Public Affairs Lecture Series: Elizabeth Fitzsimmons

On November 8th, 2018 BYU Lecture Series was privileged to hear from Elizabeth Fitzsimmons. Elizabeth is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State since October 1, 2018. She was previously the Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Department from March to August 2018. Prior assignments include Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretaries Kerry and Tillerson, Senior Advisor at the Foreign Service Institute, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs and the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. She joined the Department in 1995, and at the time of her swearing in was the youngest member of the Foreign Service.

In her lecture, Elizabeth outlined for BYU students the process of getting a job at the state department. Recognizing that it is a meritocracy, Elizabeth encouraged students to apply if interested because it doesn’t matter their status or connections, it’s all based on one’s ability to take the test. She reminded us that she herself didn’t even have a graduate degree when she got started!

Students interested need to prepare for the foreign service exam. Around 25,000 students are first admitted thought this exam, but only 1,500 progress to the essay portion. In the essay portion one is asked to talk about their cross-culture connectivity. Missions are a good advantage in this portion if one can discuss they cross-culture flexibility and language skills. Following the essay is an oral exam. Elizabeth recommends approaching this portion with strong negotiation skills. In the oral exam one will negotiate with a team on where money should be spent and how to prioritize what is best for the scenario given. Finally, once an individual has passed through all these tests they go through a series of background and security clearances.

Following the test, an individual gets two entry level directed tours. These tours are designed to test and see if one is suited for a long-term career at the State Department. At this point one decides whether they want to be a foreign service officer or a civil service officer. When considering these options, Elizabeth recommend asking oneself if they’d be happier living abroad or in Washington D.C. Also consider that foreign service officers work on a more general level, while civil service officers are specialist. Again, Elizabeth encouraged students that this could be their future and shared how grateful she is that she took the effort and a leap of faith to try when she was younger.

At the conclusion of her lecture Elizabeth gave advice and shared her “secret sauce” to success with the students:

  1. Articulate Your Values and Live Them Distinctly:

Elizabeth shared that balancing work and home life is very important to her. She is a working mother and wife. She acknowledged the great blessing her supportive husband and children are. Her secret sauce to living up to this value is making sure her family sits together around the dinner table 6 nights a week.

  1. Have Integrity and be Authentic:

From her experience, Elizabeth knows that people want to hire individuals who are enthusiastic about what they do and are authentic about it. She recommended that students need to figure out what they love and then go with full heart in that direction because it will be natural for them to be authentic. Along with being authentic, one must be honest in words and actions. She learned this value when she faced a career failure. She didn’t hide the situation from others, or even hide her feelings of discouragement. Elizabeth has now seen that her value of integrity has enabled her to connect with people with enormous intellectual integrity.

We are grateful for all the advice Elizabeth shared. The lecture was full of insight and inspiration. Thank you, Elizabeth, for the time you spent with us at BYU!