A day in the life of a Foreign Office diplomat

Jemma Smith, Editor
February, 2018

Myrna Macgregor has ten years' experience working for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). Discover what she loves about her job and how to kick start your own diplomatic career

The best part about working for the FCO is the variety of tasks and careers on offer. Employees usually change roles every two to four years and since I joined the FCO in 2008, I've worked in four countries including Belgium, Kosovo, Germany and Israel, learnt two new languages and have developed expertise in areas as varied as climate change, European Union (EU) competition policy and preventing sexual violence in conflict.

I'm just about to start a new role as a projects consultant at the FCO HQ in Westminster. It's a job that promises lots of diversity. I'll be working with different London teams and will learn a new skillset in consultancy and project management.

To give you an insight into my previous role as a political analyst in Tel Aviv, Israel, a typical day would start with a morning beach-path cycle ride along to the Embassy, with a stop for a coffee or a pastry along the way.

Work would begin with a scan of the news, followed by a team meeting to update colleagues on our different areas of work. For example, I might hear about the agenda of the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) or events that the communications team were running to promote the UK's technology or cultural sectors. During the team meeting I'd update colleagues on developments related to the Middle East Peace Process. After this I'd hop into the car to attend more meetings, often with civil society activists working on issues the UK cares about (such as human rights or Israeli public attitudes towards a peace deal with the Palestinians), or contacts in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Justice.

In the afternoon I might have a videoconference with colleagues in London to catch up on policy developments or write up my meeting notes. There would occasionally be the odd after-work event, something the Embassy had organised for our contacts or visiting UK delegations, but most evenings were free.

There are a huge variety of roles on offer in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office; for example, I have colleagues working in active conflict zones, representing the UK in multilateral organisations like the United Nations (UN) and working on consular issues, helping to protect British citizens overseas.

Just as there is no average FCO career, there is also no standard diplomat. My mother is Singaporean Chinese and I grew up partly in Indonesia. I studied languages and politics at the University of Bath, but you don't necessarily need to be a linguist or a politics graduate to join the FCO. The Fast Stream cohort I joined had a range of academic backgrounds - from law, to economics and architecture. Some joined after a career change and others came straight from university.

A lot of people ask me how to get a job at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. There are a number of entry points (including apprenticeships and internships). I joined the FCO via their Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme. Applying for a position on the programme is a competitive process, which requires some advance planning as the numerous application stages take some time. If you think the Civil Service Fast Stream programme may be for you, you can read more about the FCO's work in the news, or on our website and social media channels.

My top tip is to find a way of demonstrating an interest in international affairs, this could be through further study, attending or organising events, volunteering or work placements.

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