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How to Become an
Ambassador

Dasha Castillo
By Dasha Castillo - Content Writer
|
Last Updated: April 20, 2023
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If you like to travel, have political aspirations and think you would enjoy living in another country for work, this how to become an ambassador guide can help you kickstart a new career. This article will offer advice on the education and experience that can help you find a job in this field and other resources that may be helpful in your search.

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What Does an Ambassador Do?

An ambassador is a diplomat who represents the interests of their home country in another country. This individual must understand the culture and language of the country to which they are appointed but must represent the views, beliefs and laws of their native country.

Ambassadors are career diplomats who work for the U.S. Foreign Service, but some ambassadors are hand-picked for political reasons by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Being an ambassador requires staying updated with current events and foreign and domestic policies.

Typical responsibilities of an ambassador include:

  • Work and reside in the American embassy offices of host countries.

  • Attend political events and meetings as a political or cultural representative of the United States.

  • Work for or alongside the United Nations or with select international administrative bodies.

  • Representation tasks, such as meeting with global leaders on behalf of the host country.

  • Negotiating tasks, such as discussing the specifics of treaties and trade or security agreements.

  • Management tasks, such as supervising staff.

  • Clerical duties, such as documenting conversations with leaders.

  • Safety tasks include being responsible for the safety of American citizens in the country in which they’re stationed.

How Do You Become an Ambassador?

Since most ambassador roles are filled by careful recruiting and vetting, not application-based, there’s no guaranteed career path for becoming an ambassador. However, there are a few academic and professional networking steps that you can take to be qualified and considered for an ambassador position the next time one opens.

1

Join foreign language classes or political clubs in high school and college.

Ambassadors spend their time living and working on foreign soil. You can get a step up by learning different languages and dialects early in your academic career. Consider taking an Arabic, Farsi or Mandarin class, as those languages are highly demanded for foreign service.

You can also develop relevant leadership, negotiation and critical thinking skills through a club, group or initiative on or off campus, working as a translator or interning at a government office.

2

Pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science, international relations or history.

Since there’s no set path to becoming an ambassador, you have free reign over your undergraduate degree. Since ambassadors need strong written and verbal communication skills, critical thinking skills and current affairs knowledge, a humanities degree may be helpful. Consider earning a degree in political science, international relations, history, ethics, literature or communications.

3

Consider a graduate degree in related fields.

Candidates who possess graduate degrees are often able to advance in their careers faster; preferred degrees include:

  • Public Administration
  • Public Policy
  • Public Affairs
  • International Relations
  • Political Science
4

Build your reputation in relevant career tracts.

Most ambassadors start their careers as foreign service officers, which requires a passing score on a three-part Foreign Service Officer Test. Healthy individuals who pass the exam and a security clearance check may then study the history and language of the country they want to work in at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute.

Build your professional experience by working for:

  • The U.S. Department of State
  • The United Nations
  • UNESCO
  • The World Bank
  • The Peace Corps
  • The International Organization for Migration
  • The U.S. Foreign Service

By applying to and accepting positions in a part of the world that interests them, candidates gain foreign policy experience and work toward becoming ambassadors.

5

Develop an impressive professional network across multiple fields.

The most effective ambassadors have an extensive network of colleagues across the arts, academics, political, nonprofit and international fields that they rely on to source job opportunities and future referrals. Create genuine professional connections with these individuals at conferences, colleges or mixers to create an extensive and valuable professional network. These connections can make you a valuable candidate for open ambassador positions.

An ambassador’s resume must list foreign and domestic policy expertise, travel experience, government-related work and more. Try our resume-writing tips to perfect your resume.

Ambassador Skills

Working as an ambassador requires foreign and domestic policy knowledge, but that is only a small portion of what is necessary to excel in this role. Being an ambassador is a high-level job with the potential for extreme stress, as this individual is essentially a middleman between two governments which may not agree on issues.

Interpersonal soft skills:

1Strong communicator and negotiator, remaining patient, stoic and diplomatic during negotiations.
2Must be ethical, trustworthy and honest to promote peace and unity between two countries.
3Excellent planner to travel extensively and productively within the host country
4Networking to navigate international events and facilitate deals or agreements successfully.
5Resilience against a stressful and time-consuming job. You must be adaptable, patient, and able to retain social control at all times to minimize straining or breaking international relationships.

Practical hard skills:

1Cultural knowledge and awareness: An ambassador is a permanent resident of a host country and must become an expert in regional history, culture, language or dialects and social norms to work there effectively.
2Public speaking is expected to serve as their nation’s artistic voice and occasional representative.

Insights from an Ambassador

Get insight from professionals in this career. We talked to ambassadors with many years of experience serving their country, and this is what they had to say about their profession.

What is the common career path for an Ambassador?

Political and government experience is key, as Ambassadors usually rise up through the ranks of Foreign Service. They are later selected from a pool of eligible candidates. The President makes the final decision with the approval of the Senate. An Ambassador may also be chosen from outside of the Foreign Service ranks by the President. There is no career path for this selection method, however, great service to the President and to the Party will merit recognition and consideration for this position.

What should someone consider before becoming an Ambassador?

Given the political nature of the job, an Ambassador should have experience working with the government. It is absolutely necessary that an Ambassador stays up to date with current events, foreign and domestic policies. A lot of time will be spent on traveling, so an Ambassador should be physically and emotionally prepared for long hours on airplanes.

What type of person excels in this job?

People with expressive, articulate and sensitive personalities have a great potential to succeed as an Ambassador. An adventurous spirit, confidence, and optimism are qualities that make a great Ambassador.

What are some of the most important skills for an Ambassador to have?

An Ambassador must have great communication and networking skills and should excel in public speaking. The ability to stay calm and effective during stressful situations and quickly adjust to changes is very important. An Ambassador must have the sensibility to communicate respectfully and effectively with people from different cultures.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an Ambassador?

The opportunity to travel and visit other parts of the world, learn different cultures and meet people from diverse races is truly a rewarding experience. Representing your own country honorably and working towards bringing harmony and building strong relations between nations is a very humbling task.

How Much Do Ambassadors Get Paid?

From 2010 to 2012, Ambassadors made an average of $149,627 per year, with the lowest-paid professionals earning $119,553, and the highest-paid making $179,700, according to the Houston Chronicle.

In addition to a salary, other allowances are offered to Ambassadors, such as the cost of living allowance; a hardship allowance, which accounts for standard amenities not found in other countries; and a danger allowance, which accounts for the risks the Ambassadors take on by living in a specific country.

Top 10 States for Ambassadors Salary

    Arizona

    $39,448

    Illinois

    $37,209

    Missouri

    $36,736

    Kentucky

    $36,530

    New Mexico

    $36,279

    Tennessee

    $36,196

    New Hampshire

    $32,837

    Nevada

    $32,149

    Utah

    $31,924

    Ambassador Resources

    Below are additional resources to help you understand more about a career as an Ambassador.

    On the Web

    US Department of State Foreign Service Institute (FSI)
    The Federal Government's primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington.

    Office of the Historian
    Historical information about U.S. Ambassadors.

    Blogs

    American Foreign Service Association Blog
    Insight into work and life in the U.S. Foreign Service around the world.

    Diplomatic Mom
    A Foreign Service blog about a tandem couple, their little boy and incomprehensibly large cat currently serving in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

    Twitter

    @USAmbHonduras
    Twitter account of US Ambassador to Honduras.

    @AmbassadorPower
    Twitter account of United States Ambassador to the United Nations.