5 Reasons To Become a Foreign Service Officer

The United States has many great occupations, but becoming a foreign service officer offers a broad range of specialties and the ability to travel overseas, all the while being able to serve your country.

Foreign service agents are tasked with maintaining peace overseas while protecting American citizens and furthering the interests of the United States. Foreign service officers are also called diplomats and can be assigned to any United States embassy in the world.

The top reasons to become a foreign service officer are:

1) You Get The Ability to Travel Almost Anywhere in the World
2) You Get to Work In An Array Of Different Career Paths
3) You Get to Have an Impact on Many Different Communities
4) You Get to Work With the Best of the Best as a Foreign Service Officer
5) Your Family Can Accompany You to Your Assignment Abroad

While the title of diplomat can be a little daunting to some, being a foreign service officer is a very rewarding job and offers many things to those willing to pursue it as a career. There are many reasons to pursue a career as a foreign service officer, but here are the top reasons this career is so widely sought after.

1) You Get The Ability to Travel Almost Anywhere in the World

The United States has embassies in almost every country around the globe except for North Korea, Yemen, Bhutan, Iran, Maldives, and Syria. This allows foreign service officers a long list of countries to pick from for where they would like to work. Many foreign service officers can even elect to be stationed in the United States if they do not want to travel abroad. However, for most foreign service officers, the ability to travel the world is why they chose to become foreign service officers in the first place. Not all jobs give such freedom to travel, especially overseas.

2) You Get to Work In An Array Of Different Career Paths

There are several different career tracks that individuals can take when they enter the foreign service. Each career requires different skills from each individual and many people find that they are a better fit for one career over another.

Consular Officer

One career in the Foreign Service is as a Consular Officer. A Consular officer works mainly with American citizens who are conducting business or traveling abroad. These are the front-line workers that most individuals will associate with the Foreign Service. A common false assumption that individuals have about Consular officers is that all they do is stamp passports, but this could not be further from the truth.

Consular officers work at lengths with individuals and families abroad. They often work with adoption agencies and help to connect families in that way. Consular officers will also work with incarcerated American citizens and help to get them an attorney to represent them.

Consular officers will work largely with local governments to not only strengthen international ties to the United States but also to build up these communities. By working within these communities, Consular officers can help to make these communities safer for both the residents and for American citizens to travel to.

While it may seem that Consular officers are the “jack-of-all-trades” in the Foreign Service world, they have the main focus of protecting the frontline of travel for American citizens. This can also include evacuating Americans in the event of a crisis, preventing human trafficking, or preventing fraud.

Economic Officers

Another career within the Foreign Service is that of an Economic Officer. As an Economic officer, individuals work in the financial side of United States foreign affairs. The main goal of an Economic officer is to promote national security, but from an economic perspective and to build economic success for the United States overseas.

A misconception with Economic officers is that they need extensive training in economics and trade before they even consider working in this career. While it does not hurt to have a background in economics, it is largely not required as everything that an individual would need to work as an Economic officer is what the training consists of. This misconception creates a narrow vision of a field that can be a good fit for many individuals without this background.

Economic officers will also help to develop strong relationships with businesses abroad as well as their local governments and their officials. The focus is on building long-lasting relationships and through these relationships, promoting economic growth.

Along with this, Economic officers will also work with governments to advocate for environmental safety and clean energy. Many Economic officers will also work to promote fair trade, promote economic growth in underdeveloped communities, and promote the growth of infrastructure.

Management Officers

The third type of Foreign Service officer is the Management officers. These individuals are tasked with the daily work that is required to operate and maintain a United States embassy. While this career path may seem like the most mundane, there are many different aspects to maintaining a United States embassy and these tasks are far from ordinary or boring.

The Management officers represent the interests of the United States and act as leaders at each embassy that they are assigned to. Management officers are in charge of large areas of land and real estate overseas and are often tasked with handling the construction of new embassies or consulates for the United States.

Management officers, along with being ready to handle anything that may occur at their embassy, will also take care of daily maintenance of the embassy such as managing a budget or human resources. Management officers also can be promoted to ambassadors after working for some time overseas at a United States embassy. Overall, Management officers must be able to not only coordinate the inner workings of the embassy they are assigned to but also be able to coordinate with other embassies to maintain a strong network that remains efficient.

Political Officers

Another career path that is offered in the Foreign Service is that of the Political officer. The main goal of a Political officer is to interpret and advise on international problems that can arise with the United States and the country they are engaging with. Political officers are the individuals that the general public will most generally assume are ambassadors to other countries.

