How to kick-start a career in foreign affairs and diplomacy

  • How to kick-start a career in foreign affairs and diplomacy

    For those who love to travel, communicate with others and immerse themselves in different cultures, international careers can be rewarding and interesting. Two such careers include foreign affairs – more specifically, foreign service officers – and diplomats. Diplomats and professionals involved in foreign affairs are often highly respected due to the selectivity and the level of education needed to succeed in these roles. In fact, many people use the adjective "diplomatic" to refer to individuals who are tactful, skilled and intelligent.

    When you're interested in establishing peace and maintaining professional business relationships with other countries, you may want to become a diplomat or other foreign affairs professional. Here are some of the primary qualifications employers are looking for when hiring these roles:

    Become fluent in multiple languages

    A lot of Americans don't bother to learn another language; they may assume that most people in the world speak English, so it's not worth the bother. However, diplomats and foreign officials may confront circumstances in which they need to communicate with someone who does not speak English. Because these professionals serve as a liaison between nations and political parties, they must be able to communicate with foreign affairs workers and leaders who are fluent in a language other than English. Especially in the U.S., a country with many international alliances and contracts, diplomats and foreign officials may be expected to speak more than one language. According to Babbel Magazine, the most commonly spoken languages in the world are as follows, broken down by the population of native speakers:

    • Chinese: 1.3 billion
    • Spanish: 460 million
    • English: 379 million
    • Hindi: 341 million
    • Arabic: 315 million
    • Bengali: 228 million
    • Portuguese: 220 million
    • Russian: 153 million
    • Japanese: 128 million
    • Western Punjabi: 118 million

    Additionally, foreign affairs professionals who speak a number of languages – including those that are considered the most difficult to learn, such as Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese, Turkish and Russian, among others – are considered to be the most marketable, as state and national government entities are often looking for diplomats who can effectively communicate with a large number of people. Many foreign relations agencies require their workers to learn specific languages during the training for their role, or may be immersed in courses and independent study of a language when being tasked with work in a new nation.

    Get involved in internship opportunities

    As with most professions, diplomats can benefit from getting some experience in the field before beginning a full-time career in this profession. If you're interested in pursuing the path of a diplomat, you might consider one of the internship paths offered by the U.S. Department of State. The Pathways Internship Program is a paid, domestic opportunity for U.S. citizens who are currently enrolled in relevant undergraduate and graduate programs. The U.S. Department of State Student Internship Program is unpaid, but provides invaluable experience to future diplomats by giving them hands-on experience working in embassies and consulates in the U.S. and around the world.

    Becoming a foreign service officer

    If you're interested in becoming a foreign service officer, you'll need to follow a specific step-by-step process. First, you'll need to complete a medical examination and the necessary background checks. Then you'll need to take a three-part exam, known as the Foreign Service Exam, which consists of an interview, negotiation exercise and written test. After passing each step of this process, you'll need to go to the Department of State's National Foreign Affairs Training Center, in which you will complete a 10-week training program. This process consists of a variety of courses in foreign languages and specific cultural norms associated with the country in which you will begin your work.

    Earn an advanced degree

    Even though it's possible to begin your career as a diplomat with a bachelor's degree alone, it may benefit you to earn a master's degree in International Affairs. Depending on the specific area of diplomacy or foreign affairs you plan on working on, you may also be able to progress in this career with a master's degree in Sociology & Anthropology, History, or Government/Public Administration.

    An advanced degree can improve your salary potential, as many government agencies consider those with higher education levels to be more valuable in their roles. According to Chron, you must have completed at least one year of graduate work to be classified as GS-7, which is typically the starting point on the government pay scale for foreign services officers.

    Aside from earning the pay that you deserve in this position, you may want to earn an advanced degree in this field to secure a job in this competitive field. It certainly isn't an easy field to begin, especially at an entry-level scale, so earning a master's – or even a doctorate – can place you steps above the other applicants competing for a job.

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