How I Got This Job: Foreign Service Officer


Caroline Savage is a career Foreign Service Officer who served most recently as Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Center.

As a non-resident fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, her focus is diverse diplomacy leadership in foreign affairs, a project she began during her tenure as Virginia and Dean Rusk Fellow at ISD from 2018-2019.Prior to Georgetown, she served as Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassies Azerbaijan and Mozambique. In Washington assignments, she was Director for Russia and Central Asia on the National Security Council and Political-Military Officer in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Russian Affairs. She also served previously in Belarus and Luxembourg. A native of Wisconsin, she graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, then received master’s degrees in Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her languages are French, Russian, Portuguese and Azerbaijani. She is currently in Kazakh language training for her next job as Consul General in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this summer.

Line of Work / Career Journey

The foreign service generalist track houses specialties in political, economic, public diplomacy management and consular cones. The traditional path is you sign up to be a Foreign Service Generalist, and you’re typically sent overseas to begin your career at one of the 270+ embassies or consulates around the world. The work you’ll be doing involves representing U.S. interests abroad, putting a human face on American interests and policy, and forging relationships with local people.

Savage spoke about her first two years on the job and the time she spent overseas in Luxembourg. She reflected on the large workload and political portfolio she managed, as well as the meetings and issues she tackled while there. Savage explained the series of tests one must take to get their foot in the door to do foreign service. After she passed her tests, there was still a long process to receive her health and security clearance, during which she completed her Master’s. As an undergrad, Savage studied abroad in Russia, taught, and secured as many internships as she could. Her main goal was to gain as much experience as she could in whatever form it was available to her.

Application and Hiring Process

The big components are the written exam and the qualitative evaluation panel to basically look at your resume and your written products and decide whether you’re invited to the oral exam. Therefore, the written and oral exam are the big components. If you pass those, then you have to go through the process of receiving your health and security clearance, which can take several years.

Skills / Experience / Advice

  • If you’re interested in joining the foreign service, take the written test sooner rather than later, because you may have a couple years, like I did, between taking the test and actually starting the career.
  • Be aware, engaged, and informed about what’s happening in the world.
  • Re-read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so you know which amendments are which.
  • Sharpen your oral and written communication skills – be concise, clear, and compelling in your writing.
  • Be able to distinguish yourself professionally and experientially from other applicants in the oral exam and group sessions (leadership and collaboration skills).
  • Take practice exams, gain experience with local organizations such as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, network with industry professionals in the Midwest.
  • If you don’t pass the Foreign Service Exam the first time, it’s no big deal. Savage knew several people who passed the 5th time or the 8th time

Websites and Resources

Meet Sadie Freedman, Product Manager at CancerIQ

The Health Care & Science (HCS) Career Community wants to introduce students to a wide range of careers. Students may be familiar with popular clinical roles (nurse, physician, veterinarian), but not with jobs like healthcare data analytics, health administration, or biotech research.  

CancerIQ is a digital health startup company that helps health care providers “use genetic information to predict, pre-empt, and prevent disease – starting with cancer.” In this interview, Debbie Kaltman (HCS Employer Engagement Specialist) met with Sadie Freedman, a Product Manager at CancerIQ, to discuss her education and career journey, current job responsibilities, future goals in the health technology field, and insights to students. 

Sadie’s background and passion for genetics and healthcare services allowed her to gain an internship with CancerIQ, which opened her to a world of new career opportunities in telehealth. In her full-time role as Project Manager, she works closely with CancerIQ’s sales, customer success, development, and marketing teams to oversee the products, take in and implement customer feedback, look into new product ideas, and improve current products. Inspired by CancerIQ’s software “pointing out patients that a provider never would have thought to do increased screenings on and catching cancers in earlier stages”, Sadie expressed that she has found a rewarding career that she plans to continue developing.

A valuable token of advice from Sadie for current students: “One thing I was missing as an undergraduate was awareness of potential career paths, so try to explore what is out there”.

Check out the full video below to learn more!

Don’t forget to visit CancerIQ’s Careers Page for their upcoming Summer Interships!

Lessons for 2020 Grads from 2008 Grads

For 2020 graduates, the job search looks drastically different than it did even three months ago. Every day more and more questions are presented. How do I navigate hiring freezes? How can I still gain experience and leverage my skills? What resources are out there during this time? While the current state of the world is a public health crisis, the job market has many similarities to that of the 2008-2009 recession. We interviewed three DePaul alumni who graduated amidst the recession to learn how they navigated the job market and leveraged their skills and adapted to the changes. 

