When I reached out to Dr. Martinez for help with the statement of interest, I honestly did not expect for Dr. Martinez to then put me in touch with a senior foreign officer at the State Department. As these things tend to go, I waited until less than two weeks before the application was due (something I earnestly do not recommend but something that inevitably happens to the worst of us), when I had finally tentatively written my statement of interest and chosen my bureaus, to ask for input. So, when I reached out to Dr. Martinez, knowing even then how willing she is to offer constructive advice, I did expect good advice. I was primarily not sure about my choice of bureaus. I wondered if, as a Ukrainian-American immigrant, my choice in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs was an advantage or not. On the one hand, I offered language skills and an understanding of the region. On the other hand, the fact that I was born in Ukraine and that my family lives in Ukraine might serve as some sort of security risk or present a conflict of interest. On my second choice, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, I was interested in the work of the bureau, but was not sure if I could make a compelling case for why I should work there.
In response, Dr. Martinez both offered me advice and immediately offered to connect me to a friend and Penn alum who works at the State Department. I jumped at the opportunity. Now, one immediate takeaway from day one of my internship, every person here is super busy. Well, except for me perhaps; I get some slack as an intern. So, I was extremely lucky that Dr. Martinez knows kind people. Not only did the civil service officer respond to my email, but she was also willing to set up a call to discuss my application. After some trouble picking a time (I was not lying about how busy they are!), I had a chance to speak to someone who, by sheer coincidence, has worked at both bureaus I selected.
The main piece of advice I received I have already mentioned before: the importance of finding the value in experiences not obviously related to each other. Before the call, I had shared my resume and statement of interest as background. During the call, I was pleasantly surprised that my previous experience in annotating Ukrainian and Russian news articles at the Linguistics Data Consortium would be seen as particularly interesting in certain offices at State. Finding ways to connect some experience, given my, and likely your, limited experience, be it volunteering, interning, working, or other, to the job at hand is critical for attracting attention to your application. As a general rule of thumb, do not make the statement of interest about yourself, as in your personal motivations, goals, aspirations – leave that in the background. At the same time, I was worried that I did not make my statement personable enough. The call offered me reassurance. Start the statement of interest by getting right to the point. Your conclusion can then tie everything together neatly and offer a more personal touch so that you don’t come across as a robot. In my case, I’m lucky. Being an immigrant is a big part of both my identity and why I want to work in the State Department, which made writing a conclusion straightforward. On the question of conflict of interest, my point of contact told me not to worry too much. I would still cover my bases though; a former intern I spoke to was not able to start her internship at the Korea regional desk because of her ties to Korea.
Having completed my call, I fixed some highlighted grammatical mistakes, rearranged some wording to highlight my experiences better, and was then ready to submit my application.
Then came the wait.