The best way to interpret the actions of a Political officer is to see them as “watchful eyes” regarding foreign policy or dealings that the United States may have. They watch over political agendas and engage with foreign leaders to maintain peace and further the policies of the United States.

5 Reasons To Become a Foreign Service Officer

It is also a common myth that only Political officers can become ambassadors. This is not true as any career path may achieve the rank of ambassador. Some of the common responsibilities of a Political officer are to oversee high-level meetings, maintain and pursue foreign contacts for the United States, and constantly assess whether foreign agreements are being made with the best interests of the United States kept in mind.

Public Diplomacy Officers

The final career path that is offered in the Foreign Services is to become a Public Diplomacy officer. The central focus of Public Diplomacy officers is to promote the policies and visions of the United States to other foreign leaders. They are the individuals that work to give a better understanding of what the United States believes in foreign leaders.

While they do engage with the local media or the residents, there is a common misconception that Public Diplomacy officers only focus on promoting good media coverage of the United States. There is another false idea that Public Diplomacy officers will organize cultural performances. While this might come with the job of being a Public Diplomacy officer, there is a broad range of other tasks that they also are responsible for.

Public Diplomacy officers work closely with foreign officials who influence public perception of the United States. They work to make strong network connections to make sure that the policies of the United States are largely understood by the general public of other countries. Public Diplomacy officers also act as managerial figures for budgets, projects, programs, and other resources that an embassy would provide.

A large focus of the work that Public Diplomacy officers are on other foreign leaders, but many Public Diplomacy officers will work closely with non-governmental groups to gain the support of residents. Public Diplomacy officers will work closely with future leaders and think tanks to ensure that not only world leaders are on board with policymaking, but also those who are going to be affected by those policies. Public Diplomacy officers will work with academia as well, with a focus on higher education to engage the up and coming generation and how they can make a change with their local government.

Public Diplomacy officers are tasked with representing the values and priorities of the United States and correcting misunderstandings that others may have regarding policy. They are instrumental in managing the views that other nations have about the United States and are the individuals that work closely with world leaders to make sure that policies and values are not misunderstood. Overall, Public Diplomacy officers will work to promote the interests of the United States abroad.

3) You Get to Have an Impact on Many Different Communities

Being a Foreign Service officer, regardless of where you would be assigned in the world, places you in a very specific position. First and foremost, you can progress United States policies that could benefit an array of different services, such as basic commerce, international adoptions, or new projects developing in your assigned country. Many of these policies go on to affect the everyday lives of countless individuals. As a Foreign Service Officer, you have a direct impact on how the communities are going to be affected by those policies.

5 Reasons To Become a Foreign Service Officer

It might be easier to just pass along policies for the sake of getting policies passed, but for many individuals, their livelihood depends on how governments make agreements. Foreign Service officers have the opportunity to advocate for these individuals and to protect their liberties as much as they would protect United States citizens.

The main goal is to pass policies that interest the United States and the Foreign Service officer does not stray from this goal. At the same time, they can have a strong impact on communities around the globe.

4) You Get to Work With the Best of the Best as a Foreign Service Officer

Becoming a Foreign Service officer is not something that an individual can do in a day, but the rigorous selection process promises individuals that if they pass on to become a Foreign Service officer, they are working with some of the smartest and most ambitious individuals across the country.

The process begins with applying to take the Foreign Service Officer Test. This test is offered only three times a year, however, it is offered both domestically and internationally. Once the individual passes the Foreign Service Officer Test, they are then scheduled to take an oral assessment exam.

The oral assessment exam is based on the 13 dimensions of a qualified Foreign Service officer. The 13 dimensions are:

  • Composure: the ability to stay calm and collected during stressful or high-intensity situations.
  • Cultural Adaptability: the ability to connect with individuals outside of one’s own culture.
  • Experience and Motivation: the ability to draw on past knowledge and apply it to situations as well as the ability to specify why an individual would want to join the Foreign Services.
  • Information Integration and Analysis: the ability to interpret data and information from multiple different sources and apply it to a real-life situation.
  • Initiative and Leadership: the ability to recognize that a task needs to be completed and taking responsibility for that task.
  • Judgment: to be able to make decisions quickly and to make them in a way that ensures the best outcome for a given situation.
  • Objectivity and Integrity: to be fair and honest and to hold oneself to a high code of morals and values.
  • Oral Communication: the ability to interact with other individuals and to articulate independent thoughts and ideas.
  • Planning and Organizing: The ability to approach projects with a systemic plan and to prioritize which projects to be completed before others.
  • Resourcefulness: the ability to solve problems through creative and original means and ideas.
  • Working with Others: the ability to work in a team and to maintain a strong and cohesive working environment.
  • Written Communication: to be able to write clearly and concisely that can easily be interpreted by others.
  • Quantitative Analysis: to be able to interpret data from a variety of sources or outcomes and to make further predictions about how data trends will occur.

