Third Tour Bidding, Part I

By the time you’re halfway through your second tour, third tour bidding goes from an abstract concept to very applicable. The end of first and second tour “directed assignments” means the beginning of your own advocacy to get your next Foreign Service position. What was previously in the hands of your Career Development Officer (CDO) is now your process to manage. No more percentages of high, medium, and low bids like in A-100. No more justifying your top 30 ranked jobs like in second tour bidding. Now you hunt for a handful of jobs, and go after them.

That’s right: Third tour bidding means a lot more than sending in a list and waiting anxiously for Flag Day or an assignment email. Identifying projected vacancies, reaching out to incumbents, and lobbying decision-makers is now your responsibility. You may be thrilled to get the “permission to persuade,” or you may be a little freaked. But regardless, boldly forward – an entry level officer has been tapped to take your place, and it’s up or out you go.

In this first of a short series about third tour bidding, I will talk about how I’ve prepared, why it can be a little intimidating for first-timers, and what we’re crossing our fingers for.

Third tour bidding in the Department is also known as your first time bidding at mid-level. It’s big-boy, big-girl pants time! You still don’t “pick” your job per se, but you can and must go beyond giving input. With the ability to finally talk with incumbents, post leadership, and bureaus in Washington, prospective candidates can present themselves for consideration in a way not allowed at the entry level, where all positions are filled at the direction of HR. (Your friendly CDO can still help answer any questions, though!)

Although the rules and regulations change from cycle to cycle, and from entry level to mid, I wrote up a pretty good outline of bidding considerations for an officer in my post Second Tour Bidding.

I’ve known third tour bidding was coming for months; my time in Canberra officially ends 10-11 months from now. And so when the official “Summer 2019” bidding cycle opened in mid-September, I felt at least somewhat prepared. Or maybe I was just comfy in my safe zone of not having to make decisions YET. The whole world is still up for grabs, what a romantic notion!

Here’s what I did over the past few months and in some cases, even earlier, to get ready.

  1. I have sat in on every third tour bidding info session offered during my first and second tours. Inquiring minds? FOMO? Control issues? Other?! I guess I’m a believer in “The More You Know!” (Cue a star shooting across the sky accompanied by a 1980s-era public service announcement jingle.)
  2. I have reached out to colleagues and peers for advice on timeline, process, and etiquette, especially to more senior consular colleagues and those who recently bid. I am consular-coned, and consular bidding tends to be a little different. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds on it, but the way references and decision-making happens tends to be more centralized than with other cones (career tracks), and understanding that helps direct your lobbying efforts appropriately.
  3. I read every bidding instruction and lessons learned cable, internal consular resource, and mid-level toolkit article about the art and science of third tour bidding. (Refer back to #1.)
  4. I started tracking projected vacancies in June and assembled a list of jobs and posts I thought would be interesting. I made a spreadsheet with the job title, grade, and description; language requirement and course catalog training dates; incumbent name; transfer eligibility date; and some stats about Post: rates of COLA and differential/danger pay; availability of furnished housing, DPO, and R&Rs; and made sure the positions would be “valid” bids both in terms of timing and grade. No one will do this for you. It’s On You to enter informed, valid bids.
  5. I reached out to MED in Washington months before the start of the bidding season for pre-clearance. Bidders with a Class 2 medical clearance will need MED approval to serve at a post before a handshake (read: job offer) can be formalized. This may involve updating your medical clearance, a process that can be lengthy and require specialist physicians’ reports. Some of the posts I requested clearance from didn’t end up having jobs on the bid list, but many did, and when the bidding season started I knew what was feasible and what was not. Saving my time, and saving posts’ time. Double win.
  6. I made sure my resume and Employee Profile were ready for primetime.
  7. I asked trusted colleagues to fill out reference surveys for me, which get rolled up into a report called the Consular Bidders’ Assessment Tool (CBAT) and referenced by decision-makers.
  8. I scheduled 2-3 phone consultations with the Consular Affairs bureau in Washington to share my bidding priorities with decision-makers. I also got a steer on how the bureau sees suitability and bidders’ competitiveness for particular jobs, both through my consultations as well as through participation in every consular bidders’ group call the bureau offered.
  9. And last but not least, I discussed all of this with my husband. Although it’s my job, in some ways our lifestyle affects him even more than it does me. As my partner and teammate, he gets an equal voice in setting all priorities for our family. I share bidding information with him, we regularly talk through our strategies and thinking together, and research posts together. I even decided not to bid a particular post that interested me this cycle because I knew he did not want to live there.

Where to in 2019?!

I think officers get nervous about third tour bidding for different reasons, but mostly because the job you get will decide so much about your life for the next 3-4 years and you don’t want to, as the Aussies would say, Royally Stuff it Up. Here are some reasons to pay attention.

