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foreign service careers with Dept of State

Thursday 28 May, 2009

The American Southeast Europe Chamber of Commerce & International Visitors Center hosted a dinner featuring Diplomat in Residence Brian Flora, who talked about foreign service careers with the US Department of State.  He’s been in the foreign service for 35 years & now recruits for them out of UIC.

The US DOS is hiring 700 people to send all over the world.  They enable you to learn languages & embrace cultures.  Housing when living abroad is free.  Student debt can be relieved.  You receive bonuses for working in hardship locations (90 of 273 places).  1 big benefit is all the training you receive before each posting.  Brian was witness to the revolution in Romania in 1988.

The application process is very competitive & long (8-10 months).  Click on http://careers.state.gov/ to see a short video of our current Secretary of State, (HR Clinton) & learn about the opportunities.  If you speak any of the superlanguages (in high demand) Arabic (Modern Standard, Egyptian, and Iraqi), Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, Farsi, Hindi, and Urdu, you get to move to the head of the line.   It’s still possible to take the multiple choice test in June.  40% now pass, a much higher % than in the past.  You have to choose between 5 different career paths:

  • political-advise the ambassador (everyone wants this 1, only 35% chance of moving on after the test)
  • public affairs-diplomacy (45% chance of continuing the post-test process)
  • economy-defends policy (even better chances)
  • management-of embassies throughout the world (“)
  • consular-visas, etc. (“)

If you pass the initial exam, you get to write 200-word essays justifying your selection & then oral exams.  Contact Brian if you make it to the oral evaluation.  For the 1st 2 postings, you’re a junior officer.  After 5 years, you’re tenured.

My take-the US government invests heavily in its people before sending them abroad, far more than any corporation will these days.  No organization of which I’m aware will prepare you more to deal with others in the world than good old Uncle Sam.  The tradeoff is it’s a governmental position, which means it’s your job to support the US government, regardless of who’s in office.  That can be a hard job sometimes.  It’s different from an ex-pat business position because working for the government is inherently political.  Another difference is you have to be comfortable with a bit more ambiguity because some of the results you are seeking are less measurable.  Since few American businesses are sending Americans abroad these days, this may be another way to get there.

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