Monthly Archives: January 2014

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer

The following guest post from International Relations Online, a free online resource for those interested in careers in International Relations, may interest many current students. Elsewhere I’ve posted “Careers in IR” boxes from my textbook International Relations, covering jobs in government, business, NGOs, and education.

fso victor

FSO Experiences

Become a Foreign Service Officer

Foreign Service offers challenging and rewarding career opportunities for those who are passionate about public service on behalf of the United States government. Foreign Service Officers support U.S. embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions around the world. They experience the cultures and customs of different nations while promoting peace, advancing U.S. interests, and protecting U.S. citizens abroad.

Is Foreign Service Right for You?

A career as a Foreign Service Officer can be exciting and glamorous, providing high levels of responsibility as well as opportunities to work with important and interesting people. As employees of the U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officers receive competitive salaries, government-paid housing, and additional benefits including health insurance, paid vacations, and retirement funding.

Despite the many benefits offered by Foreign Service, the lifestyle that comes with the career is not for everyone. Some foreign posts are in dangerous settings or in remote locations that lack amenities that many U.S. citizens have come to expect. Families are encouraged to accompany Foreign Service Officers to their posts, except in cases where there is imminent danger or civil unrest. Depending on the post, life abroad may be either enriching or difficult for family members.

Before choosing Foreign Service as a career path, you should assess both the rewards and the downsides and decide if you are willing to adapt your life to the job. The U.S. Department of State provides an online quiz that can help you decide if the positive aspects of a Foreign Service career outweigh the negatives. Candidates should also become familiar with the Foreign Service Officer Qualifications List, which describes 13 character dimensions that are deemed essential to Foreign Service work.

Choosing a Career Track

In addition to looking at the pros and cons of the Foreign Service lifestyle, it is important to learn about the different career tracks. Your preparation for the career track you choose will affect whether or not you are selected for a position with the Foreign Service. Choose carefully, because once a Foreign Service candidate has specified a track during registration for the Foreign Service Officer Test, it is difficult to switch to a different track.

These are the five Foreign Service career tracks:

Consular Officers protect Americans living, working, and traveling in foreign countries.
Economic Officers work with U.S. government agencies and foreign governments in the areas of trade, science, technology, energy, the economy, and the environment.
Management Officers are leaders who handle a wide range of challenges while overseeing embassy operations.
Political Officers analyze political events in foreign and negotiate with foreign officials.
Public Diplomacy Officers are experts in cross-cultural relations who promote U.S. values, policies, and interests abroad.

A detailed description of each track can be found in the State Department’s Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process.

Acing the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test)

The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) measures a Foreign Service candidate’s knowledge, skill, and abilities. The three-hour test is administered three times per year in test centers located in the U.S. and abroad. The test consists of four components: a job knowledge test, an English expression test, biographic questionnaire, and a written essay. A sample of the type of questions included on the FSOT is provided at the end of the Guide to the Foreign Service Officer Selection Process.

Ordering the official FSOT Study Guide is the best way to ensure a passing score on the test. In addition, it is important to have strong foundational knowledge of world affairs. To this end, the U.S. State Department provides a resource list of books, journals, and websites to help candidates prepare for the Foreign Service selection process.

Final Steps

Candidates who pass the FSOT move to the final assessment steps. First, they are asked to answer a series of Personal Narrative questions. These questions are centered on six precepts: intellectual skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, management skills, leadership, and substantive knowledge. The next step is the Foreign Service Oral Assessment, which is designed to determine how candidates put the 13 Foreign Service character dimensions into practice. Administered over the course of a single day, it includes a team exercise, a structured interview and a case management exercise.

Candidates who successfully complete all Foreign Service tests and assessments are asked to obtain medical and security clearances and complete the Final Review Panel. Only those who pass the review will be considered for positions as Foreign Service Officers.