A Foreign Service Career

Is A Foreign Service Career For You? (And what about the test?)

Foreign Service Officers move every 3 years or less depending on the country where they are assigned. Countries that present challenges due to extreme isolation or security challenges will have shorter assignments than those where life is more as it is in the US. If you do not know the language of the country you will attend language courses at the Foreign Service Institute before going to your post. When you get there you need to be able to hit the ground running.  If you can adapt to new circumstances quickly and are prepared to accept an assignment anywhere in the world, the Foreign Service may be for you.

The Department has 13 dimensions or qualities that are basic requirements for a Foreign Service Officer. The ability to live in another culture and enjoy interacting with non Americans is one, but the most important is the calm under stress.  From the pressures of working to deadline across time zones to problem solving when citizens require immediate assistance, the Foreign Service office must be able to think quickly,  clearly and calmly at all times. When Rudyard Kipling wrote ‘if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’ was he talking about you? If so, think about joining.  For the full list of 13 dimensions follow this link.

The Foreign Service has very few qualifications or requirements for applicants. You must be a US citizen and 21 years of age at the time you are appointed. The age limit for an appointment is 59. As far as education you do not require a college degree although most Foreign Service Officers possess one. As for languages, it is helpful if you have learned a foreign language but it is not required as officers are taught languages at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI).  If however, you are fluent in a hard language such as Arabic, it may be an advantage in selection. Enjoyment of languages is another to consider joining the Foreign Service.

The State Department refers to professional fields as ‘cones’. When you enter the State Department you may be working as a Foreign Service Officer in the Consular, Economic, Political, Public Affairs or Management cone.

There are also other opportunities to work in the Foreign Service as a Consular Fellow or in an Internship program. The Department of State has Careers page explaining job opportunities.

Although you need certain skills and aptitudes to join the Foreign Service, you don’t need to know everything! For example, the State Department teaches languages and also provides courses to officers before going out to their duty assignments.

The ‘college’ for Foreign Service Officers is the FSI, the Foreign Service Institute. As you advance in your Foreign Service career, management and other courses are available as well.  However, if you have ambitions to earn a master’s or doctorate, Foreign Service Officers suggest that you do that before joining the service as once you are in, taking a break  to pursue academic studies may not be possible.

The Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT)

Upcoming Foreign Service Officer Testing Windows

This chart contains relevant dates for the next three Foreign Service Officer Tests. As a reminder you will be able to register – apply and select a seat – for approximately five weeks before each testing window.

February 2020 June 2020 October 2020
Testing Window Dates February 01 – 08 May 30 – June 6, 2020 October 03 – 10
Registration opens January 02, 2020 April 23, 2020 August 27, 2020
Registration closes January 29, 2020 May 27, 2020 September 30, 2020
List of embassies/consulates* offering the FSOT available at www.careers.state.gov January 2, 2020 April 14, 2020 August 15, 2020

*The FSOT is offered at both domestic and overseas locations.

Beginning with the October 2019 FSOT, candidates’ written essays will be reviewed and scored, along with their Personal Narratives, in the Qualifications Evaluation Panel stage of the selection process. The essay will not be included in your FSOT score and no rescore will be allowed. Your FSOT score will be available to you within one to two days.

The deadline for candidates to cancel test seats without incurring penalties is 48 hours (two business days) before the start of your test. NOTE: Pearson VUE work days include Saturdays, but not Sundays worldwide. It’s best to give yourself plenty of time — avoid waiting until the deadline.

What’s The Best Way To Prepare?

Don’t panic!  Take the practice test online.

State Careers has your back with a reading list  to help you out.

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