Each dimension is crucial for success in the Foreign Service. While individuals may have some of these dimensions, the Foreign Service must prioritize these dimensions over other traits as they have the most success in the Foreign Services.

Once an individual passes the Oral Assessment Exam they are then required to have a medical evaluation. From there, the individual is given medical clearance and will apply for security clearance as well.

After both medical and security clearances are obtained, a review panel will evaluate the individual. This review panel will look at an applicant’s complete history, except for medical history, to determine if the individual is a good fit for the Foreign Services.

From the review panel, the applicant’s name will then be moved to a Register list. Once on this list, the applicant can choose which career path they would like to follow (the five different types of officers discussed previously).

Due to the rigorous cycle that exists to become a Foreign Service officer, those who are most qualified are going to be chosen for this field. However, this also guarantees that the individuals that you would be working with would be equally dedicated to the Foreign Services and are considered the brightest in the United States.

5) Your Family Can Accompany You to Your Assignment Abroad

For many occupations within the federal government, it can feel very much like the individual with the career in the federal government is completely separate from their family. This is not the case in the Foreign Services, as family members are encouraged to accompany their spouses or partners to their assigned location. With this being said, it is important to note that certain locations are marked “unaccompanied” due to civil unrest that exists in the area. However, this is not the norm for many embassy locations. 

Having a work-life balance is very important to prevent burnout, and this is especially true for Foreign Service officers who are constantly working in high stress or fast-paced environments. Having one’s family on location is an awesome feature of working in the Foreign Services, as some other federal government jobs require constant travel without family accompaniment. This can be difficult for many individuals, so to mitigate this the Foreign Service made steps to have families located with their Foreign Service officers. 

Families have access to government funded lodging and international schools that largely match the curriculum in schools in the United States. Most of the resources available to families who are living abroad are made available through the Family Liaison Office. This department also provides different opportunities and resources for employment for families that are living abroad. The Foreign Services can not directly employ family members, but they offer a broad range of resources to find employment. 

While employment is one of the facets of the Family Liaison Office, they offer so much more to families living abroad. They are constantly changing policies and adding new programs to ensure that families have an easy transition to their new life living overseas. Some other programs that are offered are child education and programs, naturalization for family members, crisis management, tour support, and many more. 

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Related Questions

What makes a good foreign service officer?

Foreign service officers come in all shapes and sizes and there is no one formula to make a good foreign service officer. However, many individuals who are foreign service officers display a series of traits across the board. Most Foreign Service officers do well under pressure, maintain a strong work ethic, and conduct themselves in a high standard. Foreign Service officers are representing the United States abroad and therefore must have integrity and judge situations in a fair and equal way. 

Following the 13 dimensions set forth by the Foreign Services is a great way to hold oneself to the same standard as current Foreign Service officers. 

How long does it take to become a Foreign Service officer?

From start to finish, it takes the average person 1-2 years to become a Foreign Service officer. This is considering all steps from the first submitted application to being assigned to an embassy abroad. For many Foreign Service officers, they are not required to work abroad. Certain assignments are domestic, however this does not have a large impact on the timeline for becoming a Foreign Service officer. 

Can Foreign Service officers choose where they want to be assigned?

Foreign Service officers can express a preference for where they want to be assigned. The individual can express where they think their talents will be best received to the Department, however they do not have a firm choice on where they are going to be assigned. 

Overall the Department of Foreign Services makes the final decision on where each officer is assigned. All officers are considered at every embassy worldwide and depending on the language skills of the Foreign Service officer, they can be placed in locations that will benefit the most from this language skill. 

Foreign service officers may also be placed in the same location multiple times on different assignments. There is also the possibility that Foreign Service officers may return to a location after completing an assignment in a different country. 

Do Foreign Service officers receive benefits?

Foreign Service officers receive several different benefits and are able to enroll in different insurance programs as well. Officers are able to enroll in life insurance plans and long-term care insurance as well. There is also family medical leave offered in the Foreign Services as well as paid holidays and annual and sick leave. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.