How to Become a Diplomat: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a diplomat with the U.S. Department of State. Research the job duties and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in U.S. diplomacy. View article »

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  • 0:02 Becoming a Diplomat
  • 1:47 Review the 13 Essential Skills
  • 2:33 Select an FSO Career Track
  • 3:17 Pass Hiring Requirements
  • 3:54 Complete Training

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Video Transcript

Becoming a Diplomat

Diplomats, officially known as Foreign Service Officers (FSO) in the U.S., advance the economic, political, social, and cultural interests of their host nations to the diplomatic representatives of other nations. Moreover, diplomats engage in complex negotiations with their international counterparts in an attempt to ensure the continued success and prosperity of their homeland. U.S. diplomats are employed at the 270+ American embassies and consulates around the world. Some assignments might be in developing countries and considered hardship assignments. Working in an environment where individuals may not be competent in the language and might not have familiar amenities could be challenging. However, diplomats may have the opportunity to experience many different types of lifestyles and cultures.

The U.S. Department of State offers five different career tracks for diplomats. An individual interested in becoming a diplomat must be a U.S. citizen and be between the ages of 20 and 59. A college degree is not necessary; however, possessing a college diploma and having the ability to speak a foreign language improves an individual's chances of being hired.

Degree Level None specified
Experience Experience and interest in living abroad are helpful
Key Skills Leadership, interpersonal, and communication skills; strong analytical and information-gathering ability; substantive knowledge of U.S. government, history, and culture
Salary FSOs in the U.S. are compensated according to the General Schedule (GS) pay scale for domestic service and the Foreign Schedule (FS) scale for service occurring abroad

Sources: U.S. Department of State- Careers- Work Benefits

Step 1: Review the 13 Essential Skills

The U.S. Department of State seeks diplomat applicants who possess 13 certain skills, personal qualities, and abilities. Applicants must demonstrate composure, cultural adaptability, motivation, initiative, leadership, and strong written and oral communication skills. They must have the ability to analyze situations and absorb complex information from a variety of sources. Foreign Service Officers must also prioritize tasks, be fair and honest, and work well with others.

Individuals interested in becoming diplomats may want to contact a U.S. Diplomat in Residence in their region of the U.S. These career diplomats provide guidance to students and professionals about jobs within the U.S. Department of State.

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  • American Government
  • International Relations, General

Step 2: Select an FSO Career Track

Individuals interested in becoming diplomats must choose a career track: consular officer, economic officer, management officer, political officer, or public diplomacy officer. Each position focuses on a different aspect of U.S. diplomacy. For example, consular officers facilitate adoptions and help evacuate Americans, while economic officers work with foreign governments on trade, energy, environment, science, and technology policies.

On the other hand, management officers are responsible for U.S. Embassy operations, while public diplomacy officers promote understanding and support for American policy through engagement and influence among a country's political, academic, and other local groups.

Step 3: Pass Hiring Requirements

After selecting a career track, applicants must pass the Foreign Service Officer test. This multi-choice exam is administered online at designated test centers and takes about three hours to complete. It measures your abilities, skills, and knowledge in three sections: English expression, job knowledge, and biographical information. Applicants must also write a 30-minute essay on an assigned topic.

Other hiring requirements include submitting a personal narrative, undergoing an oral assessment, obtaining medical and top security clearances, and passing a final review panel.

Step 4: Complete Training

After passing your final review and obtaining all clearances, applicants' names are placed on a register that ranks successful candidates sorted by career tracks. Candidates are hired based on the needs of the department. Names stay on the register for 18 months. Applicants may decline their first appointment, but if they decline the second offer, their names will be removed from the list.

Applicants who are selected for appointment must complete a 5-week orientation program that introduces them to the function and organization of the U.S. Department of State. The program includes trips to Capitol Hill and a series of case studies and practical exercises. After orientation, individuals are assigned to specialized training based on their career track. New hires can expect to spend from three months to a year in training before their first overseas assignment. All diplomats must complete at least one assignment to a region that is considered a hardship or even dangerous. In return, diplomats in hardship regions receive a 5%-35% pay differential.

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