Diplomatic Services operational officer
A Diplomatic Services Operation Officer protects and promotes UK interests throughout the world in a variety of ways. Operational entrants (grade B3) specialise in the practical side of diplomatic work, but also have the opportunity to influence international and diplomatic development.
Following an initial period of at least three years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) , usually at two separate postings, entrants take an overseas posting in a British embassy, high commission, mission or consulate.
Individual roles vary and may include consular work, immigration work, and political and commercial projects. They can also provide support and advice to ministers responsible for developing UK foreign policy.
At operational entry level, new employees may work in managerial roles as geographic desk officers, in human resources (HR), or in the consular service within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Most new entrants are placed in one of the FCO's main departments in London. The range of tasks undertaken varies according to the department. For example, in a geographical section, you will be collating country profiles and disseminating this information, while in the human resources (HR) department, you will deal with recruitment, training and a broad range of HR work.
Typical work activities may include:
Overseas, the role may involve similar activities to those listed above, in addition to:
These initial postings are decided on the basis of candidates' experience and skills at entry. For later postings, post holders apply internally and go through a selection process.
Entry to operational posts with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is open to graduates who have at least a second class honours degree in any discipline. Applicants who wish to apply for a specialist economics diplomatic post with the Government Economic Service (GES) must have at least a 2:1 in an economics-based subject.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed although many entrants have one.
Entry is not possible with an HND only.
For entry to the Diplomatic Service, the following criteria must be met:
Applicants are also subject to a stringent security check, known as developed vetting.
A disability may restrict the overseas locations to which you can be posted, but is not a bar to recruitment.
Selection is competency based and candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
It is not essential to speak a foreign language, but a knowledge of certain difficult languages, such as Arabic, Cantonese, Persian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin or Russian, or having a general aptitude for languages, can be useful.
Application to the Diplomatic Service is via online recruitment 'competitions' that take place once or twice a year. The process begins with an online aptitude test followed by the completion of a competency-based application. Applicants who are successful are invited to an assessment centre and finally asked to another selection event where they are required to make a presentation and have a final in depth interview. Because of the security vetting procedures, the recruitment process may take up to 12 months.
Entry is very competitive so it is worth being persistent if you are not accepted at your first attempt. Previous applications are not taken into account.
There are several work experience and internship schemes run by the FCO. These include the Future Talent Scheme (FTS), a four week summer placement for ten undergraduate economic students and ten female students. There is also the BIS Graduate Talent Pool, offering 41 interns an 11-month placements across a range of FCO departments.
Other relevant internships are occasionally available through Independent Diplomat (ID) , Idealist and Working for an MP (W4MP) .
For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.
The Civil Service has a strong commitment to training and developing its employees. All entrants complete a two-week induction course that introduces them to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Diplomatic Service. After this, you are assigned to a department within the FCO and, after a period there, you will then generally work in a second department before going overseas. Individuals are responsible for arranging their own training and action planning to meet their development needs, though a wide range of courses and opportunities are available to assist with this.
Professional development consists of a range of professional, management and developmental training, which will continue throughout your career in the service. There is an emphasis on developing your drafting and IT skills and all staff are encouraged to improve their knowledge of foreign languages. Good facilities are available to develop these skills.
Learning on the job is an important part of developing your knowledge of the way the Diplomatic Service operates. The ability to take on new information and deal with different situations can be just as important at this stage as when you are based overseas. The training and development process also involves annual appraisals for both development and salary purposes.
Training for overseas work, called 'pre-post training', covers specific skills, depending on your particular posting. Once you have accepted an overseas posting, you are entitled to training to 'confidence level' (approximately GCSE standard) in the official language of the country of your posting, regardless of whether you need it for your job. The hardest languages (such as Arabic, Cantonese, Persian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Russian) require a year's training in the UK, possibly followed by a year's immersion training in-country.
During your first few years in post, you will most likely be based in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) offices in London, although some posts are based in the Milton Keynes area. On entry, you will be allocated a posting based on your entry skills and business needs. On finishing your first post, you will have a certain degree of choice when it comes to your next department and subsequent overseas postings and you will be required to apply for each one.
With 270 diplomatic posts in 160 countries throughout the world, the scope for postings is very broad. The majority of overseas jobs involve working in the missions on consular, management and immigration-focused work. However, opportunities are also available to work on information, political and commercial projects. Postings vary to ensure that you develop a wide range of skills required for the job.
Career development in the FCO reflects the wider Civil Service agenda to develop professional skills across government. This aims to ensure that every part of the service has the right skills and expertise to enable it to deliver its services more effectively both now and in the future. Jobs are focused in three main categories:
Career development will involve gaining experience of at least two of these areas. Progression to senior management in the FCO will normally require you to have developed skills in all three. There are opportunities to gain experience in all these areas at operational level.
Promotion is not automatic and depends on merit, individual performance and the availability of posts. On average, operational officers can expect to spend five years in this grade before promotion. Longer term, there are many opportunities to develop an interesting and varied career.
The only employer for this role is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) , which is based in London and Milton Keynes. The range and variety of the work of the Diplomatic Service is large and comes into play whenever British interests have an international dimension. The Diplomatic Service works in association with other government departments and agencies including the Home Office and the Identity and Passport Service . The Government Economic Service (GES) also offers specialist diplomatic posts for economics graduates.
The role offers the chance to travel, live and work in many different countries but it is important to know that you will be based at the FCO's UK offices for at least the first three years of your career at this level, while you gain an overview of the work of the service.
The FCO is currently ranked 13th out of the top 300 most popular graduate employers (Guardian UK 300).
Vacancy information is produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and is available via their website. You can register to receive automated emails when vacancies are being advertised. Notices of vacancies may also be available from:
All recruitment is undertaken according to open and fair competition, as laid out by the Civil Service Commission recruitment code. Previous applications are not taken into consideration, and many candidates apply more than once.
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