What Diplomats Do
Diplomats get to travel the world, experience different cultures, and serve their countries. They work in many capacities, but their general goal is to be a liaison between foreign nations and their home country. They may focus on human rights, resolve conflicts between nations, oversee trade and investment issues, be involved in counter-terrorism activities, or work on climate change-related projects, among other things.
Who would enjoy a career in Diplomacy?
Naturally, the career is best-suited for those who are loyal to their home countries and have a deep desire to strengthen international bonds, while furthering their country’s agenda. People who love travel, appreciate other cultures, have natural leadership qualities, and are good with people do best.
Competition for positions can be quite competitive and rigorous testing is required, so it’s generally suited for well-educated individuals who have other career options, in case a position is not offered and to become a long-term career if life-long travel is not desired.
Who mightn't like the career?
Diplomats are assigned a location for a period of years, and they don’t generally get to choose which region they work in. For these reasons, those who will not be happy moving frequently or will not feel comfortable working in specific regions will not enjoy a career in diplomacy. It’s also not ideal for those unprepared for the rigorous testing and may not be a viable option for someone who is counting on getting a position after graduation.
Countries expect their diplomats to be, first and foremost, a citizen of their country, and to have a clean record, as a background check will be performed. A bachelor’s degree is generally considered the minimum, though there are no specific area of study is required.
To improve one’s resume, it may be worthwhile to learn one or more foreign languages, obtain an advanced degree, and have an educational background in business, foreign policy, culture studies, or another area of benefit. Additional soft skills, such as oral communication, written communication, and the ability to remain calm under pressure are also essential.
Although countries provide their diplomats with training, having a polished resume is the first step in securing an interview. Following this, exams are required, which many people fail more than once before being able to move on. Background checks, medical clearances, and in-person interviews follow.
Foreign Service Officer/ Diplomatic Service Officer
Role: Unlike most careers, a career as a diplomat does not follow a sequential path with unique levels and responsibilities. Following training, officers are expected to fulfill the same duties, whether they’ve been on the job for one year or ten.
The needs vary based on the location a diplomat is assigned, but usually include preparing reports, public speaking, negotiating with other governments, planning projects, overseeing projects, supporting citizens in their country and more.
New diplomats usually train for one or two years in their home country, followed by being assigned to a host country. Deployments last anywhere from one to ten years, though two or four-year assignments are most common. Following this, diplomats may be assigned a new location. Many appreciate this aspect, as it gives them the opportunity to see more of the world. Others place requests to remain in the same location for subsequent terms, which may or may not be honored, depending on the country’s needs.
It’s important to note that salaries vary widely, depending on an individual’s education, years of service, and even the region he or she is stationed.
United States: The salary of Foreign Service Officers in the United States is determined by a pay chart that includes the individual’s education and years of service. A newcomer with no degree and five or fewer years of experience begins at USD$50,302, while more experienced or educated officers max out closer to $81,000.
Canada: Information from Glassdoor places Canadian Foreign Service Officer salaries between CAD$61,156 and CAD$99,800.
United Kingdom: The UK actively recruits university students with summer internships and other entry programs beginning around £25,000. Those with advanced degrees or many years of experience may see salaries around £62,000, per the FCO salary data, though salaries may exceed this in rare occasions.
Australia: A full pay scale sheet from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lists Australian Public Service (APS) Level 1 employees with a base salary of just over AUD$42,000. Those who advance to Level 6 may earn more than AUD$92,000 annually.
While salaries as a diplomat are not necessarily high, most countries offer perks to their diplomats to ensure they are either compensated more for hardships or have access to traditional amenities. For example, additional stipends may be paid out for a diplomat assigned to work in a dangerous area or one without modern amenities. Things like housing allowances and schooling allowances may be available for a diplomat’s children. Medical, dental, and vision are all generally covered for diplomats and their families. These funds vary greatly based on the country of origin and country a diplomat is assigned to, but stipends are usually enough to allow for comfortable living, even if a salary appears modest on paper.
Why Diplomats move on
While many people do remain in diplomacy for life, others have the urge to put down roots and have more stability for themselves or their families. Given that the entry requirements for diplomacy are stringent, those choosing to leave the career are well-suited to take on most any career they wish, provided it pertains to their initial field of study or something that relates to a skill they obtained while serving their countries.