CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a diplomat.
Is becoming a diplomat right for me?
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Improve communication skills
Diplomats must have superb verbal and written communication skills. In high school, aspiring diplomats should take advanced English and publish speaking classes.
Supplement classroom studies
In diplomatic circles, a keen knowledge of current events – both domestic and international – is crucial. Read newspapers. If opportunities exist, attend lectures by visiting diplomats or government officials. Attend conferences concerning foreign policy matters that are open to the public.
Although educational requirements for diplomats are not specific or standardized, an undergraduate degree, at minimum, is common. Most hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, International Relations, History, or another related discipline. They typically include foreign language courses in their studies. Among the languages in high demand in the Foreign Service are Mandarin, Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish.
While earning their undergraduate and graduate degrees, prospective diplomats should:
Take on leadership roles
Working in student government or with a campus political organization is an excellent way to demonstrate initiative and develop leadership skills, which are hallmarks of Foreign Service Officers.
Get involved with a political party
Donating time to a political party can mean volunteering on campaigns, at rallies, or with other similar events. This kind of involvement can provide exposure to political and government policies and processes.
Do humanitarian work
Doing humanitarian work can be very valuable, especially for individuals interested in a diplomatic appointment in a struggling country.
For specialist positions with the Foreign Service, a graduate degree may be preferred or required. Among sought-after degrees are:
• Master’s or Ph. D. in Public Administration
• Master’s or Ph. D. in Public Policy
• Master’s or Ph. D. in International Studies
• Master’s or Ph. D. in International Relations
• Master’s or Ph. D. in Political Science
Internships / Volunteer Opportunities
Internships and overseas experience are an important part of preparing to become a diplomat. The U.S. Department of State offers two internship paths for students interested in U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy:
The Pathways Internship Program
Pathways internships include the Internship Experience Program (IEP) and the Internship Temporary Program (ITEP). Both programs are open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a wide variety of educational institutions from high school to graduate school. The programs provide students with domestic opportunities to explore Federal careers while being paid for the work performed.
The U.S. Department of State Student Internship Program
This is an unpaid internship experience that provides individuals with the opportunity to work in U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world, as well as Washington D.C. bureaus. While the duties of participants vary from bureau to bureau, office to office, and embassy to embassy, it is not uncommon for these students to:
• Participate in meetings with senior-level U.S. Government or foreign government officials
• Draft, edit, or contribute to cables, reports, communications, talking points, or other materials used by policymakers in furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives
• Support events, including international and/or multilateral meetings and conferences
• Engage directly with U.S. audiences in helping to explain the work of the Department of State, or foreign audiences in helping to promote U.S. foreign policy and improve understanding of U.S. culture and society
Other worthwhile and relevant internship and volunteer opportunities may exist with organizations such as:
• The United Nations
• UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization)
• The World Bank
• The International Organization for Migration
• The Peace Corps
Become a Foreign Service Officer
To be eligible to work with the U.S. Department of State you must be:
• A U.S. citizen on the date you submit your registration package
• Between twenty and fifty-nine years old on the day you submit your registration
• Between twenty-one and fifty-nine years old on the day you are appointed as a Foreign Service Officer
• Available for worldwide assignments, including Washington, D.C.
There are eight steps to becoming a Foreign Service Officer:
Choose a Career Track
While all U.S. diplomats are expected to communicate U.S. foreign policy and interact effectively with host country governments to help advance U.S. interests worldwide, each career track has a specific focus. Selecting one of the following five career tracks is an important decision, as you may not change career tracks once you choose a track during the registration for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).
Consular Officers facilitate adoptions, help evacuate Americans, and combat fraud to protect U.S. borders and fight human trafficking. These officers touch people’s lives in important ways, often reassuring families in crisis.
Economic Officers work with foreign officers and other U.S. Government agencies on technology, science, economic, trade, energy, and environmental issues, both domestically and overseas.
Management Officers are resourceful, creative, action-oriented ‘go-to’ leaders responsible for all embassy operations from real estate to people to budget.
Political Officers analyze host country political events and must be able to negotiate and communicate effectively with all levels of foreign government officials.
Public Diplomacy Officers
Public Diplomacy Officers engage, inform, and influence opinion leaders, local non-governmental groups, the next generation of leaders, academics, think tanks, government officials, and the full range of civil society in order to promote mutual understanding and support for U.S. policy goals.
Register for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT)
You may register for the tests up until the deadlines or until capacity is reached. The test administrator will send you a confirmation email on the first business day following submission of your registration.
Take the FSOT
Before taking the FSOT, you may take the FSOT Practice Test to experience a realistic preview and receive an estimate of your likelihood of passing the FSOT.
Submit a Personal Narrative
If you pass the FSOT multiple choice and essay questions, you will receive an email asking you to submit a Personal Narrative (PN) to the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP) for review.
Take the Oral Assessment
This day-long assessment measures your ability to demonstrate the thirteen dimensions that are essential to the successful performance of Foreign Service work. These dimensions are summarized in the Should I become a Diplomat? section above.
Clearances – Medical and Security
After you pass the Oral Assessment, you will receive instructions about obtaining medical and security clearances. At this stage, you may wish to visit the Career Resources Download Center for a list of forms intended for applicants who have received conditional offers of employment.
Suitability Review Panel
A Suitability Review Panel will examine your completed filed (except for medical records) to determine your suitability for employment with the Foreign Service.
After you have successfully passed all steps, your name is placed on the Register, which is a rank-ordered list of successful candidates, sorted by career track.
Foreign Service Experience
• Establish a concentration and bid on as many assignments in that area as possible. Become an expert on the region’s history, geography, culture, language, political structures, and place in the global economy.
• Avail yourself of learning opportunities offered by the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. The Institute is comprised of four schools and one center: School of Language Studies, School of Professional and Area Studies, School of Applied Information Technology, Leadership and Management School, and Transition Center*.
• Part of life in the Foreign Service is moving every few years. Accept all posts that are offered to you, even if they are not in your primary area of concentration or are located in remote or unstable regions. By remaining flexible and going where you are called, you are proving your dedication to the career of diplomacy.
• In short, work your way up. Be noticeable. Do your job well. Make connections. Network.
Below are some resources to help you understand more about a career as an Ambassador.
U.S. Department of State – Foreign Service Institute
American Foreign Service Association Blogs – Insights into work and life in the U.S. Foreign Service around the world
Diplomatic Mom – A blog written by a Foreign Service Officer, wife of another FSO, who has served in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Rio de Janeiro, and is now serving in Washington, DC