Master the DTO Personal Narratives: A Guide

If you want to become a Foreign Service Office Diplomatic Technology Officer (DTO), writing your personal narratives is one of the most important parts of the application submission process. You must spend quality time writing these mini-essays to ensure the Board of Examiners (BEX) has a complete picture of your skills. 

If you’re just starting, I recommend checking out this article on becoming a DTO 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 DTO Personal Narrative Prompts

Personal narratives

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 2,000 characters (including spaces).

The prompts for each narrative follow:

Substantive Knowledge

Give what you consider to be the best example of a situation where you found a solution to a practical problem by using your knowledge of information technology (IT) programs. Indicate the nature of the problem, who was affected by the problem, in what way, and the results or benefits of your solution.

Intellectual Skills

Describe a time when you had to analyze a complex IT situation and make a quick decision. What process did you follow for making the decision? Were you satisfied with the results?

Interpersonal Skills

Please provide an example that demonstrates you are good at working with others in difficult situations. What exactly did you do that shows you have this skill?

Communication Skills

Describe a situation in which you used your communication skills to describe a technical issue to a non-technical audience.

Managerial Skills

Diplomatic Technology 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 that you managed or helped to manage and how you sought to achieve the project’s goals.

Leadership Skills

Describe a time when you identified a serious problem involving IT services or IT solutions that required immediate action. How did you take the lead in solving the problem?

Statement of Interest

In addition to the personal narratives, DTO candidates must submit a Statement of Interest. The Statement of Interest discusses your:

  • Motivation for joining the Foreign Service,
  • Comments about your work experience, include special skills (e.g., computer), current licenses, honors, awards, special accomplishments, and/or training (with date completed) relating to this position,
  • Experience living or working in a multicultural environment, overseas or in the U.S.

How to write your DTO 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 DTO 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 2,000 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 DTO 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, 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 11 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 an active voice.

My recommended resource to help you write your DTO 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 DTOT, 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. 

Thanks for reading! Want to receive guidance on joining the Foreign Service, including recommended preparation resources? Join a community of people interested in the FS and going through the application process. Enter your email now and join us.

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