A qualifying test is the first step to entering the
Department of State’s diplomatic corps.
(© AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)
DIPLOMATS COME FROM many different backgrounds, yet they all work to advance American interests abroad. They serve in countless roles: from economists and health care specialists to translators and administrative assistants.
Most diplomats are Foreign Service Officers (FSO). Every FSO must pass the Foreign Service Exam which consists of a written exam, an oral interview, and a negotiating exercise. If you pass the grueling exams and a medical checkup and receive a security clearance, you may finally be asked to join the distinguished ranks of the Foreign Service. The Foreign Service is more selective than Harvard University.
If you make it into the Foreign Service, the next stop is the Department of State’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center for A-100, a ten-week introduction to the Department of State and work as a Foreign Service Officer. You will probably also spend time at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to take foreign languages classes in preparation for traveling to your new posting. There may also be classes on the history and culture of the region, specific diplomatic functions or skills, and important issues on human rights.
Every year, FSOs bid on jobs across the globe. Officers submit their preferences from a list of available jobs in countries around the world, then wait to hear where they will be stationed and what they will be doing. Often, newer officers must prove their dedication by accepting postings in dangerous countries or places with few of the comforts of home.
Keeping up with current events around the world is important for any aspiring Foreign Service Officer. To be successful, you’ll need to listen well, analyze, problem-solve, and learn how to apply these skills in foreign cultures. Depending on your responsibilities, you might need specialized knowledge. If your job is promoting international trade, for example, you’ll need to learn about a country’s economy, business practices, and banking system. You’ll also need to learn the etiquette and customs of your host country and be polite, tactful, and patient.