This is a post I've been meaning to write since last month but haven't gotten around to. I wanted to describe the process of second tour bidding in a little more detail, because for some reason I thought it was going to be relatively easy, and it was, in fact, a pain in the arse.
When you bid on your first tour in the Foreign Service, you get a list of x amount of posts depending on the number of people in your class. One job per person. Some posts are added last minute and some fall off, but for the most part, you have two weeks to put those jobs into three groups: high, medium, and low. We had 64 jobs to rank, and you can have as many in each category as you want, so I think we had something like 7 highs, 30-something mediums, and the rest lows. Our priorities were: 1) job in cone 2) language 3) safety 4) Internet (Really. I need my Internet).
For second tour bidding, you have a much larger list, but you only rank your top 30, in order from highest preference to lowest. So we got 400 jobs to sift through, which is a lot. For the record, we had not a single DC job on our list, which I think is unusual. There are people who go back to DC for their second tour (there are actually people who do their first tour in DC, although John didn't have any in his A-100 class either).
Everyone (other than my coworker K, who literally will go anywhere in the world) has some sort of preference when it comes to second tour bidding. Either you have a language focus, or a region you want to get to, or you've done consular the first round and want an in-cone job, or you already worked in your cone and now you have to do consular, or your spouse has special job requirements, or your kid has special needs, or you've just lived through your first Siberian winter and have decided you absolutely must live somewhere warm next. Whatever the case, you're going to have criteria when you bid. The trick is figuring out your strategy.
Of course, strategy is worthless until you get the actual list (I mean, have a basic plan, but don't start dreaming about posts just yet because odds are they won't be on there. Not like I did that with Spain or anything. I'm just saying.). Once you get your list, depending on your tranche (first tranche is 20% hardship and higher; second is 15% and below), you have two weeks to figure your stuff out, send it to your Career Development Officer (CDO) to make sure you're on the right track, revise, and get in your final list. Then you usually hear back within two weeks (don't quote me on any of this, btw; I'm not an FSO and I'm human - i.e., I err).
You get a list of instructions, of course, which are pretty detailed. Too detailed for me to go into here, because this is getting kind of ridiculous (but if you have questions - ASK!). Also, for reasons no one seems to understand, the list that gets sent out isn't sortable in Excel. Huge pain in the butt that someone who actually knows how to use Excel needs to sort out one of these days. Someone from John's A-100 class actually made their list sortable, but it didn't work from Spain for some reason. So maybe you'll get lucky and have someone in your group who'll make a list. If not, it's a lot of cutting and pasting that you'll just have to deal with.
We had to sort out only the consular jobs first, because John did in-cone first tour and the CDO basically told us he wouldn't get a rotational job (one year of consular followed by a year of in-cone). That left us with probably two-thirds to three-quarters of the list, because there are a lot of consular jobs. Then we had to figure out the timing, which is a big pain in the butt because it depends on language training, and different languages have different lengths of training. So we knew, for example, that a job in London that started next June wouldn't work, since John has to be here until August. And a job in London that started next December wouldn't work, because consular training is six weeks, and home leave is six weeks, and you can only fudge things by a month either direction (a whole other can of worms; only eight bids of your thirty can be "imperfect" - meaning you'd have to take extra leave to make up time or leave post early, and apparently that doesn't happen very often). Add in a post that requires language training, and you can see how things get complicated. Then we went through every single job and decided if it was a top contender, a definite no, or a maybe.
Ugh, are you getting as sick of reading about this as I am of writing about it? Either way, I think you're getting the idea by now that this is a complicated process, one best done when NOT on vacation. Anyway, after you figure out the timing, you can start looking at your actual priorities. For us, these were 1) a world language (so we weren't stuck going between English-speaking and Russian-speaking posts for the rest of our lives, even though London or Dublin would have been awesome) 2) quality of life (something a certain someone may have overlooked a little last time) 3) schools (now that Jack will be in school, this is obviously important) 4) cost of living (you get paid more to live in crappier places, which is why some people hop from one awful post to the next; we're not looking to get rich off this, but if you can find one of those rare gem "non-hardship hardship" posts, you can get paid well to live somewhere awesome, and who doesn't want that?).
For the record, our top choices ended up being Lima, Peru; San Jose, Costa Rica; Bogota, Columbia; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lisbon, Portugal. I think. We had a few Limas and Bogotas so I can't remember the exact numbers. And San Jose and Lima were battling it out until the very end. We ended up putting Lima first for a few reasons: 1) It's supposed to be a great up and coming city with an amazing culinary scene and awesome travel opportunities 2) It's safe and apparently relatively easy to live in, despite the fact that it's 15% hardship (so yay, we get paid more, and also, we fulfill the Senior Foreign Service requirement of at least two 15% or higher hardship posts) 3) The housing is awesome - singles and couples without children generally live in the super-nice part of town in highrise apartments, while families have large homes with yards near the embassy. We loved the idea of living near the embassy to avoid a long commute (apparently traffic is pretty bad; it's a city of 10 million people, after all), and... 4) The embassy is close to the school, which is supposed to be wonderful. 5) It's a good sized post - large but not insanely large (San Jose was a little smaller than we were looking for, and we were told the city wasn't as dynamic). Lots of families with kids, which we are obviously sorely lacking here.
There are a ton of other reasons - the people are supposed to be friendly, the fresh produce is to die for, the weather is mild year-round, you are literally right between the ocean and the mountains, great parks and museums, coffee and chocolate, baby alpacas, etc. Any of our other top ten would have been awesome too, and I'm so excited to learn Spanish AND be only one hour behind DC (!!!). We wanted an adventure, and I think we're going to get one.
And at the very least, we don't have to think about third tour bidding for another couple of years...