  1. The first time you reach out to lobby for a job can feel amateurish, and you don’t want to offend anyone, Do the Wrong Thing, or generally look like a jackass and eliminate yourself from consideration. And your mileage can vary. Like so many things, It Depends. Beware the horrid stories of faux pas you swear you won’t let happen to you!
  2. The bidding timeline varies from cycle to cycle, and missing an instruction cable is easy to do while you’re busy or traveling. When to start checking projected vacancies? When to reach out and to whom? I have actually had a bad dream that I forgot to bid somehow and at the end of my tour, the movers moved my household effects into the yard. Apparently it was Too Late To Get Any Job. (Maybe it’s the adult version of musical chairs. LOL!)
  3. There’s a lot of seemingly contradictory advice out there. Don’t reach out to express your interest in a job too early… but don’t be late or you might be out of luck. Follow up with incumbents and lobby decision-makers… but don’t be a pest. You can’t get the job you don’t bid on, but be realistic. I like to think I have good judgment, and enough sense to suss out the nuance. But, it is my first time. And you know what they say about assumptions. And also, refer back to #1.
  4. For some officers, third tour bidding is their first “in-cone” bidding experience. If you’re a management, political, public diplomacy, or economic-coned officer who spent his/her first two tours doing consular work, bidding for your first job in-cone at mid-level can be intimidating. How do you stack up against officers bidding for the same job who were “directed” to assignments in your cone and have experience you did not get?
  5. In the same vein, if you weren’t in the subset of your A-100 that received tenure and promotion on your first look, will you be shunned as a bidder?
  6. There are usually more bidders than jobs. Sometimes known as “the pig in the python.” Just sayin’. And if “handshake day” in late October comes and goes and you don’t get an assignment, you may be left scrambling or feel pressured to accept a Washington assignment. (Although long-term training and language will send you to Washington on orders with a housing allowance, accepting a domestic tour there means education and housing comes out of an officer’s pocket, which can dramatically affect family finances.) This also makes bidding especially tough for tandem couples (in which both partners are officers with their own cone and career trajectory wishing to serve together).
  7. Deciphering the unspoken rules of bidding and its coded language. Short lists! Bureau leading candidate lists! Interviews! Meat market! Air kisses! Winks! Shoot-outs! Heavy hitters! The Super Secret Early Handshake that supposedly does not exist! Oy, State Department. Third tour bidders are trying here.
  8. Deciding how many bids to place, and when to narrow or expand your list. And when it’s narrowed enough, how to pull in your heaviest hitters (champion references!) to lobby for you. We are diplomats, after all!
  9. It MATTERS! Your next job matters. To your professional trajectory, spousal employment, kids’ education, your pay, and your quality of life. Whether you spend a year in language before heading to post, whether you get a handshake on a job you feel passionate about, whether you and your family members get a medical clearance to serve in a particular place – all of this and its outcome matters to bidders. (And, the prospective bidders’ skills, reputation, and what they have to offer a position matters an awfully lot to posts, too!)

These are just a few of the things that bidders are thinking about right now. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it is. As posts and bureaus seek the best candidates, and bidders try to demystify the process and land a dream job, we all still have our day jobs to do. No Hunger Games here, folks – we’re all both friends and competitors. Mostly.

The job is MINE! MINE! MINE!!!

Right now, our bid list has about a half dozen jobs on it, and we’d honestly be happy with any of them. Some slightly more than others, but they are all great jobs in fantastic places, and opportunities to do great and challenging work.

A couple of hints:

  • Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe are represented.
  • All of the jobs are consular.
  • Some of the jobs will require several months of language training.

What does the FS have in store for us next?
Stay tuned!

  11 comments for “Third Tour Bidding, Part I

  1. fan-cy
    September 25, 2018 at 16:54

    These type posts take my breath away! I sit in wonderment — how in the world does it all come together (on time)? Mention of “the handshake” brings back memories of my daughter and her diplomat husband. Their first tour was Bogota, second one Canberra. After that, Windhoek, Nairobi, Cape Town, Paris, and currently Geneva. Keeping my fingers crossed that you get the bid you want most …. and you probably will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 27, 2018 at 08:22

      My goodness!! That is QUITE a list. I am also amazed at times that all of this comes together without the wheels coming off, but somehow – it does!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. September 30, 2018 at 16:39

    This is so interesting and revealing! I’m posting to the Raisedintheforeignservice FB page and sharing as a guest blog on my space here, as your narrative expands the FS universe for our readers. Would like to hear more about your husband’s take on all this, his work, his way of living the FS spouse life in the 21st century. Good luck (though great preparation like yours is the best way to snag good luck) and keep us posted! Kelly

    Liked by 1 person

  3. February 13, 2022 at 03:06

    Heya! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 4!
    Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!

    Keep up the superb work!


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Sarah W Gaer

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