Inside Foreign Service Agent Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"I Really Enjoyed It. It Was Real Awesome. I Would Do It Again...
I was Surprised how hard the Army Truly is. Most expect it to suck. Most think its easier than other branches. I did not chose the jobs for how easy they are. I chose the hardest possible. I saw my own version of it and my experiences were very physical." (19D Cavalry Soldier; 2014)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in California, male
School: Studied Army Recon Combat at US Armor School in Kentucky; completed Certificate degree in 2007

"Very Diverse Workforce...
I was surprised to see the diverse array of backgrounds that people in this field come in with. I was expected a specific type of personality, but I find that I have coworkers with very unique and diverse skill sets and experiences that make the job much more interesting." (Program Manager; 2013)

Career: 5 years of experience, currently based in District of Columbia, male
School: Studied Political Science at Georgetown University in District of Columbia; completed Master degree in 2008

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Foreign Service Officer: "Best parts: I get to travel and live in different parts of the world, learn about different cultures and see different sites. Interacting with local people helps me understand why some things are the way they are, and makes me realize every day that people are similar everywhere in one main way: They want to live their lives in peace, and build better lives for their children. Some of the details change from country to country, but that part remains the same. Worst part: I am away from my family and friends back in the U.S. more than I would like. I get to visit a lot, and sometimes people come visit me in other countries, but it's harder than if I were only a few states away. Also, sometimes there are long hours involved depending on what's going on. Finally, sometimes I have to support official U.S. policy with which I don't agree. Internally, I can argue with my boss to try to change things, try to convince people that a certain policy might need to change, but once the final decision is made, I must be the "face" of that policy to the public, and cannot walk around saying I disagree." (2011)

Career Tips

"The Best Way To A Glorious Career In The Military...
Pick something easy at the start. Don't go in too deep. Absorb as much as you can. The most small insignificant thing might really be the most important." (19D Cavalry Soldier; 2014)

"Network Early And Often...
If you want to get an early start into the policy world, it is helpful to seek out an internship in a desired agency and to start building networks early." (Program Manager; 2013)

"All Backgrounds Acceptable...
Everyone who becomes a Foreign Service Officer must first pass the written (computerized, now) exam, then also pass the oral exam which is a full day of interviews. There are no special requirements, you don't even have to have a college degree. The main things people need for this career I would say are curiosity, flexibility and general intelligence, by which I mean being able to think things through and being able to learn new things. There is no one specific path my colleagues and I took to get where we are. On the day I started, my orientation group had a 58-year old and a 22-year old. We had a professional dancer, a commercial fisherman, some lawyers, a self-described housewife, a university professor. Sure, college will help you know things like economic analysis, but mostly you need to be willing to support U.S. government policy. Sometimes you have to think on your feet, because someone will ask you something you cannot answer, or will not accept your prior answer and will keep pushing. This is when diplomacy really comes into play, because you have to basically cut them off without being rude. Or you have to deliver an uncomfortable message to the local government, maybe "the U.S. is unhappy with your recent decision to do XYZ thing" and you have to deliver the message but still keep the relationship with that government intact. It's challenging and sometimes frustrating and nearly always rewarding. No one takes a job with the government for the money. In fact, I took a pay cut when I first started, but I thought it was worth it because I was interested in the job. It might sound corny, but most of us took this job because we love our country and want to work on behalf of our country." (Foreign Service Officer; 2011)