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!


  1. About 5 years ago, fresh out of college, I interned with the US Commercial Service in Monterrey, MX. The internship truly opened my eyes to the world of international trade and helped me become a “global citizen”. To become a Foreign Commercial Service Officer was my ultimate goal in life. 5 years later, it still seems to be. So close, and yet, so far.

    • Keep trying. Candidates often go through the process more than once before passing. Your next opportunity is just around the corner.

  2. How do I submit my credentials to be considered a candidate for FCSO? I wonder if I can submit my credentials directly to ITA bypassing bureaucratic hiring process which does not have abilities to evaluate what I have to offer?

    • The only way is through USA jobs. The application is fairly lengthy and should give you a chance to put your best foot forward.

  3. Don’t you hold career information sessions in Florida? I would like to apply for a position but I am unable to travel to Washington DC

    • Good question. We will hold two webinars on November 25 and December 3 to reach a wider audience. Make sure your sign up for the list serve to get an invitation.

  4. Great info, and I am happy to see an assessment coming up in 2015. As someone who is interested in becoming an officer it in the next post could you talk about the assessment process and how to prepare for it? Thanks!

    • Here are some things you can do to start preparing to apply for the foreign service officer position.

      1. Visit our websites at http://www.trade.gov/jobs/world-of-opportunity.html and http://www.export.gov/ to learn more about the organization.

      2. Read about the most recent application process by reviewing the job summary, position duties, and vacancy announcement from the 2012-2013 recruitment cycle on the USA JOBS website at: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/330538700

      3. Create an account in USAJobs by entering your email and setting up a password on the USA Jobs website at: https://www.usajobs.gov. Use this account to create a resume on the site with your updated job experiences.

      4. Prepare your transcripts by making any requests to educational institutions.

  5. When will the vacancy anouncement be posted on USAJOBS.gov?

    • Early December.

  6. Would appreciate an opportunity to study for the exam. When is it ? WIll I be able to take the exam in Ohio ? Does my previous internship with ITA have an impact on the hiring decision ?

    • Once you pass the application phase, the “test” is a day long assessment in Washington DC. There is not an actual test that you can study for. This is quite different from the State Department process.

  7. Can you discuss the main differences betwen Foreign Commercial Service at Commerce and the Foreign Service at State Dept?

    • A Foreign Commercial Service Officer is a diplomat who represents the United States just like a State Dept. Officer. The difference is our mission. We have a specialized focused on breaking down barriers to trade, promoting exports and representing American business interests abroad to support prosperity and jobs in the United States.

      • What is the difference in mission between a foreign commercial service officer at commerce and a foreign service economics officer at state?

  8. Good morning, do you have an idea when notifications to take the oral assessment will be sent to those who applied in December 2014? Thank you.

  9. hi Barbara, can you give some examples of outputs (products, deliverables, etc.) that could give further insight into the work of a FCSO? thank you.

  10. When is the next recruitment cycle? In other words, when and where can I apply? Thanks!

  11. When is the next recruitment cycle? The only job posting online is from 2014. Thanks!

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