So, my brother-in-law applied to the Department of Defense and State. Since he speaks Chinese and Russian (as well as a few others) I figured he’d be a shoo-in for both. Defense accepted him, but State did not — and why? Apparently he scored too low on the memo-writing portion — in which he had to craft a memo outlining his response to a petty spat between junior State personnel. Hilariously, his language fluency (despite having a number of what State calls “high priority language skills”) was not able to be considered — that would only matter if he got to a later part of the process. So, he’s probably going to Defense — which he concludes will probably be best in the long run, as various sources have warned him that he probably wouldn’t like the politics at State. Which is why they demand such high memo-writing skill, I suppose.
Now, perhaps if State employees all had such amazing command of foreign languages that they could afford to be picky about which applicants also had good memo-writing skills, I’d understand. But, uh, yeah — not so much:
Substandard skills were found in people holding 31 percent of the approximately 3,600 jobs that require a certain level of language proficiency, known as language-designated positions, up from 29 percent in 2005. In critically important regions such as the Near East and South and Central Asia, that number rises to 40 percent.
Deficiencies in what GAO calls “supercritical” languages, such as Arabic and Chinese, were 39 percent.
Gosh, if only a qualified Chinese-speaking applicant had recently applied. Oh, right. What really confuses me is the priority — language skills are only examined after meeting a certain set of criteria. It seems like if you ever use the term “supercritical” to describe a certain skill that your employees might have, you might maybe want to put that on your front line of requirements for applicants. Now the GAO report doesn’t say — but maybe “memo-writing” is” super-duper-critical!”