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Diplomats, also known as Foreign Service Officers in the United States, work to promote American interests abroad while upholding peace and protecting fellow citizens.
In partner with their host country, diplomats work on issues such as human trafficking and climate change, promote democratic development and support American businesses abroad by looking for opportunities and promoting fair trade and business practices. They also provide American visas to foreigners and support United States citizens living abroad.
Diplomats may work at any of the 270 embassies and consulates across the globe. A number of these postings are in demanding or even dangerous locales.
Types of Diplomats
There are five career tracks in the Foreign Service: consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy.
- Consular Officers process visa applications from foreign nationals and provide assistance to American citizens.
- Economic Officers develop relationships in the local government, business community and agencies in order to further United States commercial and economic interests.
- Political Officers analyze the state of local politics to Washington and provide advice based on American interests and policies.
- Management Officers handle embassy operations such as the budget, real estate and staff.
- Public Diplomacy Officers work with local media to communicate American values and traditions. They also manage exchange programs and set up cultural programs.
Becoming a Diplomat
Diplomats must have a bachelor's degree in a pertinent subject, such as international relations, law, economics, journalism or business administration, must have lived or studied overseas, and must have work experience in their chosen career track.
Once you have selected your track, you must take the Foreign Service Officer Test at your assigned test center. If you pass the exam, you will be asked to submit a personal narrative and undergo a day-long oral assessment. After this step, medical and security clearances are required and a final review panel looks over your entire application. Successful candidates are then put on an official register. Your chances of passing increase if you know a second language or are a military veteran.
Fellowships and internships in the Foreign Service are also available to students at the undergraduate level and up or established professionals.
All areas of diplomacy require excellent English, knowledge of world history and geography as well as social and political issues as well as understanding of U.S. government, history, culture, society, the Constitution, economy and political systems. The U.S. Department of State also recommends having computer skills plus a knowledge of fundamental economic principals, statistics, math and management practices.
Your chosen career track may require in-depth knowledge of laws and pending legislation relating to the Foreign Service, national policy issues, international economics or media resources.
Due to the challenging nature of the job, diplomats need to be highly adaptable and able to tolerate stress well. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are a must, as is problem-solving ability, initiative, leadership and integrity. Being able to manage your own time, plan and make priorities are also essential in all career tracks of diplomacy.
Alana Vye is a Canadian writer living abroad. She had a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Toronto and has worked in online marketing and publicity. She's also an avid traveler who has visited Asia, Europe and Central America.