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Career Overview: Foreign Service Officer

The most common career option for individuals looking to enter the field of international diplomacy for the United States is to pursue a position as a Foreign Service Officer through the United States Department of State. Foreign Service Officers can have a wide array of responsibilities, such as addressing human rights violations and facilitating international communications. Their role makes them a key part of the U.S. government’s international relationship-building efforts, as they work to establish and maintain collaboration between nations and protect the overseas interests of the U.S. Given the ever-changing and often complex global political landscape, the need for international diplomats, like Foreign Service Officers, is expected to increase as the U.S. continually strives to maintain international stability.

Foreign Service Career Path

The Foreign Service is extremely selective, but clearing the screening process can prove easier for those who invest their time in developing valuable diplomatic skills by participating in one of the many internship opportunities currently available to qualified prospective U.S. diplomats.

Pathways Internship Program

This program is offered by the United States Department of State to aid students with an interest in foreign policy and diplomacy in acquiring the skills needed to be successful as a public servant and future diplomat. This internship is a paid opportunity that positions students in Washington, D.C., where they can explore the nature of federal careers before committing to a career as a Foreign Service Officer. There are two options available for students, the Internship Temporary Program and the Internship Experience Program.

  • Internship Temporary Program – Students in the temporary program are only appointed for a term that is, at maximum, one-year long. After completing the program, participants become eligible to convert to the more serious competitive service roles where they can compete with other applicants for positions based on merit.
  • Internship Experience Program – These interns are appointed to their roles permanently, without any cutoff date, but the program is expected to last only the length of the student’s current academic program. As permanent members of the noncompetitive federal employee pool, this group of interns is qualified to receive noncompetitive promotions and employee benefits.

United States Department of State Student Internship Program

This program is unpaid and designed for students who would benefit from having the opportunity to work in United States embassies and consulates located abroad. Because students accepted into this program will be performing tasks often carried out by international diplomats, it is essentially an opportunity to learn how to balance workplace priorities, gain hands-on experience, and decide whether the role of Foreign Service Officer is an ideal fit.

Foreign Service Officer Requirements & Opportunities

When seeking employment with the Foreign Service, students who are older than 20 but younger than 60 must be willing to relocate frequently and sometimes work in conditions that may be considered stressful or potentially dangerous. Foreign Service Officers have the option to pursue one of five different career-tracks, which must be listed on their application for the Foreign Service Officer Test. Before being placed, candidates must also submit to a written and oral examination, as well as a thorough background and medical check performed by the Department of State to determine their eligibility for top security clearance and working in a high stress environment. Once cleared, officers will be reviewed by a panel of Foreign Service members and assigned to an embassy or consulate where they will fill one of the following roles.

Consular Officers

There is often some amount of paperwork and review that must be completed to verify a citizen’s clearance before they can go abroad to live or work. Consular Officers are responsible for interacting with United States citizens hoping to enter or leave a country by performing tasks ranging from issuing visas to providing critical information about the nation to travelers. Relaying information regarding criminal cases that occur abroad to the families of the accused or victims is another extremely sensitive responsibility given to Consular Officers.

Economic Officers

Foreign Service Economic Officers are tasked with developing a comprehensive understanding of the region they are stationed in and using that knowledge to aid the interests of the United States government and its citizens. The information studied by Economic Officers includes current economic trends, valued commodities, and current stability of the market. Because the position requires a thorough understanding of the economics of the area, Economic Officers are often contacted to answer questions regarding legal fees and fines for American companies or individuals hoping to do business abroad.

Management Officers

These officers are responsible for making sure that the activities undergone by the consulate or embassy where they are posted are carried out smoothly. They often set up events, oversee employees and communicate important information between all levels of the consulate staff by preparing reports and participating in meetings. These diplomats will often interact with foreign ambassadors and officials to plan the best course of action for consulate staff to pursue when international issues or concerns—like armed conflicts—arise.

Political Officers

When drastic political changes or unexpected political events occur abroad, it is the Political Officer’s job to communicate the effects of these events to the United States Department of State. Political Officers also analyze current political events and negotiate on behalf of the United States with local government officials to maintain the security of American interests.

Public Diplomacy Officers

As the most general of Foreign Service Officer career tracks, the Public Diplomacy Officer‘s role is to represent the United States abroad. The position requires frequent discussion of American culture, values, and history with the local community, and assignments may range from teaching the host country American songs to promote cultural exchange or holding press conferences for United States ambassadors.

Foreign Service Officers are generally assigned to a location for between two and four years, with options to relocate immediate family members and receive government assistance in finding them local employment. Median pay for Foreign Service Officers is $84,000 with a strong federal employee benefits package, including a potential $10,000 stipend for those who must leave their spouse behind for a tour of service.

Alternative Career Opportunities

Organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps also provide opportunities for bolstering a resume prior to applying for service as a Foreign Service Officer.

  • USAID – This group is dedicated to fighting for progress against some of the world’s most prevalent issues like poverty, hunger, disease, terrorism, violence, and environmental degradation. Working with this organization can help a Foreign Service Officer develop a grounded understanding of the critical social and logistical challenges that directly affect small and large nations throughout the world.
  • The Peace Corp – Though comprised mostly of volunteer workers, the Peace Corp provides a valuable opportunity to provide technical assistance to help the residents of foreign countries in understanding American culture and values, while also encouraging opportunities for foreign cultures to be accepted in America. Peace Corps volunteers work abroad in many different capacities, such as volunteering with schools, governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, and the agricultural sector. By committing to service with the Peace Corp, students can elevate themselves above other Foreign Service applicants who may lack the beneficial experience of volunteering abroad.

Without diplomacy, it would be impossible for the United States to maintain an economic and political foothold within dozens of countries across the world. Though there are many positions available within the Department of State, pursuing a career as a Foreign Service Officer can be immensely rewarding, providing students with an interest in foreign affairs the opportunity to serve their country, advance international political relationships, and see the world.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in Diplomacy program provides working professionals with a broad understanding of global communications protocol and a deep knowledge of the world issues that affect international relations. The program allows you to build on your political, governmental, or business expertise with a solid foundation in the theories and practices that direct international relations and political science within the international system.

Recommended Readings
An Introduction to America’s Foreign Policy
5 Essential Conflict Resolution Skills That U.S. Diplomats Need for International Relations
A Look at How America Benefits from International Trade


Pathways Internship Programs, U.S. Department of State

Which Office is Right for You?, U.S. Department of State

Careers, USAid

Consular Office Career, CareerMatch

Foreign Service Officer, CareerMatch

Steps to Becoming a Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State

Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State