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New recruits join the Diplomatic Service as policy (fast stream) or operational officers and are responsible for representing UK interests overseas.
Policy officers help to formulate policy on political, commercial and economic matters.

What do diplomats do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Diplomatic Service recruits are employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and initially work in the United Kingdom for two to three years. Recruits are then expected to work abroad for two to four years, although this is not mandatory.

Policy officers help to formulate policy on political, commercial and economic matters. That could mean anything, for example you could be writing a progress report on complex arms negotiations in Geneva. Although you will concentrate on policy work, you may have the opportunity to try press and public affairs, consular, immigration or management work as well.

Operational entrants specialise in the practical side of Diplomatic Service work. This could mean assessing visa applications in Moscow or checking and double-checking the itinerary for a royal visit. The work also encompasses commercial, consular and immigration, management and, in some cases, policy areas. Managing staff is also part of the job.

Although it is not essential to have a foreign language to join, the FCO is always keen to hear from people with an aptitude for learning other languages. Policy officers and operational officers can expect to spend around half of their working lives overseas. Accommodation and overseas allowances are included for staff and their partners or families while working abroad.

There is intense competition for vacancies in this line of work. Jobs are advertised by careers services and in national and regional newspapers. For the fast stream, all the initial application stages are now online. The entrance procedure is rigorous and is designed to identify applicants who possess outstanding abilities. Candidates must also pass pre-appointment enquires in health and safety matters.

Qualifications and training required

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

Graduates with a minimum 2.2 in any degree discipline can apply for the diplomatic service fast stream programme. All candidates must be British citizens, and must have lived in the UK for at least 2 of the last 10 years.

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

Candidates should have excellent interpersonal skills, be mature in attitude and able to accept responsibility and challenge early in their careers. They 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. In summary you will need:

  • willingness to serve anywhere in the world
  • language skills and 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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