Career Outlook: Foreign Service Specialist
The United States conducts business in a number of nations, relying on citizens employed by the Department of State to provide support with overseeing foreign affairs. Currently, there are approximately 294 United States embassies, consulates, and diplomatic organizations where Foreign Service workers are posted throughout the world. Of the many people working in foreign embassies and consulates, one of the main positions held is that of Foreign Service Specialist, who handle the daily supportive operations required to effectively run the embassy or consulate. A career as a Foreign Service Specialist offers United States citizens the opportunity to travel the world and develop a particular professional skill set while serving their country.
To become a Foreign Service Specialist, individuals are required to take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), which is considered a major part of the process of being selected by the Foreign Service. Entering into the Foreign Service as an entry-level specialist currently has no set formal education requirement, but candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher can enter the service at a higher rank, with increased pay and potentially more diverse responsibilities. Benefits in terms of pay increased responsibilities, and advancement in the Foreign Service as a specialist is generally based on the quality and volume of a candidate’s previous professional experience and the specific nature of their education. Additionally, individuals that have obtained a master’s degree tend to have more opportunities within the Foreign Service, alongside a higher rate of pay and better benefits.
American citizens looking to start a career with the United States Foreign Service also need to meet a certain set of criteria. First, they need to be between the ages of 20 and 60. The Department of State also performs an extensive and comprehensive background-check on accepted applicants, vetting candidates to verify that they are eligible to receive the level of security clearance required for the job. Finally, a thorough review is done of the candidate’s entire file, including the details of their prior professional experience, current level of education, and personal background. This is done to verify if they are suited for the stressful conditions that are consistent in a career with the Foreign Service. When starting in the service, most candidates will enter into a 9-month post in Washington, D.C. to get familiar with protocols, though some candidates are sent directly into the field abroad to gain hands-on experience.
Responsibilities and Duties
Foreign Service Specialists are hired directly to the United States Department of State to provide supportive services that fall into eight different categories: administration, construction engineering, facility management, information technology, international information and English language programs, medical and health, office management, and law enforcement and security. Between these categories, there are 19 different specialist jobs that candidates who pass the screening process may seek tenure in.
- Financial Management Officer – Foreign Service Specialists hired in this capacity are responsible for developing budgets and financial plans, including the development of payroll and the administration of all monetary operations.
- General Services Officer – These specialists provide oversight for the planning and management of supportive operations like developing contracts, tracking inventory, managing the appropriate use of space, planning for travel and managing the maintenance and use of transportation vehicles.
- Human Resources Officer – Human resources involve the recruitment, training and management of employees within the organization. Human Resources Officers are responsible for organizing, auditing, and communicating changes to employee policies and procedures.
- Construction Engineer – Construction engineers are responsible for monitoring the construction process for properties that are being newly built or renovated by the United States, making sure that projects run smoothly and are completed within the allotted schedule and budget.
- Facility Manager – Facility managers are Foreign Service Specialists who manage the maintenance of the buildings, fixtures, general grounds, and utilities of the facility they are positioned in.
- Information Management Specialist – This position entails the management and operation of the digital information infrastructure used by the Foreign Service worldwide. This means maintaining local networks, telecommunication systems, area networks, and other systems used for information transfers.
- Information Management Technical Specialist (Radio) – This role has the duty of installing and maintaining the high-frequency radio equipment used on their designated consulate or embassy.
- Information Management Technical Specialist (Unified Communications) – Similarly to the radio specialist, the unified communications specialist will spend most of their time performing routine maintenance on digital and telephone equipment being used abroad.
International Information and English Language Programs
- English Language Officer – The English Language Officer is responsible for regulating the administration of English language teaching operations being sponsored by the Department of State in the host country. These specialists generally travel more frequently, as they often have responsibility for monitoring the activities of programs in multiple countries.
- Regional Public Engagement Specialist – These specialists convey the most effective information, program resources and services to the officials of the embassy or consulate they are posted at. This includes assessing staff needs to better decide which resources are needed and developing relationships with the local information and library institutions.
Medical and Health
- Medical Provider – Medical providers positioned overseas can be family nurse practitioners or physician assistants who are familiar with working in a family practice. The role includes diagnosing and treating patients while administering health care services.
- Regional Medical Officer – This designation requires providing the primary medical care operations on the mission. This includes the distribution of useful health information and administration of disease prevention programs.
- Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist – This officer’s responsibilities include the psychiatric care of Foreign Service workers posted throughout a region, as well as other general mental health related responsibilities.
- Regional Medical Laboratory Scientist – Lab scientists positioned overseas not only maintain their own laboratory and X-ray facilities at the assigned post but also monitor the performance of local laboratory technologists during routine visits when required.
- Office Management Specialists – These specialists are responsible for the general duties that are imperative to the smooth operation of an office, including administrative support, visitor support, and secretarial support.
Law Enforcement and Security
- Diplomatic Courier – Couriers are responsible for safely delivering diplomatic pouches that contain materials and messages that are classified between the post and the Department of State.
- Security Engineering Officer – These officers provide technical support for ensuring the protection of Foreign Service posts located in Washington, D.C. and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These officers are tasked with using their engineering expertise to design effective security systems and plan for their development, installation, and application.
- Security Technical Specialist – The protection of Department of State facilities from attacks, terrorism, crime, and espionage, physically or digitally, falls into the hands of these specialists.
- Diplomatic Security Special Agent – After being specially trained by the Foreign Service, these security professionals become federal law enforcement officers who are responsible for advising ambassadors on how to handle specific security matters, while also managing the extensive array of security programs required to protect all personnel and the post’s facilities and information contained within them.
Salary and Advancement
A career in the Foreign Service offers many incentives and benefits, including a comfortable salary that grows with time spent in service and the skills acquired during tenure. Foreign Service Specialists have their pay scaled based on a progressive system of steps that can be climbed based on relevant experiences, education, and other contributing factors. The median pay listed for individuals within the Foreign Service is approximately $84,000.
A career serving the United States Department of State and Foreign Service can prove to be a fulfilling experience that includes ample travel and exciting opportunities while gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in the field. The diverse career tracks available to Foreign Service Specialists allow those with a wide variety of interests to pursue this career.
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Diplomat/Foreign Service Office/Specialist, The Princeton Review
Foreign Service Office Benefits, U.S. Department of State