How Do I Become a Diplomat?

In most cases, a United States diplomat is a member of the Department of State’s Foreign Service. The U.S. has more than 265 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic offices around the world that must be staffed with diplomats and other representatives of U.S. foreign policy abroad.

Working as a Foreign Service Officer can be an exciting life and get to meet a variety of interesting and high-ranking people.

An ambassador is the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in any particular foreign country and the most visible American representative. Some ambassadors rise to the position after a solid career as a Foreign Service Officer while others are appointed based on other merits although there are many more diplomats who work as Foreign Service Officers than ambassadors. Like ambassadors, Foreign Service Officers represent their country to nations abroad. Foreign Service Officers, especially those in the Political and Public Diplomacy tracks, may promote U.S. interests, values, businesses, and agendas; cultivate foreign contacts; and serve as advisors.

Working as a Foreign Service Officer can be an exciting life. Officers are usually assigned to new countries at four-year intervals, taught different languages to use in the course of their work, and get to meet a variety of interesting and high-ranking people.

To become a Foreign Service Officer, you must be 21 years or older, and less than 59 years old. You must pass a series of very competitive written and oral exams. The written exam may include knowledge of world history, current events, and political science; English expression; and the ability to write concise, critical essays.

If you pass the written exam you will then be evaluated by the Qualification Evaluation Panel to determine your fitness as a total candidate. If you are deemed fit then you will be invited to the oral exam.

During the day-long oral exam there will be a group exercise, a case management exercise, and an interview. To pass this exam you will have to demonstrate excellent analytical and oral communication skills as well as diplomacy and resourcefulness.

In addition, you will have to pass a background check and a security clearance. You must also be relatively healthy and available for assignment anywhere in the world – including places that you would not have chosen to go or places that may be dangerous. The U.S. needs diplomatic representation in every country of the world.

Recently-hired Foreign Service Officers go through a two-month training program that includes diplomatic principles and receptions.

Foreign Service Officers don’t need to meet specific educational or language requirements, but higher education and language proficiency may help you become an Officer as well as get ahead in the Foreign Service. For example, you could study International Relations and Diplomacy, Political Science, History, International Business, or Geography. Any of these fields have the potential to be referenced on the written exam. You will also have the opportunity to hone your analytical skills. And if you speak a foreign language, then once you are an Officer you could receive foreign language bonuses and spend less time in foreign language training than you would otherwise be required to spend.

Becoming a diplomat is, without a doubt, a complex, rigorous process and not everyone who tries will succeed. In fact, few will. However, as long as you still fall within the age limits, you can take the exams as many times as you wish. Preparing yourself as well as you can – learning as much as you can about a variety of political and international subjects, polishing your oral presentations skills, and honing your analytical and writing abilities – may lead you to success.