How Do I Become a Foreign Service Specialist?

Dan Harkins

Any nation that maintains embassies abroad enlists foreign service specialists and officers to run those satellite posts and serve as national ambassadors. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is responsible for picking and training America's embassy staff. If you want to become a foreign service specialist, most jobs require candidates to have a bachelor's or even advanced degree in one of a half-dozen career specialties. Many posts also require a minimum amount of experience in the field.

Foreign service officers and foreign service specialist are the two main types of overseas embassy posts.
Foreign service officers and foreign service specialist are the two main types of overseas embassy posts.

The key to landing a position in foreign service requires a knowledge of what career tracks are available. There are two main types of overseas Embassy posts: foreign service officers and foreign service specialists. Officers handle more of the foreign affairs types of duties; its five basic career types involve consular duties, political or public diplomacy, and management or economic affairs. All of these jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, though some internships are awarded.

Wanting to become a foreign service specialist means your background and education is in one of several other career specialties. In general, these are information technology, construction engineering, library science or English education, health care, international studies, security and administration, or office management. For each career track, the DOS requires a specific minimum amount of education and experience. This varies from general service officers who need a high school diploma and three years of job experience to information resource officers requiring a master's in library and information science as well as a range of other experience prerequisites.

The DOS Web site contains detailed job descriptions to help those who want to become a foreign service specialist identify the appropriate career track. After educational requirements are met, experience in the field is often sought. Once requirements are satisfied, candidates must apply for the particular position for which they believe they are suited, as long as they meet citizenship demands and are between the ages of 20 and 59.

The standard application for federal employment, called DS-1950, must be submitted to become a foreign service specialist. This is readily available online as well. Once completed, the DOS Qualifications Evaluation Panel will check references and verify that all information on the application is truthful. Veterans and those with foreign language proficiency are given preferential treatment.

A written and oral exam follows this initial review. If successfully passed, candidates will be placed on a register of tentatively approved candidates, at which point medical and security screenings take place. Once these final hurdles are breached, a panel gives its final go-ahead before training to become a foreign service specialist can begin.

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