Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Joining the Foreign Service

Sadly, I failed to blog yesterday as I was recovering from my father being in town for the night. He lives in Germany and he was here on business. We had a lovely meal of raclette and far too much beer.

Once again a post for folks from the US. A lesser-known option for working in other countries is becoming a Foreign Service Officer for the US Department of State. What's that? You'd be embarking on a diplomatic career as a representative of the US government. You'd be required to move to new countries every two to four years and act as a representative of US interests in a wide variety of situations. You would likely be in an uncomfortable position of supporting policies which you may strongly disagree with. The State Department has a checklist you can go through to figure out if this is the right choice for you.

Entrance is very competitive, but there are three requirements. Applicants must be:
  • U.S. citizens on the date they submit their registration package
  • At least 20 years old and no older than 59 years of age on the day you submit your registration
  • At least 21 years old and not yet 60 on the day you are appointed as a Foreign Service Officer
You are not required to have a college degree, not do you have to be proficient in any foreign languages, though both will benefit your application chances. They detail their selection process very carefully and you will have to pay special attention to the FSOT, or "Foreign Service Officers Test". This test is what most people do not get past. You will have to know about economics, US history, foreign policy, management, US race relations, immigration issues and so on. For many of you, this will be the hardest test you've ever taken. Less than a third who take it pass, and about a third of those will be invited for an oral assessment.

Wikipedia has a nice introduction to many aspects of applying and working for the foreign service.

As a personal note, I would advise you to think carefully about this. I've had business with the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, on a few occasions. As you're standing in line outside the embassy, staring at guards with automatic weapons patrolling the grounds, working your way through the tight security and the barricades to prevent vehicular assaults, you can look across the square to note the Canadian High Commission. There are no guards in sight. There are no barricades. You can walk right up to it. I've also had to be at the French consulate several times and it's the same: no guards or barricades. Few countries need to protect their foreign service properties quite as closely as the United States. If you're not comfortable with possibly being a target, this won't be the right position for you.
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