Getting a Job in the Foreign Service

guidetotheforeignservice

“Diplomat” The word conjures up images of fancy parties, fist-slamming negotiations, and peacemaking in the great capitals of Europe. The truth of the career is that it’s a job that demands hard work but gives great satisfaction. The State Department has been ranked third among ideal jobs for college graduates, the best place for women to work in the federal government, and among the top ten places to launch a career. Furthermore, the New York Times recently reported that they’re increasing positions. The State Department is the flagship foreign affairs agency in the US government. State’s workforce consists of civil service employees, Foreign Service specialists and Foreign Service generalists. When most people talk about American diplomats, they’re talking about generalists, also known as Foreign Service Officers.

Foreign Service Officers are the frontlines of American foreign policy. Each officer has a “cone,” or career track: consularmanagementpublic diplomacyeconomic or political. It should be noted that although all officers choose cones, they’re also considered generalists. For example, every officer will spend one of her first tours as a consular officer, and it isn’t considered unusual to do jobs out of cone.

So, how do you become a Foreign Service Officer? Getting a job as a Foreign Service Officer requires quite a bit of time. The process starts with a written exam, a panel review, and an all day oral exam. After the oral exam, applicants are subject to medical and security clearances, and are put on a waiting list. Candidates are offered positions in the order of their scores. Expect the process to take at least a year (if was in college again, I’d take the test my junior year rather than my senior). New hires are given a two month training course (A-100) in diplomatic principles, writing, history, and receptions. Yeah, reception training is pretty fun, much more than actual diplomatic receptions. Getting hired is not, however, the end of the selection process. New hires are only contracted for five years, at which point anyone who hasn’t been tenured gets the boot (don’t lose any sleep though—97% get tenured).

The average new employee is 32 years old, so it’s often a second career. It’s also a great place to start right out of college, as candidates are judged on their test scores rather than their job history. New hires are paid between $41,000 and $76,000. If you count the free housing and cost of living difference between much of the world and the U.S., it’s a very reasonable salary. Getting a job as a Foreign Service Officer isn’t about the salary, though. It’s about serving your country, interacting with foreign cultures, and maybe witnessing history. I hope this article doesn’t sound like a commercial—the job has some negatives too. Nevertheless, I’ve never spoken to an officer who said he regretted career choice.

From: The Hegemonist

43 Comments

  1. Erik says:

    I’ve heard that even small blemishes on a credit report more or less kill your chances at making it to the orals. Any insight if that’s true, or if there is a modicum of forgiveness in this day and age?

  2. Kimberly says:

    I think some blemishes are ok, as long as they’re explainable. I have a cable company collection for $58 dollars that I refuse to pay. I spoke to my Diplomat in Residence and she said that as long as I have a reason (which I do in this case, it’s a mistake on their end) I am ok. I had some credit card collections 7 years ago that are about to be taken off my report and she said that I’m ok because I have taken the necessary steps to fix the negative stuff.

    If you have a bankruptcy, tons of credit card debt, and a string of collections, that’s another story. You’ll want to clean that up as much as you can.

  3. anonymous says:

    The credit reporting companies have websites you can access free reports from. You can have a lot of the older stuff removed from your report. It’s worth a try. But I have to think with the recent economic crisis there is some leigh weigh for people that have lost their job and have higher credit card balances, etc.

  4. Tom says:

    “Nevertheless, I’ve never spoken to an officer who said he/she regretted his/her career choice.”
    I think you mean…

  5. John says:

    I have bad credit, but it will be removed within the next year as it’s nearing 7 years of age.

    Once this disappears from my credit report wil it STILL present a problem with regards to my chances or should I be good as far as credit is concerned?

    I’ve been living in the EU for the past 4 years and have little est. no credit in the US in this time. Will having no credit hurt my chances? If so, will explaining my employment abroad for the past 4 years help to clear this up?

    Thanks to all!

    • L brown says:

      What have you been doing in the EU if you don’t mind sharing? I ask because my husband and I would like to work/retire there after he retires from the military.
      Thank you

      • Mardelle says:

        Hello – Just saw your post from last year.
        I have been working in the EU for about 7 years now. Luxembourg, England, Scotland.

        The challenge would be to obtain the proper visas to work there. It is getting tighter than it was years ago – if you are to take a position it means that there would be no one local who could do the work before a permit could be issued.

        And the EU economy is not blossoming right now – but if you have the “right” experience for what an organisation needs; and a second language, it could help you make the transition. I have enjoyed it very much. This is why i am applying to take the FSOT; I love the travel and I would like to combine it with representing American interests overseas.

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  6. sherwan says:

    I have a Foreign service test next week.

    I have purchased the official DOS study guide to help me

    Has anyone taken this test before? can you share any information about the best way to study for the test or what Material I should learn for the test.

    The worst part of the test that I hate is the English expression section, where I have to chose a word to correct the underlined section. Its really annoying because they focus on small details as little as a comma or a period.

    I have never been proficient in punctions.

    • Mardelle says:

      Hi! I took the test over a year ago and will also be taking it next week. I missed by a little over a point the first time.

      I found that the official guide you get from ACT is the best and did reflect the type of material I saw on the test the first time. i have also seen a lot of “other” test prep sites….and I really did not feel the questions that they were asking reflected the types I saw prior. So the official guide is the best.

      If there is any guidance I can give on the English Expression section it would be to use the cleanest; most direct; and least number of words possible in the corrected version. Err on the side of lean. I have written a lot of marketing pieces; and what the FSOT is looking for is NOT flowery language. Be direct and to the point. I hope that helps you.

      best of Luck!

      • Libia says:

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