  • Matt Isaia, who graduated from DePaul in 2008 with a B.A. in English and currently works as the Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.
  • Mostafa Radwan, who graduated from DePaul in 2009 with a Masters in Computer Science and is currently a Solutions Architect at Docker Inc. 
  • Tara Genovese, who graduated with a B.A. in International Studies from DePaul in 2008 and currently works as a Social Worker at Fresenious Medical Care.

In general could you tell me a bit about your experience applying to jobs and finding employment upon graduation?

Tara: When I graduated from DePaul, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation and had very little guidance during that time. It was generally expected that once I graduated with a college degree that I would find a job easily afterward. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I remember one of my first professional interviews hearing in the waiting area about people’s 20 years of experience and master’s degrees competing for the entry-level job I applied for. Needless to say, I was not very confident in that interview or really in myself at the time. I would say compared to many of my friends who graduated that same year as me, I was lucky to find something. I had volunteered as an ESL teacher for a few months and I was contacted by the manager of the Non-profit regarding an AmeriCorp position there. That position did not pay me well at all, but at least I was able to get a forbearance on my loans, get really great experience, and be eligible for an end of year grant for each year completed to go toward further education or paying off my loans. I was not able to financially move out on my own after graduation and stayed with my mom. 

Matt: I graduated in August of 2008 and had been working a part time retail job that held me over. I began looking for work and quickly realized that in order to find this first job out, it was less about applying and more about networking. I was able to find a job with a small company specializing in government contracting. Networking was definitely the crucial component during this time. 

Mostafa: As an international student, there was already an additional level of difficulty. I had landed an internship and had experience as a software engineer prior to graduation which helped the most. Despite that, it was still very tough, I had a lot of interviews but not a lot of people were hiring. Many companies responded that these were “uncertain times” and they would keep me posted, but I began running out of money so I had to look for a plan B. I kept doing a lot of interviews and eventually landed an interview and job out of state in GIS mapping around September/October of that year. 

I found it most important to remember that you won’t be where you are forever, it’s okay that you’re in that job for now.

Matt isaia, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake

Did you have to shift your plan to account for the recession and economic changes? 

Tara: I was 22 years old so there really wasn’t much of a plan to begin with. I was still trying to figure things out back then. I really started looking at the money after this, seeing how certain positions weren’t in demand. I guess in this way my mindset changed. I wanted to work in a field where I could help others but wouldn’t starve. This in a lot of ways is why after getting my master’s in social work I went to medical directly instead of mental health because hospitals and health clinic’s pay better and offer benefits. If there wasn’t a recession, I probably would have gone straight to nonprofit work or after my master’s straight into mental health. I was always massively afraid of losing what financially I had or losing my job. I think this changed the way I negotiated my salary at work. Because the common saying was “just be happy you have a job.” This again is what I am hearing today but instead of “happy,” I hear “grateful.” I, personally, find these statements very problematic. 

Matt: There was a physical shift in that I wasn’t 100% sold on moving back home with my parents. Given the time, I ended up moving back home, which definitely wasn’t the easiest decision. The first job that I took after graduation had very little to do with what I wanted to do and what I had done at DePaul. I think that this shifted my thoughts. I began thinking more about pursuing other opportunities like advanced degrees. 

Mostafa: My original plan was to go into software engineering, but, at the time, there weren’t a lot of jobs out there so I tried to still stay in technology.


Are there any specific skills you had picked up at DePaul that helped you the most in that first post-grad job?

Matt: I definitely picked up a lot of soft skills that were useful. DePaul has robust general education requirements that helped hone my excel skills, allowing me to become familiar with spreadsheets and looking at data. My English classes also helped hone my writing and research skills. With these skills I was able to say I have a lot of experience writing and ask if I could work on a certain project. 

How did that first post-grad job help you in your later roles? 

Matt: Honestly, it was most helpful in that I was able to learn what I really want to do versus what I don’t want to do. At the first job, I had an overwhelming sensation that I don’t want to stay here and saw it as just a stepping stone to what I do want to do. I started asking myself what it is I need to do in order to get out of this work. Where do I want to be? I could stay where I am or I could challenge myself. I think it’s more than okay to try jobs that you might not see yourself in because you’re able to learn about what you want to do and don’t

Additionally, what were some of the best resources you found while job hunting? 

