Niche Careers: Foreign Service Officer
Picture yourself in Moscow entering a guarded embassy building. You nod and exchange greetings with well-dressed professionals, many of whom you know, as they shuffle through the lobby. Someone says something to you in Russian and you chuckle while sipping on your coffee. On your desk is a list of current international events, and you’re about to enter a meeting with elite officials to discuss them.
Everyone relies on your opinion and looks to you when they have questions about these events, among many other issues. Why? Because you’re in a foreign country representing the United States and its interests as an ambassador and diplomat, and these pressing issues will fall on your shoulders. If that sounds exciting to you, then keep reading.
Diplomats handle serious topics ranging from poverty issues to human trafficking. The work is not for the faint of heart. Diplomats, also known as foreign service officers (FSOs), are encouraged to be peacekeepers. They enforce and promote the respect of human rights, aid with immigration issues, fight crime, and represent America—even outside of work. The road to becoming a foreign diplomat is long but ultimately rewarding. Here, we’ve outlined how the application process works and what to expect.
1. Submit an Application
You will want to go to register at careers.state.gov online. After doing so, eligible applicants will be asked to reserve a test date about a month or so in advance at a Pearson VUE testing center.
2.Pick a Career Track
Foreign service officers choose a career track they’d like to specialize in. There are five FSO specializations, including consular, public diplomacy, political, economic, and management. Be sure to research each specialization before committing, as you can only choose once. More information about these specializations can be found at the Department of State website.
3. Take the Foreign Service Officer Test
The FSOT exam is offered three times a year in the USA and abroad. It is completed on a computer, and assesses your knowledge in a variety of subjects. The test has three multiple-choice sections and an essay section covering biographic information, English expression, and job knowledge. While some test questions go unscored, is in your best interest to answer all of them to the best of your ability.
Successful test-takers should have extensive knowledge of the following topics: proper English grammar, world geography, world politics, world issues and history, economics, communication, economics, and all aspects of US history, politics, and diplomacy. Be sure to bring your scheduling confirmation email to the testing center and a valid government-issued ID. You have to pass the test in order to move on to the next step. If not, you will have to wait another 12 months to retake the exam.
4. Submit a Personal Narrative for Review
If you pass the multiple-choice and essay sections of your test, you will be asked to submit a series of six personal narratives (PNs) to a Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) via e-mail. Your answers must be detailed but succinct, as each response is limited to around 200 words. Candidates are asked about their personal experiences, achievements, and education goals, among other questions. If your responses are accepted by the review panel, they will invite you to take an oral assessment.
5. Take the Oral Assessment
The oral assessment is typically held in Washington, D.C., but the location varies, so be sure to carefully review your invitation letter for the full details. The day-long oral assessment is made up of a negotiation, group, case management exercise, and exit interview. All aspects of your personality, nonverbal communication, appearance, and verbal communication will be analyzed with scrutiny. Interviewers are looking for these 13 specific qualities in a candidate: composure, cultural adaptability, experience and motivation, information integration and analysis, initiative and leadership, judgement, objectivity and integrity, oral communication, planning and organizing, resourcefulness, working with others, written communication, and qualitative analysis.
6. Obtain Medical and Security Clearances
Good health is essential to having a successful career abroad. Because FSOs should be available to take assignment anywhere in the world, they face threats of danger, poverty, and other hardships. Candidates who pass the oral assignment will be given instructions on where and how to obtain their medical clearance. The U.S. Department of State will also conduct an in-depth background check so that candidates can obtain security clearance.
7. Wait for the Final Review Panel
After completing the security and medical clearance, a final review panel will determine the overall suitability of a candidate based on all of the previous analysis, test scores, and background information.
8. Get Placed on the Register
The final step of the FSO application process is getting placed on a rank-ordered register based on a chosen career path. Veterans and individuals who can prove they are proficient in another language are given extra points on the register and are considered more attractive candidates. Individuals chosen from the register will then spend about seven months getting educated about the job at a training facility in Arlington, Virginia.
It is important to note that applicants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 20 and 59 and must be available for worldwide assignment. There is no specific educational level required, but salaries for individuals with degrees and experience are higher. Salaries also vary depending on a variety of other factors, so be sure to check the U.S. Department of State website to determine where you would stand on that platform. Candidates who are not chosen from the register within 18 months will lose their candidacy and be removed from the register. International assignments typically don’t exceed six years in length.
This is not an easy job. When considering this career track, it is important to note that you’ll likely be away from your family for long periods of time, and an emergency situation could arise at any time. Still, over 15,000 individuals each year brave such sacrifices to serve on behalf of their country and bring forth positive change.