United States Foreign Service Officers are members of the United States Foreign Service, along with Foreign Service Nationals and Specialists. They serve in countries throughout the world, carrying out foreign policy and helping to maintain diplomatic relations.
Their work involves administrative management, consular services, political and economic reporting and analysis, and public diplomacy. As well as working in Washington, D.C., Foreign Service Officers also live and work abroad, at more than 270 embassies, consulates, and other missions.
If you are interested in a career as a diplomat, the first step is to take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). The exam is held in cities throughout the United States, as well as at American Consulates and Embassies abroad.
Are You Eligible to Apply?
Before you consider applying to become a Foreign Service Officer, first check that you meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Between 20 and 59 years old on the date of examination. Appointment to the Foreign Service must take place before the candidate's 60th birthday
- A citizen of the United States
- Available for worldwide assignment, including Washington, D.C.
An Overview of the Foreign Service Officer Application Process
Here is a look at the process of applying to become a Foreign Service Officer.
Select a Career Track
The first step in the application process is to select one of five career tracks: consular, political, economic, management, and public diplomacy. This choice cannot be changed during the application process, so choose carefully. (You can adjust your selection if you apply again with a fresh application, however.)
There are no educational requirements to take the exam and apply to join the United States Foreign Service; however, most candidates are widely-read or have taken a variety of college courses.
Apply to Take the Exam Online
Once you have made a decision about your career track, you can register online (through Pearson) for the Foreign Service Office Test. In your application, you'll need to share factual information about yourself, including your work history, education, language knowledge, and so on.
Foreign Service Officer Testing
Once your application is complete, you can sign up for an exam date. The Foreign Service Officer Test is offered several times a year. The exam can only be taken once in a 12-month period (that means if you fail the exam the first time, you'll need to wait a year to re-take it).
The exam measures a candidate's knowledge and understanding of a range of subjects determined by a job analysis to be important to perform the tasks required of a Foreign Service officer. It consists of both essay and multiple choice questions.
Here is a practice exam to give you a sense of what to expect.
If you pass this exam, the next step is to share a personal narrative with the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). Think of this as your personal statement, or a (long) cover letter. Your goal here is to show that you are qualified for the role of Foreign Service Officer. You will have two weeks to write the personal narrative, and there will be questions provided to steer your writing.
Foreign Service Oral Assessment
The next step, if your personal statement passes muster with the QEP, is am oral assessment, which is conducted in Washington, D.C., and in various major cities around the United States. This day-long program seeks to determine whether you have the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are essential to the performance of Foreign Service work.
After passing the oral assessment, the rigorous process continues. The next steps include a background investigation, a meeting with a Final Review Panel, medical clearance, and then placement on a list of eligible hires you will be placed on a rank-ordered Register. Note that, depending on your place on the Register and the number of Foreign Service Officers needed, it is still possible that you may not receive an offer of employment. Finally, for those who are successful, it's a Foreign Service career with the US Department of State.
The Hiring Process
The process is competitive, so it's important to prepare as thoroughly as possible for the exam. Applicants for Foreign Service Officers go through a written exam, an oral assessment, and a security background check.
It is estimated that less than two percent of applicants become Foreign Service Officers. Candidates that have passed all requirements and clearance tests receive a score and are sorted for their respective career tracks.
Up to five thousand applicants can take the exam during each test window, however, most are not selected to continue on to the oral assessment stage which is the second step in the process.
Foreign Service Exam Study Guides
Many websites have study guides to assist applicants in preparing for the exam with the hope of becoming a Foreign Service Officer. Depending on the career track of choice, these study guides help explain the application process, what to expect on the test, how to write an effective personal narrative, how to prepare for the oral assessment, and an explanation of how the exam is evaluated. Many also explain the Medical and Security Clearances and what to expect heading into them, along with extra tips and trainings.
What to Expect If You Pass
Once officially employed, new officers are hired on a limited assignment that cannot last longer than five years. They are required to be proficient in foreign language and transition into the other Foreign Service sectors before becoming tenured employees.