Tara: For me, I didn’t stop learning about the job-hunting process. There are so many resources out there on how to formulate your resume, cover letter, what colors are best to wear during a job interview, everything on the internet. These help. Keep learning. For me, I primarily used indeed.com like websites where they take postings from multiple job boards. I would also try to use the same verbiage in my cover letter and resume as in the job post.

If there is a company you like, make a schedule of when to look back on their job board. Start finding people on LinkedIn who work for the company and look at their experience. Even though it’s scary, just contact them for an informational interview and come prepared and on time. 

tara genovese, Social Worker at Fresenious Medical Care.

Matt: Networking was definitely the most important resource during that time. I think the ASK network has really streamlined the process within the DePaul community. I wish it had been around for me. I also utilized the Career Center’s resume review service which helped get my materials in order to apply. 

Mostafa: LinkedIn wasn’t very popular while I was job searching but it definitely is now and I’d recommend checking out LinkedIn. Candor is also a great resource to find out who has a hiring freeze right now. I made sure to take advantage of the services at the Career Center as well. I made appointments for a resume and cover letter review a few times which made sure everything was the best it could be. I landed my internship from the Career Center job fair so I would definitely utilize them during this time. 

Finally, what is some advice that you’d give graduating seniors during this time? This could be related to careers or could be overall life advice. 

Tara: Life is always uncertain. You will get what you want but you have to be prepared that it is not going to be with plan A. It’s never easy to be flexible and adaptable, but it will teach you to persevere. I graduated in the time of the worst recession this country had ever seen until today, I have a master’s degree, I work in the field that I got it in, I own my home, and I have a small business. I didn’t allow someone to tell me how to live my life. I didn’t listen to how the media always insulted my generation. I got what I wanted and for the most part, getting there wasn’t by plan A or B. If you want what you want, you will get it but you have to believe it in order to do so!

Matt: Try to look for jobs that are very in demand right now. If you’re able to, try looking at COVID-19 response jobs. I would also keep in mind that once the economy opens back up there’s going to be a big flood of people looking for jobs. Be aware of the competition; it’s a numbers game in any economy. Right now, there’s so much that we can’t control, so it’s important to try to stay positive. Focus on the things you want to do, and ask yourself ‘what can I do now that I couldn’t do before.’ This could be hobbies or upskilling, try to embrace the situation as much as you can. 

Mostafa:

Make sure to take care of yourself first, before others; make sure that you’re meeting your own personal needs (getting sleep, eating well, surrounding yourself with loved ones).

Try to see what’s available out there resource wise, any income or recovery plans. It’s going to be super difficult to concentrate on a job search if you don’t know how to pay for your rent. Apply to lots of jobs, and find or create your own opportunities, even ones you might not have normally considered. In life, it’s important to never stop learning, even outside of class; this can be a great time to upskill. Try to continue to foster relationships during this time, network, reach out to people through the ASK network. Your career is a work in progress, it’s never going to end, where you land after graduation doesn’t determine your entire future. 

My Job/Internship Offer Has Been Rescinded. What Do I Do?

We know this is disappointing and stressful. Acknowledge your emotions and also recognize that this is not about you, it’s about the situation we’re all in.

  1. Don’t panic. Stay focused. We’re here to help.
  2. Keep searching. Organizations are still hiring.
  3. Look for other ways to gain experience.
  4. Build your online presence. Think about how you can use social media to make yourself stand out. Post content that is relevant to your job search & interests.
  5. Build your network. Connections matter now more than ever. Connect with alumni through the DePaul ASK Network and use LinkedIn to connect with professionals and conduct informational interviews
  6. Invest in yourself. Continue to learn and build your skills through platforms like LinkedIn Learning (you have free access through DePaul), Coursera, Skillshare and FutureLearn.

Email template for requesting other work opportunities:

Dear XXX: (Address it to the person you have been communicating with about the offer. It might be the recruiting professional, the hiring manager or both.)

I was very excited about the opportunity to work for {name of organization} and am hoping that we can identify some alternatives. Given the current situation with COVID-19, I understand the difficult decision you had to make about my offer; however, I am writing to inquire about other options for remote project work. I would welcome the opportunity to gain experience with {name of organization} in a way that makes sense for the company. Please let me know if you would be open to discussing alternative work possibilities on a short-term or project basis. 

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

{your name}

5 Ways to Boost Your Career over Intersession

By Emily Komendera, Assistant Director, Employer Engagement and On-Campus Interviews

Fall Quarter came and went in a blur.

