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Diplomats represent UK interests overseas. They're based in London and at embassies, consulates and high commissions around the world.
Policy officers help to formulate policy on political, commercial and economic matters.

What do diplomats do? Qualifications and training | Key skills

Diplomats develop policies that make sure the UK's interests are represented in other countries. Their work tends to be connected to trade, security and keeping UK citizens safe overseas – for example, consular staff help tourists who have been victims of crime or injured on holiday.

Other responsibilities include:

  • dealing with press queries
  • attending events to represent UK interests
  • researching and analysing events overseas and their impact on the UK.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into a diplomatic service career for both university graduates and school leavers.

Graduates can join the Diplomatic Service via the Civil Service Fast Stream, or they can apply for individual roles. On the Fast Stream, you'll be employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and initially work in the United Kingdom for two or three years. You'll be assigned to a department where your skills fit best. Most roles are in London, but there are opportunities around the world – there are more than 250 diplomatic posts in 168 countries and territories. Pay is around £28,000 for a graduate.

If you're an economics student or graduate, you could join the service via the Government Economic Service Fast Stream. This is a three-year graduate scheme in which you'll explore different areas of work and build a range of skills.

The Fast Stream application process begins in the autumn. Dates vary from year to year, so keep an eye on social media for news.

Once you complete either of the Fast Stream schemes and pass a series of security checks, you'll be offered a permanent job. Recruits are then expected to work abroad for two to four years, although this isn't mandatory.

You can also join the Diplomatic Service by applying for individual roles at the FCO that interest you. Entry-level roles tend to be at administrative officer or administrative assistant grade, and your starting pay is likely to be around £18,000.

You don't need to be able to speak a foreign language to join the Diplomatic Service, but an aptitude for languages may help you: if you're posted overseas, you'll be expected to be able to communicate in the local language.

All Civil Service candidates must be British citizens and must have lived in the UK for at least two of the last ten years. Work experience involving communication with people from diverse backgrounds will strengthen your application.

Work experience in public service

There's intense competition for Fast Stream places. Applications are online and involve a range of tests and interviews as well as an assessment centre. There's also a security vetting process, and you'll need to answer questions about your health before you can be offered a job.

To find out about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or school leaver training programme) see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers. Take a look at this article on school leaver training programmes in public service.

Key skills for diplomats

You'll need excellent interpersonal skills, a mature attitude and the ability to accept responsibility. You should also be adaptable and resilient – officers move to a different post in London or overseas every two to three years and must be able to cope with the high levels of disruption. You'll also need:

  • an aptitude for language learning
  • willingness to get actively involved in the local community and undertake a range of social activities while abroad
  • good communication skills
  • interest in current and international affairs
  • tact, diplomacy and neutrality
  • organisational skills.

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