Ask the CHCO: State’s Arnold Chacón
In a recent “Ask the CHCO” Federal News Radio interview, The U.S. Department of State Director General, Arnold Chacón, emphasized the ongoing importance of recruiting and preparing foreign affairs professionals. The Department of State is consistently ranked among the Top Five of Best Places to Work (large agencies), and Ambassador Chacón believes that is due in large part to the mission of the department and the opportunity to do meaningful work.
The dynamic and fast-paced world of foreign affairs requires the department to respond rapidly to events and emergencies, from the Ebola outbreak to political uprisings in the Middle East. This makes the work fascinating but also can be a challenge in terms of being agile and flexible enough to respond with a workforce that has the skills necessary to address these myriad issues. Ambassador Chacón mentioned several challenges that he is focusing on, including hiring agility and flexibility, skills development for the next generation of leaders, and using social media to recruit and retain top talent.
Hiring Agility and Flexibility
Ambassador Chacón discussed the different personnel systems within the Department for Foreign Service and Civil Service. This poses a challenge in terms of different rules and regulations to follow, and requires creative thinking to work around the bureaucracy in order to hire and retain the best and brightest. Ambassador Chacón cited several ways in which people can contribute to foreign affairs work outside of becoming a Foreign Service Officer, including excursion opportunities, subject matter expertise positions for Civil Service professionals, and job opportunities for Foreign Service family members. He also mentioned that the department has highly regarded fellowship programs, and a robust internship program that he hopes to augment with a larger number of paid internships to entice students and recent graduates.
Leadership Skills Development
Ambassador Chacón’s goal is to continue to build the department’s workforce with individuals who are able to see beyond the horizon, who are tenacious and resilient. With more than half of the Foreign Service personnel having less than ten years of experience under their belts, and seventeen percent of the Department’s workforce eligible for retirement, Ambassador Chacón recognizes the need to ensure that the department is sufficiently preparing its future leaders. The department’s Foreign Service Institute provides professional development not only for skills in language and tradecraft areas, but also in leadership and management capabilities, which are equally important to the success of foreign affairs professionals. Ambassador Chacón emphasized the importance of building interpersonal skills, learning how to develop and motivate highly effective teams, and managing performance issues in a positive way as some of the most important skills that State Department leaders need.
Using Social Media to Recruit Top Talent
Ambassador Chacón is focused on “demystifying” the Department of State for those who are not familiar with the opportunities that are available to them. The department has a mobile app that provides information on careers in the Foreign Service, including information on how to take the Foreign Service exam.
Ambassador Chacón summed up his interview by stating that the international environment is “messy” and fast-paced. With many more Federal agencies now participating in foreign affairs work, it’s important to build the skills of all those involved in this profession to be able to meet the global challenges of today and tomorrow.