Luckily, the relief of a month-long break is right around the corner! While it may be tempting to use that time for Netflix (or Disney+) and holiday socializing, make sure to also set some career goals. With this time, you have the freedom to focus on what lies next after college, and the time to get some things done that wouldn’t be as feasible with class projects and homework piling up.

1. Pump up your online brand

What a great time to finally make those edits to your LinkedIn and Handshake profiles! You’ve taken some awesome classes this past quarter, and maybe you had a great internship that you haven’t added to your experience section. Think beyond text, and consider adding photos, links to your work, or going beyond that to create a professional portfolio online. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, or Moonfruit are easy to use resources for creating an online portfolio. This can really make an impact on an employer’s first impression of you, and can also include more examples of your work beyond what’s included on your resume.

2. Follow up with your contacts

The end of a quarter is a great time to check back in with some of the people you’ve met recently at networking events, or colleagues from your summer internship. Make sure you are tracking your networking contacts and the last time you’ve connected, an easy way to do this is through an Excel or Google Sheet. You don’t only want to reach out to them when you need something – so share a quick update on how the quarter went, maybe email over an article that made you think of them, or ask how things have been going for them on a project you saw them share on LinkedIn.

3. Expand your network

While many folks travel over the holidays and might not have as much availability, intersession can be a great time for you to sit down and identify gaps in your network. Say your dream company is Google and you don’t know anyone who works at Google! Check out the DePaul ASK Network or look at those who are 2nd degree connections on LinkedIn who work at Google. If you know the person you have in common as a connection well enough, you can ask them for an introduction, or ask if they would be comfortable if you mentioned their name when you reach out to them with a LinkedIn message. When building your network, it’s always important to think about who you are already connected to and how they can help – but always put the ownership for that action on yourself.

4. Explore short-term opportunities

The holidays can be a slow time for some, but for non-profit, retail, and hospitality, it can be the busiest time of year! If you’re looking to make a little extra cash, add experience to your resume, or both, consider exploring seasonal opportunities. There are a lot of great options on Handshake; make sure to type “seasonal” in the search bar in the “jobs” tab. You never know what a short term opportunity could bring in the long run!

5. Set goals for next quarter

This additional time and the terrible Chicago weather make for a really great opportunity to reflect on what has changed this past quarter for your future goals. Write down stories about things you learned professionally and personally, and document all of your successes. It will come in handy when you have your next interview.

It’s also a great time to think ahead and set some tangible goals for what you’d like to do in the remainder of your time here at DePaul and beyond. If you’d like to talk to someone to bounce your ideas off of for goals, remember that the DePaul Career Center is open through 12/20.

Handshake Hacks: Scheduling Appointments with Career Advisors

Whether you’re interested in learning about job opportunities or seeking career guidance around a specific topic, you have access to resources on Handshake and the Career Center’s website, 24/7. Now, let’s say it hits you at 2 a.m. that you still need to schedule a mock interview with a career advisor to prep for an employer meeting later that week—What do you do then?

You now don’t have to wait to schedule an appointment during normal business hours; you can request an appointment through Handshake at any time, day or night. This means you can log onto Handshake at the crack of dawn—if you so choose—to check your advisor’s earliest availability, and request a meeting. As soon as the Career Center office opens, our terrific front desk staff will do their best to ensure you get in at the earliest availability.

Requesting an Appointment How-to

Assuming you don’t always have a laptop on hand, you can always use a smart phone to log onto Handshake to request an appointment, as it is mobile friendly. Once you are logged in, look at the navigation column on the left-hand side of the page and select “Appointments,” which is located under the My University column. Click “Schedule a New Appointment” and then follow the prompts to choose a Category and an Appointment Type:

From there, you will see a list of your designated career advisor’s upcoming availability. Pick an available slot, briefly share what you hope to learn in the meeting (e.g. “discuss career options based on my major” or “prepare for an upcoming interview”), and submit your request. Our front desk staff will then review all requests, and confirm your appointment or reach out with alternative availability.

Aside from Handshake, you can still schedule an appointment with your career advisor during normal business hours by calling us directly—or, you can drop in between classes:

Loop office: DePaul Center, 1 E. Jackson, Suite 9500 | (312) 362-8437

Lincoln Park office: Schmitt Academic Center, 2320 N. Kenmore, Room 192 | (773) 325-7431

Now, for those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night and remember that you’ve been meaning to research internship opportunities, you can jump on Handshake and rest assured knowing you are in good hands.