On a Mission: Foreign Service Specialist

On a Mission: Foreign Service Specialist

How one woman found her dream career working at the U.S. Department of State

by #teamEBONY, July 18, 2012

On a Mission: Foreign Service Specialist

The U.S. Department of State is the nation’s leading foreign affairs agency, but surprisingly, many individuals, especially African-Americans, are unfamiliar with what the agency does.

And Chimere was no different. Read on and see how this dynamic engineer discovered the U.S. Department of State at a career fair, and changed the trajectory of her life.

EBONY: How did you begin your journey with the U.S. Department of State?

Chimere: I was recruited straight out of college, but it’s an interesting story. With about two months to go until graduation, I found myself without any job prospects—despite my good grades and internship experience. Since I had been an active member of Clemson’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), I knew that the organization had a career fair coming up in late March.

So, I traveled across the country to Anaheim, CA hoping to secure employment at the career fair. There were more than 200 companies and government agencies there, but after walking the aisles for hours, I realized that the need for computer engineers wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. And as I walked away, my optimistic feelings began to take on a more somber tone.

But just as I was about to walk back to my hotel room, something (I call it my guardian angel) told me to walk down the last aisle. I’d passed it before, but had dismissed it because I didn’t think any companies would be setup in such an obscure location. But walking down that last aisle changed my life forever.

There was a booth that had a poster with the words “computers” and “hacking” on it and I was immediately intrigued. Now, I knew it wasn’t computer programming, but I figured that it was worth looking into! I spoke with the Diplomatic Security (DS) recruiters at the booth, and they told me about the chance to travel worldwide, live abroad, obtain a security clearance, and represent America – all with a federal government organization of which I had never heard, the U.S. Department of State.

After receiving more information and chatting with the recruiters at the booth a bit more, I agreed to be interviewed by a now fellow Security Engineering Officer (SEO). I was given a conditional offer at the interview and came on board as an SEO with the Department of State six months later. I’ve been happy ever since.

EBONY: Were you nervous about the prospect of living overseas?

Chimere: Granted, I was a little nervous at first. Remember, I’m a country girl from South Carolina so, you know, I had only traveled distances maybe two or three states over, stayed for about a week or so. But I’d never been that far apart from my family before. But depending upon where you’re posted you can keep in touch with your family pretty regularly via emails and such. Plus, when you work for the Department of State you’re never alone. There’s always someone watching out for your safety.

EBONY: What is your title and where is work located?

Chimere: I’m a Foreign Service Specialist, serving as a Security Engineering Officer with a focus on technical security policy. I’m currently posted in Washington, D.C.

EBONY: What does the U.S. Department of State do exactly?

Chimere: (Laughs.) I get that question a lot. The Department of State is the leading U.S. foreign affairs agency. We have over 265 diplomatic locations around the world including embassies, consulates, and missions. Our primary purpose is to maintain diplomatic relations with most countries in the world, including quite a few international organizations, while shaping a freer, more secure, and more prosperous world that protects American interests abroad. Whew!

EBONY: Wow, that’s quite an answer. Is that all that the DOS is known for?

Chimere: Oh, no. We’re responsible for promoting peace and stability in areas of vital interest to America, including helping developing nations establish stable economic environments. We also have a number of domestic and international locations where we provide information and services to U.S. citizens traveling abroad, including issuing passports. And, we also issue visas to foreigners wishing to visit the United States.

EBONY: Oh, so you don’t have to live abroad to work for the U.S. Department of State?

Chimere: Not at all. There are a number of domestic and international positions available. Foreign Service Officers and Foreign Service Specialists work abroad, while Civil Service professionals work stateside. We also have internship and fellowship programs for students, and executive development programs for professionals.

EBONY: What does your particular job as a Foreign Service Specialist entail?

Chimere: Well, it can pretty much run the gamut. I’m part of a team that repairs and installs alarm systems and cameras at U.S. embassies internationally. I can travel as a part of the advanced team for the Secretary of State doing inspections overseas. I also inspect the network at various Department of State embassies overseas.

EBONY: Where are some of the places that you’ve traveled to so far?

Chimere: Hmm, let’s see. I’ve actually had the chance to travel quite a bit during my time with the Department of State. I’ve been to about 16 different countries including Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Peru. I also served in Dakar, Senegal while I was covering seven other embassies in seven other countries, ranging from Guinea-Conakry to Cape Verde.

EBONY: Is it all “work and no play” overseas?

Chimere: Well, it is true that a career as a Foreign Service Specialist or Officer is challenging, but you do have time to enjoy yourself. Personally, I was involved in quite a few embassy activities. While I was in West Africa, I ran the concession stand for WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament) and I found other small groups that I could join locally.

EBONY: How do you find activities to enjoy yourself?

Chimere: Whenever I’m assigned to a new post, I try to attend local concerts and events to help immerse myself in that culture. And I’ve found that doing so helps me make friends, too. So, you can definitely make a social life for yourself overseas.

EBONY: Can you tell us about some of the experiences or adventures you’ve had?

Chimere: My time with the State Department has blessed me with experiences beyond my wildest childhood dreams. My Specialist training brought along a lot of firsts for me: first time repairing various security systems, first time shooting a gun, first time purposely wrecking a car (defensive driving), and the first time traveling abroad. It also afforded me the pleasure of meeting Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Dr. Condoleezza Rice. To be able to do that was just incredible for me. Basically, I was looking for an opportunity that challenged me and offered me the opportunity to learn something new every day. And let me tell you, the U.S. Department of State has not disappointed!

EBONY: Can you tell us one of your success stories?

Chimere: Hmmm…that’s a hard one. I mean, when you work here, you’re pretty much set up for success. Between all of the training and opportunities for mentorship, you really have the chance to shine. Let’s see…well, my very first overseas tour took me to Dakar, Senegal, where I actually replaced the SEO who recruited me!  And let me tell you, those were some big shoes to fill! I adapted to a culture that was completely different from what I knew, all while exercising “technical diplomacy” with my U.S. and Foreign National technical security counterparts. I also oversaw eight employees in the Engineering Service Center (ESC) Dakar and provided technical security support and advice to seven other U.S. Embassies in West Africa.

EBONY: What do you like most about being a Foreign Service Specialist?

Chimere: Well for me, I thrive on challenge and excitement. And working here has been a very educational and challenging experience for me—but pretty rewarding as well. It definitely got me out of my comfort zone, and gave me the opportunity to serve and represent my country overseas without carrying a gun. And ultimately, that’s what keeps me going —and happy—at  the State Department. The ability to learn a new skill or learn to wire up an alarm system by myself beats working in a cube 24/7. And truthfully, there’s always something exciting going on.

EBONY: So, what’s next for you on the job?

Chimere: This fall I will be transferring to my fourth posting with the Department of State, which will allow me to focus on computer security. I’ll also have the chance to give back to the Department by recruiting potential SEO candidates at various colleges and universities. And, of course, I’ll be recruiting at the NSBE National Conventions where I began my career.

EBONY: What would say to people interested in working at the U.S. Department of State?

Chimere: You know, I meet quite a few engineers at career fairs, and I always tell them the same thing. Yes, I know there are quite a few avenues for engineering careers, but if you want a job that’s truly an out-of-the-box experience, I recommend joining the Department of State. It’s an incredible experience.

If you want to learn more about the U.S. Department of State and the information that Chimere shared, visit their website at careers.state.gov.

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