If you’ve always dreamed of being a diplomat, there’s never been a better time. The US State Department is constantly looking for qualified, energetic officers to work out of their field office in Washington, D.C., or as part of their ongoing missions in over 265 countries around the globe. Before you can begin working for a consulate or embassy, you’ll need to take the critical first step of becoming a Foreign Service Officer. Once you’ve met the necessary requirements, passed a qualifying exam and been approved by an official review board, you’ll be cleared to begin your career as a dignitary of the US government.
Make sure you meet the requirements.
Only applicants who are officially recognized as US citizens are eligible to work for the US State Department. You must be no younger than 20 and no older than 59 years of age at the time of application. In addition, you should be prepared to accept an assignment in any of the 270 consulate offices around the world, including the one at home in Washington, D.C.
Applicants must be at least 21 and no older than 60 on the day they actually receive their appointments.
Though it’s not a requirement, being able to speak another language will improve your chances of being selected for coveted assignments.
Decide on a career track.
There are five possible career tracks that Foreign Service Officer applicants can pursue (Consular Affairs, Economic Affairs, Management Affairs, Political Affairs and Public Diplomacy). Take some time thinking over your decision and go with the track where you think you’d be of greatest service.
You may find it helpful to take the career track quiz devised by the State Department. The results of the quiz can give you a clearer idea of your interests and aptitudes.
Make sure you select the right career track for you—you won’t be able to change your mind once the application process is underway.
Register for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).
This is the first official step on your path to working for a US consulate. After researching upcoming testing windows, you can register for the exam and select a testing seat online. You’ll have five weeks to get all your application materials in order and finalize your registration before testing begins.
The FSOT is administered 3 times a year, in February, June and October.
Go over the FSOT practice exam to familiarize yourself with the format of the test prior to your testing date.
Take and pass the FSOT.
The exam consists of a series of multiple choice questions, followed by an extended essay. You’ll have a little over three hours to complete the test, so take your time and answer each question to the best of your ability. In order to pass, you must receive of a combined score of at least 154 on the multiple choice sections, along with a score of 6 out of 12 on the essay.
The FSOT contains questions on a wide range of topics. It will help to brush up on your knowledge of international law, current affairs and American culture in general.
You can expect to wait about two months for the results of the test to be announced.
Submit a personal narrative.
Your personal narrative is a short description of who you are and why you want the job. Use this as an opportunity to highlight notable accomplishments and experiences and make yourself stand out as an ideal candidate. Above all else, State Department selections officers are looking for applicants who display strong leadership qualities.
Any overseas experience you have under your belt—translating, missionary work, etc.—will be worth mentioning.
Go over the guidelines given by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) to make sure that your personal narrative is written in the correct format.
Complete an oral assessment.
The comprehensive assessment typically involves rigorous interview questions and critical thinking exercises, as well as creative role-playing activities meant to test your judgment. To prepare for this phase of testing, sharpen your public speaking skills so that you’ll be able to address your assessors in a clear, concise, eloquent manner.
The oral assessment is designed to pinpoint what the State Department refers to as the “13 Dimensions,” which are essential qualities needed to be successful in international work.
Have a friend or loved one hold a mock interview session with you using a few of the sample topics from the FSOT practice test.
Pass a background check.
At the end of the application process, you’ll be subjected to an exhaustive criminal background check. Officials will examine your public record and contact current and former associates, coworkers and supervisors to determine whether you’re suitable for the position. All you can do during this time is wait for the results.
If you’re unable to pass your background check, you won’t be issued the Top Secret clearance necessary to work for the US State Department.
Having a misdemeanor offense on your record is not necessarily grounds for rejection. However, if you have a long history of criminal offenses, it’s unlikely that you’ll be considered for candidacy.
Apply for the proper clearances.
Foreign Service Officers will need both Medical and Security clearance to make them eligible to receive assignments. QEP officials will send you instructions on how to obtain these clearances. It’s critical that you follow these instructions to the letter and provide complete and accurate information in order to be granted clearance.
Your Medical clearance basically confirms that you’re healthy enough to travel, while a Security clearance means you can be trusted with important duties and information with Top Secret status.
You can find the forms needed to receive your Medical and Security clearance (along with additional information about clearances) in the “Downloads” page on the State Department’s website.
Undergo an official review.
Once you’ve successfully met all the application requirements, a Suitability Review Panel will look over your profile and deliberate whether or not you’re a good fit for the position. They’ll then get in touch with you regarding the final decision. If you’re approved, your name will be added to a register of approved candidates and you can begin applying for various openings.
The officials on the Suitability Review Panel will take into consideration your basic qualifications, test scores, performance on the oral assessment and the openings currently available.
Accept your appointment.
As an entry level officer, you’ll be issued assignments based on the needs of the State Department. No matter what you end up doing, a positive attitude is key to your success—remember, any opportunity will be good experience. You’ll have more say over the places you go and the duties you’re tasked with once you’ve established yourself in the field.
Foreign Service Officers are considered “entry level” for the first two tours of their employment.
You should be prepared to relocate anywhere that your services may be of use. Seeing the world is one of the most rewarding aspects of working as a foreign diplomat.