Diplomatic service officers work for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to protect and promote UK interests and support British citizens and businesses throughout the world

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

The FCO deals with issues such as:

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

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 admin 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, where starting salaries are in the region of £28,000 for the Diplomatic Service scheme.
  • Successful completion of the scheme and promotion could see your salary rise to around £45,000 within five years.

Benefits include a Civil Service pension scheme. Other benefits may include professional qualifications, language learning opportunities, flexible working, season ticket loans, access to sports and social activities, and child care assistance.

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

You're likely to work a standard working week. However, some of the work may involve being on-call 24 hours a day.

Hours may vary for overseas posts, depending on where you work.

What to expect

  • You'll be based in FCO offices in London or in embassies, consulates or High Commissions all over the world.
  • Once qualified, you'll 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 (or be expecting) 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 last ten years.

You can also apply for the Government Economic Service Fast Stream, providing you meet their entry requirements.

If you're an existing civil servant, you can apply without a degree.

The selection process begins with 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 asked to fill in an application form. If your application is successful, you'll be invited to a half-day assessment centre, which includes a leadership, group and analysis exercise. There is a final selection process for those who are successful at the assessment centre.

If you're unsuccessful, it's possible to apply again the following year. It can take two or three attempts to succeed.

Before starting on the scheme you must be granted United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV) clearance.

For details of current recruitment policy, including recruitment freezes, see Working for the FCO.

Skills

You'll 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'll also need to show qualities such as integrity, honesty and objectivity.

Work experience

Although pre-entry experience is isn't essential, any experience that shows you have skills in project management, contract management, accountancy, economics and managing change will be useful.

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 the Early Diversity Internship Programme, and at those who have specific skills needed by the FCO to carry out their work effectively.

Employers

As a diplomatic service officer you'll be employed by the FCO, which is based in London and has a network of more than 270 diplomatic posts in 168 countries and territories.

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:

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 three years, giving you the opportunity to work in both the UK and overseas. You'll get to understand how the FCO and diplomacy works and will have access to a mentor or coach as well as a buddy (from the previous year's Fast Stream intake).

There's an element of flexibility to your training and you'll spend time in both operational and policy roles, in addition to a period of time in an overseas posting. For example, you could spend a year in an operational role followed by two years working in policy that could include a period of time spent overseas. Alternatively, you might spend a year in an operational role, followed by a year in a policy role, followed by a third year in an overseas posting. You could also spend time undergoing priority hard language training.

As part of your operational training, you may work in a Minister's office, in the consular department or media office or on a range of issues, including financial and commercial.

Training in policy can include being a policy lead on key issues such as climate change or counter terrorism, or working as a desk officer for a particular country.

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 three years in the FCO will be clearly structured. Following this, you'll usually 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 more than 270 diplomatic posts in 168 countries and territories 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 management or media and 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.

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