Diplomat Job Description
Diplomats work abroad and in Washington, DC, to help promote US interests around the world. The role of a diplomat can vary greatly depending on their particular area of focus, but they generally seek to engage foreign governments, businesses, and social groups through a variety of policies and programs. Diplomats typically work in embassies and ultimately report to the US ambassador in their host country.
This role requires an excellent grasp of the political, cultural, and economic climates within a country and region, along with extensive familiarity with the United States’ goals and desired outcomes within a particular region. At times, diplomats work in tense or hostile situations and so must work well under stress.
Diplomat Duties and Responsibilities
The day-to-day duties of a diplomat can depend on their particular focus. Diplomat roles typically fall under five specific tracks:
Conduct Consular Activities
Consular officers primarily interact with and provide support to American citizens abroad. In this role, diplomats assist citizens with foreign adoptions and help prevent fraud and human trafficking. Additionally, consular officers provide direct assistance to citizens during evacuations and other emergency situations. They also play a central role in passport control and the visa process.
Collaborate on Economic Issues
Economic officers support positive economic and trade relations between the US and other countries. This role can include developing relationships with economic decision-makers and business leaders in other countries to promote US and mutual economic goals. They may help develop economic policy and aid in sharing information and trends with US foreign partners in government, academic, and business settings.
Manage Embassy Operations
Management officers support embassy operations from day to day. Most management officers begin by leading a single unit within an embassy and work their way up to managing larger staffs and supporting large-scale operations by negotiating leases for residences and offices. Management officers also play a central role in budget oversight and logistics within the embassy itself.
Negotiate with Foreign Government Officials
Political officers negotiate with foreign governments and monitor the political climate within their host countries. This role requires an excellent grasp of local politics and trends as well as the ability to successfully interact with foreign government representatives and experts to protect American interests. High-level political officers may provide direct advice to an ambassador and draft policy documents for senior State Department officials.
Engage and Influence Nongovernmental Groups
Diplomats engaged in public relations and cultural exchange serve as public diplomacy officers. In this role, diplomats create programs and presentations to inform the public about US policies and organize events to strengthen relationships between countries. These diplomats interact with members of the foreign press, arrange fact-finding tours, and manage information resource centers and language institutes.
Diplomat Skills and Qualifications
Diplomats work in a variety of ways to represent the United States’ interests abroad. Most diplomats have at least a bachelor’s degree and the following skills:
- Relationship building – diplomats work with representatives of foreign governments to advance US and mutual interests, so they should be excellent relationship builders
- Negotiation – in this role, diplomats also provide assistance and support with a wide range of negotiations, so tact and flexibility are often necessary
- Communication skills – written and verbal communication are both vital in this role, as diplomats need to communicate with foreign contacts, prepare reports for their departments and supervisors, and make presentations
- Foreign language skills – diplomats should have strong language-learning skills, should have some grasp of the primary language or languages in the countries they work in, and should be willing to quickly learn and adapt to new languages
- Organization skills – in this role, diplomats must be highly organized and able to coordinate many activities at once while maintaining excellent attention to detail
- Conflict resolution – diplomats frequently work in tense or delicate situations, so they need excellent conflict resolution skills
Diplomat Education and Training
While there are no formal education requirements to become a diplomat, most have at least a bachelor’s degree in a closely related field like international relations, and some obtain advanced degrees in these fields. Additionally, potential diplomats need to take the Foreign Service Officer Test, write a series of essays, and complete an oral assessment. There are some opportunities for on-the-job training in this role, especially since the role of a diplomat can drastically change depending on their posting.
Diplomat Salary and Outlook
Because diplomats are State Department employees, their salaries are set by the United States government. Diplomat salaries are divided into nine classes, each with 14 steps, and a diplomat’s pay grade is determined by their education and professional experience. A Class 9 diplomat at the lowest pay grade earns $28,945 per year, for example, while salaries for Class 1 diplomats can be as high as $136,659. Additionally, diplomats can receive additional pay in the form of travel and housing allowances.
While job openings for diplomats vary from year to year, the State Department estimates that more than 17,000 individuals apply each year and 1,000 are invited to move on to oral assessment, so these positions are very competitive.
We searched the web and found a number of resources for further reading and information if you’re interested in a career as a diplomat:
United States Diplomacy Center – this US State Department website features information about working as a diplomat in addition to simulations that allow students to experience the types of situations that diplomats handle
American Diplomats: The Foreign Service at Work – in this book, two career diplomats collect the stories of US diplomats who worked within the foreign service between the 1920s and 1990s
American Foreign Service Association – the AFSA is a professional association and labor union for American diplomats that offers publications and resources for diplomats across the world
Outpost: A Diplomat at Work – Christopher R. Hill explores the life and role of a diplomat in some of the most difficult regions in the world, like Iraq, the Balkans, and North Korea
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