I’m sometimes asked if I know where I’m going to be posted after this, and the answer is that I don’t know yet because I haven’t bid for my next post yet. Bidding in the State Department works differently at different points in your career, but here’s a little bit about how it works.
During A-100, the initial training that all Foreign Service Officers go through, there’s a list of available positions for your class. There are enough positions for everyone in the class, plus maybe a couple of extra ones. You have to rank every post as a High, Medium, or Low and the Career Development Officers (CDOs) get together and try to assign everyone according to their preferences and based on who may have necessary language skills for a particular post. Everyone’s pretty much on equal footing at this point.
For your second tour, the CDOs still make the decisions about who is assigned where, but the process is a little different. There are two bidding seasons, summer and winter, depending on when you got to post. Each person generally has to rank 20-30 posts from 1-20 or 1-30 and there are more restrictions on you this time around. You have to make sure that the timing works, which means that you have to make sure that you can leave post on time, complete all of the language and job training necessary, and arrive at post on time. You’re allowed to have a few bids that would cause your departure or arrival date to move a month or two, but not more than that. You also get an advantage this time around if you’re serving in a difficult or dangerous post. Personnel at posts can receive hardship and/or danger pay that is a percentage of your salary. So, people at posts with higher differential pay get assigned first and have a better chance of getting their top picks for where they want to go for their second tour.
In bidding for a third tour and beyond, the bidding process works quite differently. It works much more like a job application process and you have to contact the person who is currently in that position, interview for positions you want, and the decision is not made by the CDOs, but is made by the people who are in charge of the office, consulate, or embassy where the position is located. At the end of the day, everyone gets assigned somewhere, but the process is much more in your hands and it’s up to you to get the job you want and negotiate the training schedule and so on.
I have not yet bid for my second post. Since I arrived here last summer, I am a summer bidder and will bid on the summer bid list, which will probably come out in August or September. Some of my coworkers are currently bidding and I definitely have a bit of envy. I would like to be bidding and to know where I’m going next so there would be something to look forward to and something to plan, but I’ll just have to wait until this summer. They say that the summer list is usually better, so maybe I’ll luck out and get a super-sweet second post.
Hope this helps explain the process a bit!