Diplomats or foreign service officers (FSOs) work in countries across the globe to assist citizens and further their countries interests and policies abroad. Depending on the career track, diplomats may work in consular services, economic interests, management, politics, or public diplomacy. Foreign service offices employ individuals with all different backgrounds and expertise because they need FSOs who are flexible, creative, and adaptable. Foreign service positions are generally short-term, with assignments ranging from months to several years, but the one constant in diplomatic work is that FSOs must be able to adapt quickly and assess the priorities of a situation or project. While the job may not be as glamorous as it's made out to be in movies and TV, FSOs have the opportunities to live abroad in a variety of countries and situations and get hands-on experience with new cultures, people, and societies. Foreign service isn't for everyone, but for hard-working, motivated individuals with a desire to live and travel abroad, diplomatic employment is an exciting option. If you think that a career as a foreign service officer is right for you, here's how to prepare for a job in foreign service.
1. It depends on your homeland
The track to diplomatic careers differs depending on where you call home, but in most countries, foreign service officers, or their equivalent, are subject to similar requirements. Many countries require FSOs to be citizens of the country they will be representing. In the US, FSOs must be between the ages of 20 and 59 to qualify for service. But in general, countries are looking for FSOs with diverse skills, qualifications, and personal aptitude because each position is unique and presents its own challenges. Diplomats work on projects related to everything from sporting events to disease outbreaks, education initiatives, and peacekeeping. There is no one skill-set needed for diplomacy, but a willingness to listen and understand situations is a must.
2. Some degrees give you an upper hand
In the US, diplomats hold a variety of education levels ranging from high school diplomas to PhDs, and in the US, the UK, and other countries the first step to qualifying for a diplomatic career is passing a general aptitude test. These exams normally assess a candidate's overall knowledge, so it's important that prospective FSOs brush up on things like mathematics, reading comprehension, and logic. But a solid foundation from a degree in history, politics, law, or human rights will be a plus. Most foreign service offices also recommend that applicants be well-read and informed on current events, government, and international politics – essentially, if you're serious about a diplomatic career, you should be reading a lot of newspapers.
3. Brush up your language skills
In the US, foreign language proficiency is not required for a diplomatic position because all successful applicants receive language training before their first post. However, fluency in a second or third language, as well as international experiences, will help your application stand out. Languages like Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu are in high demand, but it's more important to have strong written and spoken communication skills in your own language. After candidates have passed the entrance exam, most foreign service offices subject applicants to rigorous interviews and assessments aimed at identifying individual strengths and suitability.
4. Prepare for challenges...and competition
Foreign service is a challenging career. FSOs are always moving, which means that staying in touch with loved ones can be tricky, and for officers with families, the position can be taxing. But that doesn't mean that foreign service is an unpopular career, and most foreign service offices have a large pool of new FSOs waiting for deployment as well as an established rank of officers, all of whom are competing for the choice assignments around the world. Placements are often given out based on rank, and new recruits should expect their first assignments to be in areas or regions that are more challenging than others. Successful FSOs learn to make the best out of tricky situations, know when to ask for favors, and work hard to succeed.