If you want to become a Foreign Service Consular Fellow, writing your personal narratives is one of the most important parts of the application submission process. You need to spend quality time writing these mini-essays to make sure the Board of Examiners (BEX) have a complete picture of your skills.
If you’re just starting, I recommend checking out this article on how to become a Consular Fellow first. However, if you’ve got that down, then continue reading.
In this article, we will dive into the personal narrative prompts, suggestions on how to write them, tips to help you succeed, and my top recommendation for leveling up your writing overall.
The Consular Fellow Personal Narrative Prompts
Candidates must write six responses to prompts on leadership, interpersonal, communication, management, and intellectual skills; and substantive knowledge. Each narrative will contain no more than 1,300 characters (including spaces).
The prompts for each narrative follow:
The Foreign Service seeks a diverse workforce with broad job skills and a depth of experience to represent the United States overseas. Briefly describe why you would like to work with the State Department and what you bring to the Consular Fellows Program.
In the Foreign Service, you will confront challenging situations that require identifying the problem, collecting relevant information, and formulating or advancing innovative solutions to resolve the problem. Describe a time when you responded innovatively to unanticipated circumstances to solve a problem.
In the Foreign Service, you will be called upon to interact effectively and diplomatically with people in difficult situations. Describe how you have used your interpersonal skills in a specific situation to resolve a problem or achieve a goal.
Communication skills are critical to successful diplomacy. Describe a situation in which you used your communication skills (either in English or another language) to further an aim or achieve a goal.
Foreign Service Officers are often required to manage projects, demonstrating the ability to plan and organize, set priorities, employ a systematic approach, and allocate time and resources efficiently. Describe a project you managed or helped to manage and how you sought to achieve the project’s goals.
Leadership can be defined as motivating others, encouraging creative solutions, establishing positive team relationships, or significantly influencing the direction of the work. Describe how you have demonstrated leadership, either on one particular occasion or over time.
Statement of Interest
In addition to the personal narratives, Consular Fellow candidates must also submit a Statement of Interest. The Statement of Interest discusses your motivation for joining the Foreign Service; comments about your work experience; and experience living or working in a multicultural environment, overseas, or in the U.S.
How to write your Consular Fellows personal narratives
The basics of writing your narratives are straightforward. It’s putting it all together in a concise and well-written manner that is challenging for many. To assist you in your writing, I recommend utilizing the STAR-L framework.
The reason for the “L” is so that you can showcase your learning experience and how it will contribute to success in the Consular Fellow role.
The STAR-L framework
The STAR-L framework is a powerful method for structuring and presenting your experiences. It ensures that your stories are clear, concise, compelling, and demonstrate the required skills effectively, which is key when you only have 1,300 characters.
The framework consists of five components:
- Situation: set the scene by describing the context or background of your story.
- Task: outline the specific challenge or problem you faced. This highlights the purpose and goal of your story, providing a clear objective to follow.
- Action: explain your steps or your decisions to address the task. This demonstrates your approach and skills in dealing with the situation.
- Result: share your actions’ outcome, emphasizing the impact and positive change you made. This provides tangible evidence of your accomplishments.
- Learning: reflect on your experience, sharing the lessons learned, how they have shaped your personal or professional growth, and how these lessons connect to the role.
Implementing the STAR-L framework
To effectively implement the STAR-L framework in your writing, brainstorm experiences that showcase your abilities or demonstrate personal growth. Identify the critical components of each story (Situation, Task, Action, Result, and Learning) and organize your thoughts accordingly.
From there, draft your story and edit your writing mercilessly. Ask for feedback from others. Do not use three words when you can use one.
Tips to help you write your Consular Fellow personal narratives
What follows are just a few tips to help you write your narratives (in no order):
- Answer the question. If you are asked to write about an initiative you took, then don’t write about an initiative your boss completed.
- Don’t just note what you did, but also how you did it, why it mattered, and what effect it had.
- You don’t need a story about running into a fire or brokering world peace. You need a story that answers the prompt.
- Do not embellish, but do make sure to highlight your accomplishments.
- Review and leverage the 13 dimensions and precepts in your writing.
- Get feedback, edit mercilessly (yes, I am repeating this point), condense your language, and repeat.
- Focus on stories that demonstrate the required skills. Look for experiences that showcase your adaptability, ability to work in diverse environments, and personal growth.
- Use formal language, a professional tone, and the active voice.
My recommended resource to help you write your Consular Fellow personal narratives
If you would like additional support to help you write your narratives, advanced tips, and a community of peers helping each other craft their essays, consider joining FSO Compass.
FSO Compass is a fantastic resource for helping you write your narratives, practice for the CFPT, assemble your application, and go through the process with a community, not solo. In addition, FSO Compass runs the PN Challenge to help you focus and write your narratives and application within 30 days with accountability, review and feedback, and mentoring.