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Diplomats play a crucial role in American international relationships, serving as representatives of the United States. while creating strong partnerships with foreign states. In 2013, the United States held 307 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions in 190 countries around the world. This challenging career can be highly rewarding, but intense preparation is needed. Expect a combination of academic, professional and personal skills development in a strongly competitive field. A willingness to live and work in dangerous or uncomfortable environments, paired with commitment to accurately and positively representing American values, will be expected.
Academic preparation is the first step to becoming a diplomat. An undergraduate or advanced degree in political science, international relations, economics or another relevant field can be very useful. Because diplomats sometimes serve as experts in health care, translation and other specialized fields, earning a degree in these areas of interest is also a smart idea.
Foreign Service Exam
Most diplomats are foreign service officers. To become a foreign service officer, applicants must pass the foreign service exam. This includes a written exam, oral interview and negotiation activity. Prospective diplomats must also pass a medical clearance and undergo an exhaustive background check. According to the U.S. Department of State, it’s harder to enter the foreign service than it is to be accepted to study at Harvard University.
Candidates approved for the Foreign Service then prepare for diplomacy by attending the Department of State’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center for A-100. This is an intense, 10-week training program that teaches the candidates more about the Department of State and its diplomacy protocols. Diplomat hopefuls take foreign language classes, learn about the history and culture of different countries and study human rights issues.
Bidding on Jobs
After completing Foreign Service training, budding diplomats can begin bidding on available jobs around the world by submitting lists of their location preferences for consideration. Because posts are highly competitive, diplomats can expect to be placed in dangerous or undesirable locations to prove their dedication. Over time, diplomats can bid on more desirable posts.
The Right Mindset
Diplomacy is sensitive, with diplomats working in high-stakes or unstable conditions. It helps to prepare the right personal skills set. Prospective diplomats should remain informed on current events and global relations. It helps to be skilled at temporarily setting aside personal preferences and playing the always-polished and professional role of diplomat. Diplomats should be excellent listeners, and confident, capable public speakers. Effective diplomacy depends on subtle negotiation, so learn to progress conversations at a slow pace, rather than rushing or pressuring to get your way.
- U.S. Department of State: Little Known Facts About the Department of State: Diplomatic Couriers, Diplomatic and Consular Uniforms, Burning of Washington
- CNN.com: By the Numbers: U.S. Diplomatic Presence
- U.S. Diplomacy Center: How Do You Become a Diplomat?
- Harvard University: Ideal Qualities of a Successful Diplomat
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.