Diplomatic Service Officer

The Job and What's Involved

As an officer in the diplomatic service, you would work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) either in the UK or abroad. You would promote and protect British interests and citizens overseas, and provide advice and support to ministers developing UK foreign policy.

The work of the FCO is very varied and covers every area where British interests and citizens are involved internationally, for example:

Political – monitoring political and economic developments in the host country, and representing Britain to that country's government and media

Commercial – helping British companies to trade in the host country, and promoting investment into Britain
consular – helping British citizens in the host country, and processing visa applications from local people who wish to come to Britain.

Your day-to-day duties would depend on your grade. For example:

Policy Officers (grade C4) – researching issues and helping to develop policy and strategy

Operational Officers (B3) – varied duties including handling visa applications, casework and managing clerical staff

Executive Assistants (A2) – drafting letters, handling accounts and invoices, and providing clerical support.

Administrative Assistants (A1) – providing clerical support.

As a UK-based Policy or Operational Officer, you might be responsible for one country or geographical area, or for a specific foreign policy issue that affects many countries.

Your basic working hours would be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, when overseas, your hours and conditions may vary according to the culture and climate of your host country. Some jobs may involve being on call 24 hours a day.

When you first start work with the FCO you would spend between 18 months and two years in London, and then be posted overseas at least once in your career. Most overseas postings last between three and four years.

Administrative assistants start on £16,135 a year (plus London allowance where appropriate).

Executive assistants start on £18,525 a year.

Operational officers start on £21,432.

Policy (Fast Stream) officers start on £26,102 a year.

All London-based staff are also awarded an extra allowance of £3,000 a year for when working in London. Staff working overseas may be paid additional allowances.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 500,000 people in about 170 different departments and agencies work in the Civil Service. Jobs are advertised in the national press and on the FCO and Civil Service websites.

You will find it helpful to have experience of working with the public. You may also find it useful to speak other languages and must be prepared to work both in the UK and overseas.

Education and Training

The qualifications and experience that you need to join the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will vary depending on the grade of job you are applying for.

To join as a C4 Policy Entrant through the civil service's Fast Stream programme, you must have at least a second class degree in any subject. You must then pass a series of skills-based online and practical tests. See the Civil Service website for more information on the Fast Stream recruitment process.

For B3 Operational Officer posts, you will need a degree in any subject, or an equivalent qualification.

For Executive Assistant (A2) posts you will need at least five GCSE's (A-C) including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. For Administrative Assistant (A1) posts you will need two GCSE's (A-C) including English, or equivalent.

For all grades of job in the FCO, you must meet the nationality and residency requirements, and pass a strict security vetting process. See the Careers section of the FCO website for full details of these.

Each job's selection process involves several stages, and can take several months for the higher grades.

For policy and operational grades, previous work experience in management, business or public administration would be useful. Your potential for learning foreign languages will also be tested at the final interview stage.

You will find it useful to have experience of office work for the administrative grades, and your typing skills will be tested during the selection process.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You would start with an induction course, which introduces the work of the diplomatic service and the FCO in general.

You will have access to a range of training opportunities throughout your career, especially in the early years.

Language training is important, and the FCO encourages all staff to take advantage of its in-house language training centre to prepare for overseas postings.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A diplomatic service officer needs:

  • An interest in international affairs.
  • Willingness to work anywhere in the world.
  • Initiative and quick thinking.
  • Good problem-solving skills.
  • Excellent written and spoken communication skills.
  • The ability to get on with people from all societies and cultures.
  • An organised approach.
  • Tact and maturity.
  • Flexibility and adaptability.
  • Foreign language skills, or the ability to learn languages.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is a clear career structure through the grades. Promotion depends on merit and ability.

As a policy officer in the Fast Stream programme, you could progress to senior management within four or five years.

Get Further Information

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Website: www.fco.gov.uk

Civil Service Jobs Online
No central telephone number for information, see website for contacts for individual departments.
Website: www.civilservice.gov.uk/jobs

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