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One of the most common

issues members raise is pro-

motions—specifically, why

they didn’t receive one. To

help manage expectations,

I want to address the most

common promotion miscon-

ceptions and clarify how the

system works.

Misconception #1:

I received MSIs for the last

three years, so I should be


Misconception #2:

My last three rating officers

have recommended me for

promotion, so I should be


Misconception #3:

I served in a Priority Staffing

Post or stretch job, so

I should be promoted.

Misconception #4:

Everyone in my class has

been promoted except me,

so I should be promoted.

All of these misconcep-

tions can be addressed

through a better under-

standing of the promotion


In the first place, a limited

number of promotions are

available each year. The

Foreign Service Act says

that promotion numbers

are based on “a systematic

long-term projection of

personnel flows and needs

designed to provide (A) a

regular, predictable flow of

recruitment into the Foreign

Service; (B) effective career

development patterns

to meet the needs of the

Service; and (C) a regular,

Managing Your Expectations of Promotion



Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


| (202) 647-8160

predictable flow of talent

upward through the ranks

and into the Senior Foreign


In other words, it is a

complicated calculation

designed to ensure that the

department does not pro-

mote so many employees at

any given level that there are

more employees than jobs

at that level.

Further, competitive pro-

motions aren’t guaranteed.

Just as the Foreign Service

turns away many impressive

applicants because other

applicants are even more

impressive, the selection

boards are unable to pro-

mote many well-deserving

individuals because others

are higher on the rank-

ordered list.

Promotions are based on

demonstrating the ability to

perform at the next level. If

you are an FS-3 employee

who is outstanding at

your job, receiving impec-

cable Employee Evaluation

Reports for your work, but

your EERs do not reflect

your ability to perform

successfully at the FS-2

level, you will not be recom-

mended for promotion.

Promotions are designed

to move people up to the

next level once they have

already shown they have

the ability to perform at that

next level—the system does

not want to move people up

before they are ready, poten-

tially setting them up to fail.

This forward-looking fea-

ture of EERs and promotions

is why it is so important that

you make sure your evalu-

ation clearly discusses the

“next-level-up” work you’ve

been doing. Did you serve

as Acting Section Chief? If

so, be specific in your EER.

For example, “Served as

Acting Section Chief, an FS-1

position, for a month, suc-

cessfully leading the section

through three VIP visits and

a trade negotiation.”

Sometimes a stretch

position or a PSP job still

isn’t enough to get you pro-

moted. You might be com-

peting against people who

served in more challenging

jobs, or your skill code might

offer more limited promo-

tion opportunities.

So what can you do if

you want to increase your

chances of being promoted?

• Work with your rating

and reviewing officers to

make sure your EER empha-

sizes your proven ability to

perform successfully at the

next level.

• Talk to your career

development officer (CDO)

and your mentor(s) about

onward assignments that

might offer more opportuni-

ties to prove yourself.

• Review your official

performance folder to make

sure that all of your EERs

and awards are included.

Ensure that there is nothing

in your file that shouldn’t be

there, such as a discipline

letter that should have been


• Look at who is serving

on your promotion panel.

You have the right to request

the recusal of anyone who

you believe cannot apply the

precepts fairly and without

bias in assessing your per-


Finally, seek out assign-

ments that make you

happy—the happier you are,

the better you perform and

the better your chances

of getting promoted. Far

too many people take jobs

they don’t want because

they believe it will get them

promoted, only to find them-

selves unhappy in the posi-

tion and then bitter when

they don’t end up getting a

promotion. If you’re in a job

that you find meaningful,

a non-promotion will be a

brief disappointment, not an

event that derails you.


Promotions are based on demonstrating

the ability to perform at the next level.