plans to hold an assessment in 2015 through which it will hire a new class of Foreign Commercial Service Officers. We’ll publish a series of articles about ITA’s foreign commercial service to answer questions from people who may be interested in this career opportunity.

Barbara Farrar

Barbara Farrar is the Assignments Officer for the International Trade Administration’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Some of the first questions Foreign Commercial Service Officer candidates ask are about the assignments process.

How does it work? Do I get to choose where I go? What options are there? What if I don’t like where I am sent?

The first thing that needs to be said is that when you become a Foreign Service Officer with any foreign service agency, you are signing up for worldwide assignment.  (If that phrase makes you smile and your heart beat a little faster, you may be the right kind of person for this job).

Technically, you can be sent just about anywhere. The Commercial Service has 75 offices around the globe, with the largest number of officers in the countries where U.S. companies do the most business and face the greatest challenges: China, India, and Brazil to name a few.

We are also present in many smaller markets, and we recently opened five new offices in Africa and Asia. Our ideal candidate is someone who will not be reluctant to serve in these new emerging markets. 

First Assignments: New officers come into the Foreign Commercial Service through a six-week New Commercial Officer Training program held in Washington, DC. At the outset of the program, we give officers a list of vacancies and an opportunity to express preferences based on their qualifications, language skills, and other considerations. All Foreign Commercial Service Officers are encouraged to serve in a domestic U.S. position for their first or second tours. During the training program, we hold a Flag Day ceremony when officers learn where they will serve their first assignment.

Other Assignments and Bidding: Following that first direct assignment, officers are able to bid on the jobs they want during an open assignments cycle that starts in the fall of each year. Using our electronic bidding system, we announce the vacancies that will open the following year. Many of these will include up to a year of language training prior to the assignment. Officers must bid on four positions at their grade, and are also allowed to bid on some positions above or below their grade.

Assignments Process: In the fall through the winter of each year, a panel meets four to five times to assign officers to their next assignment. The panel starts with the highest ranking officer and works its way through the team, carefully considering the candidates interested in each position and making assignments based on qualifications, experience, language skills, and additional considerations (family circumstances, medical clearance, etc.).

As the assignments officer, I have the fun job of working with the officers to help them realize their career development aspirations, and the important task of keeping the trains running on time, metaphorically, during our assignments process. 

Do you have further questions about our assignments process? Let us know in the comments section below!