How to join the Foreign Service

Photo by  rupixen

Photo by rupixen

The Foreign Service is the home of all diplomats. No matter which country you serve, the Foreign Service is the government department concerned with the representation of a country abroad. As a diplomat, the Foreign Service is your house, your headquarters, your boss and your future. Joining the Foreign Service is the most traditional route to becoming a diplomat.

If you are passionate about diplomacy and have a desire to promote friendly relations and advance the interests of your country and fellow citizens abroad, joining the Foreign Service could be a great career opportunity for you.

Becoming a civil servant of the Foreign Office of your nation will allow you to serve your homeland not only from its central headquarters but also at one of the embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions located in dozens or hundreds of cities around the world. Diplomats usually serve terms of two, three, or four years while giving you the chance to experience new cultures, customs and people of different countries.

Although there are many similarities in the Diplomatic Service of each country, the eligibility criteria, selection process, working conditions, benefits and ways in which you can join it may vary greatly from country to country.

Some nations may require candidates to possess a certain minimum university degree, work experience or foreign language knowledge, while others may have set an age limit or the mandatory principle of not holding multiple citizenships. Some may demand aspirants to take a compulsory assessment before joining any position and pursue a specific training path once selected, while others may give candidates the opportunity to join directly if they apply for particular roles simply by taking a classical job interview, without the need of any testing and further training.

Working conditions and benefits, such as the salary, may also vary significantly depending on the country, although generally speaking, Foreign Service Officers usually have first-rate benefits, regardless of their country.

This step-by-step guide will help you understand the best path to follow if you wish to join the Diplomatic Service, but prepare you for challenges and tasks that will await you once you have been selected.

Step one: earn a university degree

A good university degree – in most cases a master’s degree – is usually the best start to becoming qualified for the Foreign Service. While there is no preferred field of study, some degrees offer an advanced education and relevance to the field.

Graduate programmes in diplomacy and international relations provides training that is naturally geared for a foreign affairs career. Nonetheless, since the Foreign Service needs a diverse corps of diplomats with all kinds of educational backgrounds and skills, a technical degree like healthcare, economics, law or engineering can be extremely helpful.

Another tip to consider is to take up foreign language training or study abroad. Studying overseas could be a valuable early test of one’s cultural adaptability and a great way to learn a foreign language at its roots.

An academic semester spent abroad is a good opportunity to gain an overview of what it means to live far from home, dealing with a foreign culture and language, and develop some regional expertise, vital for a career as a diplomat.

Step two: gain some experience

Whether it is volunteering, internship, traineeship or working activity, spending time in a professional role that requires the kind of knowledge and expertise will help you develop the necessary skills frequently needed in the profession. The more experience you get, the more resilient you will become.

As with education, no work experience is a waste of time, but jobs with similar features to the Foreign Service are likely to provide more valued experience than something completely unrelated. Consider joining volunteer opportunities like interning at the Red Cross or a local embassy to increase your knowledge of operation.

Step three: apply

Once you have a solid educational and basic work experience, it is time to apply for the Foreign Service. There are four different ways in which you can apply to become a civil servant of the Foreign Office of your country.

Option One: Apply for an internship or traineeship position within the Foreign Office of your country, especially if you have very little or no professional experience. You can respond to an advertised vacancy or send an open application. Be sure to follow up and create local networks through LinkedIn. Following this route can even lead you to getting hired later for a permanent function.

Option Two: The more conventional route would be to apply to the periodic diplomatic contest, which most nations hold annually. The selection process begins with an online registration, where you will need to take various written and oral assessments. If you succeed to the second stage, be expected to participate in a rigorous background security check. If you pass the screening process, you will be expected to participate in two face-to-face interviews. If successful and you are offered a position, you may be asked to take further training. After completing training and orientation as a newly hired Foreign Service Officer, you will typically be assigned to your first domestic assignment before being posted abroad.

Option Three: The best option for qualified professionals would be to apply directly for specific advertised positions, which usually do not envisage an articulated selection process or additional internal training. In most cases, you can expect a classical job interview and a more straightforward recruiting process.

Option Four: The final option is to simply send an open application. No matter if you are a recent graduate or an experienced professional, if you have a passion for diplomacy and possess some of the basic qualifications listed, submit a copy of your resume and a good motivation letter which explains why you want to join and what contributions you can make to the Foreign Service.

As a general rule, always remember to be both stubborn and patient. If you watch for opportunities and are willing to give your best to get in, you will eventually succeed. You may have to temporarily park aside your aspirations, but remember that everything in this career requires a long-term view and a right dose of determination and persistence.

A career in the Foreign Service may challenging and demanding at times, but if you are truly passionate about diplomacy and would like to serve your country, joining the Foreign Service is a truly rewarding career.