In Which I Learn to Follow My Own Advice

I have always steered clear of Embassy employment.

For one thing, EFM jobs used to be called PIT jobs. As if the acronym weren’t bad enough, it got even worse when you spelled it out: Part-Time, Intermittent, Temporary.

EFM, or Eligible Family Member, isn’t a whole lot better. Eligible for what?  Like when my husband was deemed  “eligible” to serve in Iraq? Or “eligible” for hardship posts because we happened to have done our four hardship tours early in his career?

Suffice it to say, when the State Department says you are “eligible” for something, it’s best to start walking in the other direction.  Quickly.

Though we joined the FS quite young (I was still in college!) and could certainly have used the extra money from a PIT job to pay off student loans and other fun stuff like that, I was kept pretty busy with moving every couple of years and having babies. Rather than apply for PIT positions, I sold my handcrafted items in the local community and picked up the occasional contract job, usually editing the post newsletter. Later on, this morphed into writing articles for publication and working as a freelance website designer and desktop publisher.

So, in retrospect, I have actually had a part-time, low-key career of sorts, while mostly staying home with my kids, which was a goal for both myself and my husband. And having time for creative pursuits, which is important to me.

I have extolled the virtues of liberating oneself from the EFM trap on all manner of social media. I’ve even written articles about it. If there is a walking, breathing example of a person who is totally at peace with their lack of a proper security clearance or federal brownie points or whatever it is me.

So, why don’t I listen to my own advice?

Before we left the States, I decided to get out of the webmastering business. It paid pretty well, but it just wasn’t interesting to me anymore, and the technology was moving faster than I was willing to follow it. I trimmed down to just two clients for whom I provide content management and newsletter production. For most of last year, what with moving overseas and buying, selling, and renovating houses, that was about all the work I could reasonably handle.

Now that my daughter is in college and my son pretty well settled in high school here at post, I thought I’d take on some more work again. You know, to save for his college and stuff. Or maybe for a new kitchen when we get back. Or maybe just to have some extra money lying around in case my husband has to look for a new job after this tour (long story). So, when the newsletter job at post here opened up, I thought I’d better apply for it to round out my work week.

It’s a big post, and the job as originally advertised, with a set stipend per issue, would have paid pretty well if you were a person who knew what you were doing. Which I did, of course, due to my aforementioned Skillz.

Allow me to interject how this process worked the last three times I applied for (and got) newsletter editor positions. I sent in a “letter of interest” to HR at post mentioning my qualifications. That was it.

With other clients, generally people would ask to see samples of my work, we would then correspond either by email, by telephone, or in an personal interview about plans for their website or newsletter project, and come to a plain-English agreement ratified by email. It really was that simple, and it worked just fine. (I only got stiffed by a client once, and even they eventually had to pay me because I wouldn’t give them their website files until they did—and the check cleared. The moral of this story is: do not mess with your webmaster, lol.)

I sent in my resumé per the advertisement’s requirements, along with a sample newsletter. A few days later I got an email with a 32-page PDF attached saying oops, it turns out there are some rules we have to follow here, can you please provide references, fill out this paperwork and include your bid on the job.

So, now the job was presumably going to be offered to the qualified bidder who offered to do it for the least money. Well, that’s not quite the same deal, is it.

But, fair enough, rules are rules, and though it seems like someone probably should have checked on this requirement before advertising the job, mistakes do happen. So, I sent that paperwork in with a bid for the originally mentioned stipend because, in my estimation, the hourly wage would then work out to something approximating my “non-profit rate” for other clients.

Another week went by, and then I get an email with 10 MB of attachments asking me to “write a sample newsletter article using the enclosed materials.” With some more detailed instructions about how to make it interesting.

OK, back up a minute here. My resumé says that I have edited newsletters at three previous posts, not to mention I am currently content manager for a non-profit organization. I have writing samples. Tons of ’em. Why exactly would I need to complete this high school writing assignment to show that I can write a newsletter article?

Well, no reason, really. Except that THIS IS AN EFM JOB. It’s special, you know? We are so supposed to be grateful for the opportunity. And willing to jump through whatever hoops necessary to get the position and simultaneously cover someone else’s you-know-what. Because…well, just because.

Dang, I forgot about that! Major head-smack! What was I thinking?

So, I wrote a polite note back removing myself from the application process, and mentioning that really, it was getting  kind of ridiculous for a part-time newsletter job, wasn’t it.

I am so very glad that we are not in that time warp in which State apparently exists. You know, the one where spouses have no alternatives to Embassy employment.

Kolbi just figured this out, too, and is going back to school. Read about her MUCH more frustrating employment experience here. Tim has also decided to think outside the box from now on. These two bloggers inspired me to write up this post. So I can bookmark it and re-read it anytime I am tempted to apply for an EFM position. Safer and healthier than banging my head on the table.

I immediately went to plan B, in which I make less money now, but have more fun and learn useful stuff to help me get a real job later, if necessary.

People are always telling me that I should get a Master’s degree, but no one has ever been able to successfully explain to me why. And it would be awfully expensive. Instead, I am going for something more targeted. A professional certification that addresses some skills I need to refine, and will add an “extra” to my resumé at a very affordable price. Classes start in April. I am really looking forward to starting the program. I have always thought it would be fun to take an online course.

I have also just volunteered to be project manager/editor of a book. It’s going to be a lot of work for very little money, but I think it will be a very educational experience while adding value to my resumé. This project will also be completed entirely online.

It would have been nice to have the extra money from the newsletter job, but hey, maybe eventually the book royalties will pay for the certificate and I can call the year even. Meanwhile, I still have regular income from my two remaining clients—who have nothing whatsoever to do with the federal hiring or contracting process.

And my sanity, of course, which is beyond price!

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5 comments

  1. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU, Kelly. I have been following this advice for many years.
    Work on the net is good… To quote Mr. Universe, “Can’t stop the signal, Mal.”

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  2. I remember (as do you) when EFM came into being. We decided we were all Elfs….. And I think I should just duck back into The Fellowship of the Ring. I avoid EFM jobs for the same reason as you…. They were generally demeaning, and the hoops!!!! Newsletters, fine, except I always felt odd about having ADMIN clear everything I put together. Oh, there was one stint as CLO, where I discovered I couldn’t make everyone happy, and it was too hard to try. Because someone would always be unhappy. (I was really floored when someone objected to my making AA infoavailable.)
    But we are glad to have you back in the private sector. And the Book…. when are you going to tell us about it?

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  3. I was offered a PIT job today! You post made me laugh because I asked my husband to give me one good reason, besides the money, that I should take the job, give up my current part-time editing and designing work, and hand over my toddler to a babysitter all day. He said things like “security clearance” and “personal secretary to the Ambassador” but couldn’t come up with anything else. I don’t need brownie points either, thanks! Good on you for finding something that you can do . . . and LIKE to do. I will follow suit.

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  4. You know about what happened to me in Iceland (the nepotism & all). Branching out and getting the permit to work locally was the best thing I could have done. Well, and sanity is priceless!

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