If you've got an interest in other cultures and countries, have excellent communication skills and a problem-solving approach to work, then a career as an officer for the Diplomatic Service could be for you

As a Diplomatic service officer you'll work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to protect and promote UK interests and support British citizens and businesses throughout the world.

The FCO deals with issues such as:

  • conflict resolution
  • counter terrorism
  • trade and investment
  • forced marriages
  • human rights
  • climate change.

As an officer, you'll specialise in the practical side of diplomatic work and will work in foreign policy and service delivery overseas. You'll also have the opportunity to influence international and diplomatic development.

Responsibilities

Tasks vary depending on where you're working. For example, you could be based in a small or remote embassy, in a large embassy in Paris or Washington, or in the FCO's London offices. However, you'll typically need to:

  • draft and proofread written reports
  • liaise with high commissions and embassies
  • organise and ensure the smooth running of ministerial and diplomatic visits, from transport arrangements to entertainment
  • answer general written correspondence by letter or email
  • analyse and interpret written material
  • handle queries by telephone from other departments, members of the public and overseas contacts
  • deal face-to-face with queries from the public
  • update travel advice and information
  • manage staff, including overseeing staff performance and carrying out annual appraisals
  • handle departmental or project budgets
  • update and complete personnel details, accounts and other administrative tasks
  • support and assist colleagues with their policy work
  • undertake other specific activities related to your particular department.

Overseas, the role may involve similar activities to those listed above. You'll also need to:

  • assist British exporters and individuals
  • work as an entry clearance officer, assessing visa applications and conducting interviews
  • undertake specialist project work, depending on where you're posted.

Salary

  • Entry for graduates is typically through the Civil Service Fast Stream programme where starting salaries are in the region of £25,000 to £28,000 for the Diplomatic Service scheme.
  • Once you've successfully completed the scheme and are promoted, your salary will be in the region of £45,000.

Benefits include a Civil Service pension scheme. Other benefits may include access to crèches, holiday play schemes and childcare assistance, loans for transport season tickets and access to sports and social facilities.

For those posted overseas, benefits may include hardship allowances for posts where living conditions are considered difficult, education allowances for children, travel expenses and rent-free accommodation.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Your working hours are likely to be a standard working week. However, some of the work may involve being on-call 24 hours a day or undertaking short overseas visits (e.g. one to five days).

Hours may vary for overseas posts depending on the country.

What to expect

  • You will be based in FCO offices in London or in embassies, consulates or High Commissions all over the world.
  • Once qualified, you will change roles every three to four years. However, you won't be sent anywhere you've not asked to go and will apply for each role based on your own preferences and career ambitions.
  • The work can be challenging, but also rewarding as you can make a real impact on international relations.
  • The FCO is keen to recruit people from a range of different backgrounds and encourages applications from diverse communities.

Qualifications

The main entry point for graduates into the Diplomatic Service is currently through the Civil Service Fast Stream programme. For entry on to the Diplomatic Service scheme, you'll need to have at least a 2:2 degree, which can be in any subject. You must also be a British citizen and have been resident in the UK for at least two of the ten years preceding your application. (If you're an existing civil servant, you can apply without a degree.)

Before starting on the scheme you must be granted Developed Vetting security clearance.

The selection process includes two online questionnaires (situational judgement and behavioural), an e-tray exercise testing your decision-making skills and a video interview. If you pass this stage, you'll be invited to an assessment centre, which includes a leadership, group and analysis exercise. You must also pass a final assessment.

You can also apply for the Diplomatic Service (Economist) schemes providing you meet their entry requirements.

It's also possible to join the FCO as an administrative officer if you have a minimum of five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades A* to C, or as an operational or policy officer if you have A-levels. For details of current recruitment policy, including recruitment freezes, see Working for FCO.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • an interest in foreign affairs, other countries and cultures
  • excellent communication skills and the ability to make an impact
  • a results driven approach to work
  • constructive and innovative thinking
  • a proactive and project management approach to work
  • resourcefulness
  • the ability to build and develop productive relationships
  • decision-making skills
  • attention to detail
  • commercial and financial awareness
  • the ability to work under pressure and to take on responsibility
  • flexibility and the ability to deal with the unexpected
  • a commitment to learning and improvement.

As civil servants are politically impartial, you will also need to show qualities such as integrity, honesty and objectivity.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is not required. However, the FCO offers a range of paid work experience opportunities each year. These opportunities are usually aimed at students from backgrounds under-represented in the FCO, for example the Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP), and at those who have specific skills needed by the FCO to carry out their work effectively.

Any experience that shows you have skills in project management, contract management, accountancy, economics and managing change will be useful.

Employers

As a Diplomatic service officer, you'll be employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which is based in London and has a network of 270 diplomatic posts in 160 countries.

Around one third of FCO staff are based in the UK, and work in the UK and postings overseas. The other two thirds are employed locally by a British Diplomatic mission overseas (embassies, consulates or high commissions). If you're employed overseas, you'll usually need to be able to speak and work in the main local language of the country you're living in.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancy information is produced by the FCO. Recruitment freezes may sometimes be in place, meaning you can only enter the Diplomatic Service via specialist programmes.

Professional development

The Diplomatic Service scheme lasts two years. In your first year, you'll take on a policy role, either as a desk officer for a particular country or as a policy lead on issues such as human rights or counter-terrorism. You'll also take a five-week course that introduces you to the work of the FCO and the Diplomatic Service.

Your second year will focus on the operational side, which can include work in a minister's office, media office or in the consular department. You may also need job-specific training, which could include a visit to an overseas embassy. During your training, you'll be assigned a buddy (from the previous year's Fast Stream intake) and can also have a mentor.

This work in the first two years will lead you on to an overseas posting, which lasts for three or four years. You will work in one of the FCO embassies, high commissions or consulates. Once you've accepted an overseas posting, you'll be given intensive tuition in any necessary language to get you up to the right level. You'll also receive 'pre-post training', which covers specific skills needed for that particular post.

You're encouraged to carry out professional development throughout your career, which can include training in IT and 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 is important for work both in the UK and overseas.

Career prospects

If you've entered through the Civil Service Fast Stream programme, your first two years in the FCO will be clearly structured. Following this, you'll typically change roles every three to four years. Your career will be made up of a combination of overseas postings and work in London. When planning overseas postings, you'll be able to state your preferences against a list of available roles, and the FCO will try to match your request with the needs of the office.

With 270 diplomatic posts in 160 countries throughout the world, the scope for postings is 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.

As your career progresses, you could choose to focus your skills either on a particular region of the world or on a particular area of work, such as bilateral work, multilateral work, consular support, project work or media communications.

Promotion depends on merit, individual performance and the availability of posts. On average, operational officers can expect to spend four to five years in this grade before promotion.