After submitting my application, all I could do was wait. According to the instructions, the State Department would notify applicants if a bureau was interested in interviewing you by July 19th, which happened to be a Friday. Coincidentally, I had scheduled my flight to Ukraine for the following Monday. I figured I was in for a hectic weekend if I was lucky. Or a really depressing flight to Ukraine. Either way, I settled in for the wait. My naïve self could not have predicted that the date given in the instructions, July 19th, had little relevance, at least on my end, to either the process that preceded it, or the process that came after.
Way before the July 19th date and after only several weeks of waiting, on June 20th to be precise, I unexpectedly got an email from the Office of Central Europe at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, expressing interest in my application and requesting an interview. I set up an interview for June 21st, a Friday. That morning, I received a call from an unknown number; another office, the Office of Policy and Evaluation at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, also expressed interest in my application and an interview. While still in your application process, try not ignore/miss calls from unknown numbers. I was not aware that some offices prefer to contact you by phone. And, as I found out the hard way, you cannot call back missed calls from the State Department; the caller-id is random for calls from the department. I missed the initial call from the Office of Policy and Evaluation and had to anxiously wait until the end of the day for an email from someone at the office. That did end up helping, however, by buying me some extra time. I set up an interview with the Policy Office for Monday.
The first interview did not go well. I’m not sure if all the interviews are remote, but since I’m from Philly, mine was by phone. Perhaps if you’re close enough physically to State, the office invites you for an in-person interview. In any event, going into the interview, I was not sure what types of questions the Central Europe Office would ask me. So, naturally, I decided to wing it, somewhat. Of course, I thought about the standard interview questions: why I’m applying, why I think I’m qualified, my weaknesses, etc. Essentially, the statement of interest regurgitated in answer format. As it turned out, I was not quite prepared.
In retrospect, the interview was not that bad. The standard questions did come up, such as why did you choose our office and what is your experience in working in a team. I may not have answered them so well, however, because I did not give much thought prior to the interview on why I would want one office in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs over another. To be fair, the application asked about bureaus not about offices. So, while I did point to my interest in eastern Europe in the statement of interest, which central Europe does border, I had no concrete reasons for why the Central Europe Office was more interesting to me than other offices in the bureau.
As I might have mentioned before, the State Department, like most organizations, values writing skill. I do not have a lot of experience, or really any, with either policy writing or independent research. As a result, I did not have a great answer when the interviewer asked me about my experience with policy writing or independent research. Caught off guard, I flubbed and stuttered my way through an answer.
After my interview with the Central Europe Office, my interviewer told me she would get back to me by the end of the next week. Needless to say, I did not get a callback from the Central Europe Office. The silver lining of my poor interview experience was the benefit of knowledge, specifically about the types of questions likely to be asked. My answers did not necessarily improve much in substance for the next interview, but I was more prepared mentally and could articulate more effectively how my experience fit with the writing and team skills the office was looking for in applicants. The extra motivation to do better didn’t hurt either.