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How Do I Become a Foreign Service Officer?

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  • Written By: David Bishop
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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A Foreign Service officer (FSO) is an important member of the U.S. State Department. FSOs work as analysts and liaisons alongside consular staff in offices in the U.S. and overseas. The way to become a Foreign Service officer begins with the Foreign Service exam. A candidate's examination score is evaluated along with his personal narrative to determine if he qualifies for an oral assessment. If the candidate passes the exam and interview, he will then go through medical and security checks and a final review panel.

The exam to become a Foreign Service officer is open to all U.S. citizens and is administered in testing locations around the world. This online examination tests an applicant's knowledge of political science, history, economics, psychology and world events. The test consists of multiple choice questions and an essay. Expect the examination to last around three hours. The State Department offers the test three times a year over an eight-day period, and candidates may retake the test after 11 months.

In general, the State Department looks for candidates with a higher level of education, professional experience and fluency in foreign languages. Competition to become a Foreign Service officer is fierce and many successful candidates will have graduate degrees and excellent language skills, along with a high examination score. Preference is given to U.S. military veterans. Candidates claiming fluency in a critical or super critical language will be tested by phone after passing the primary exam.

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Many candidates who want to become a Foreign Service officer seek undergraduate and graduate degrees that will improve their chances. These degrees include political science, history, sociology and international affairs. Generally, the core requirements for these degrees will also help a candidate get a better score on the exam.

The oral assessment takes place in Washington, D.C., and in various other large cities around the U.S., including Chicago, Illinois; and Atlanta, Georgia. The oral assessment is a day-long process with group and writing exercises along with an interview. The candidate should be prepared to answer questions about his background and desire to become a Foreign Service officer. The State Department interviewers look for people who display the skills and qualities necessary for a demanding diplomatic career.

Candidates who successfully complete the interview process will have to pass a background check to receive top-secret security clearance and pass a health screening. A serious medical condition or suspicious background can disqualify any candidate at this point in the process. After obtaining these clearances, a candidate will move on to the final review board and be placed on the hiring register. As job slots open up, candidates will undergo several months of orientation and training before receiving their first posting.

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