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How to Become a U.S. Ambassador

Five Parts:Preparing through EducationAcquiring Initial Work ExperienceSeeking a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) PositionWorking Towards an Ambassador PostReceiving a Political Appointment

Becoming a U.S. Ambassador is a tricky, time-consuming process. With enough persistence and some smart strategizing, however, you just may land your dream ambassadorial appointment someday. In most cases, you will have to "pay your dues" first as a foreign service officer.

Part 1
Preparing through Education

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    Get a college degree. While you do not need any specific education to become a foreign service officer or generalist, you will need a degree to become a specialist. When pursuing a bachelor's degree, consider majoring in political science, history, or international relations.
    • Take foreign language classes and if possible choose a language that is in high demand for the foreign service, e.g. Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, or Mandarin.
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    Get a graduate degree. For some specialist positions, a graduate degree is preferred. Consider earning a master of public administration (MPA), master of public policy (MPP), or master of public affairs (MPA). Additionally, you may also want to consider a master's degree in international relations or political science.[1] A PhD in political science, sociology, or anthropology also could be beneficial but are are not necessary.
    • For example, Information Resource Officers need to have a master's degree in Library and Informational Science (M.L.S.) degrees.[2]
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    Supplement your studies. While the knowledge you acquire during undergraduate and graduate studies is beneficial, you need to have a keen knowledge of current events. Attend lectures by visiting diplomats or government officials. Read the newspaper daily and aim to incorporate non-U.S. news sources as well.
    • Try to attend conferences concerning foreign policy matters that are open to the public or students.
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    Improve your communication skills. Superb communication skills are vital if you want to become an ambassador. You'll need to have excellent written and verbal skills. Take plenty of English classes to improve your literary proficiency. Consider taking public speaking courses, too. The ability to speak in front of an audience will come in handy if you become an ambassador.
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    Take on a leadership role. Do what you can while you're a student to demonstrate initiative and leadership skills. An ambassador needs to be able to make sound decisions confidently. Working in student government or a campus political organization are good places to start.
    • If you have any ideas about projects you can start on campus, demonstrate initiative by turning those dreams into a reality.

Part 2
Acquiring Initial Work Experience

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    Work as an interpreter or translator. If you have studied another language, demonstrate your mastery by working as a translator. This will not only look good on your resume but will show you are committed to another language and improving understanding between peoples.
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    Teach. If you have a master's degree or are a PhD candidate, consider teaching courses about foreign affairs or politics. This will show that you can convey ideas about these themes to wide audiences.
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    Do internships. Consider interning for a campaign, politician, or community leader. The United Nations also offers competitive internships. Working with an organization similar to the foreign service like the UN can help you better understand the foreign service's structure.
    • UNESCO, the World Bank, and the International Organization for Migration are all potential employers.
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    Volunteer for the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps offers a mini-view of what life as a diplomat might look like. Volunteers travel to their assigned location for two year stints during which they help with health, education, agricultural, or economic issues. Shorter term assignments of three to twelve months also are available.[3]

Part 3
Seeking a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Position

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    Prepare for the FSO exam. The foreign service officer exam tests your knowledge of U.S. and global history, politics, computers, management, and statistics. You should be able to write persuasive, clear essays and perform basic mathematical computation as well.[4]
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    Take the FSO Exam. You need to be between the ages of 20 and 59 at the time of the exam.[5] This test is only offered a few times each year at specific locations within the United States and at international embassies. Be sure to plan in advance!
    • Three weeks after you take the test, you will learn whether you passed.[6]
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    Write the personal narrative. If you pass the FSO exam, you must write six short personal essays about what skills you would bring to the foreign service. The limit of words per essay is 200. You should focus on how your experiences in studying, volunteering, or working prepare you for the job. You have three weeks to complete this task.[7]
    • You will need to supply references who can verify what you state.[8]
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    Take the oral assessment. If you pass the essay section, you will receive an invitation to complete an oral assessment in Washington D.C. You must pay for all your expenses. You'll receive instructions for the assessment before you arrive. Further instructions will also be given during the assessment. When you have the chance to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, do so, but when you are given direct instructions, follow them. At the end of the day, you will have an exit interview during which you will learn whether you will proceed. The assessment consists of three parts:
    • Group negotiation exercise: case study about a country and your presentation
    • Structured interview: one hour long with two FSOs
    • Case management writing exercise: respond to prompt in 1.5 hours, offering a solution to the presented problem[9]
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    Pass medical and security clearances. If you have passed all portions of the exam, the foreign service will check your medical background to see if you can perform the tasks. They also will look to see whether you pose a security risk to the government.[10]
    • For example a security risk might be having connections to people convicted of terrorism.
    • A medical risk might include having an illness that requires special treatment that is unavailable outside the U.S.
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    Enter the foreign service register. Once you have passed every clearance and test, you will be placed on the foreign service register.[11] At this point, you can look for an open position with the State Department. Focus first on junior officer positions. The different job types include: consular, economic, political or public diplomacy officers. The easiest way to find a job is by checking out the U.S. State Department's job website:
    • Alternatively, you can search for a job at a U.S. Embassy branch in another country by navigating to that branch's webpage and browsing until you see the “Job Opportunities” link. To view a list of U.S. Embassies, look here:
    • From this point on, the process is a waiting game. The entire process takes about one year, so give it time.
    • These positions are fairly competitive. Only a few people can fill them, so you should prepare yourself ahead of time for possible rejection. Don't set all your hopes on this one job!

Part 4
Working Towards an Ambassador Post

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    Work your way up through the system. Once you get your first job, you'll need to work your way up. Be noticeable. Do your job well and make connections with the higher-ups. Skills are important, but so is networking.
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    Do humanitarian work. If you're interested in an ambassadorial appointment with a struggling country, humanitarian work can be especially valuable. You can perform humanitarian work through your paid position, but if this is not possible, donate your time or money to humanitarian causes.
    • Consider organizing a program, event, or organization that has a humanitarian mission. Doing so demonstrates your leadership skills and involvement with international issues. This can be particularly beneficial if you focus on a cause directly related to the country or countries in which you are interested.
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    Continue to accept new assignments. Part of foreign service life is moving every few years. If you want to work your way up to the ambassador levels, you must demonstrate flexibility and the willingness to go where you are called.

Part 5
Receiving a Political Appointment

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    Get involved with your chosen political party. Start as early as possible. At the beginning, most of your involvement will be in the form of time. As you advance, your involvement will include time and financial resources. By becoming a star of your political party, you are more likely to attract top national attention from decision-makers. Eventually, the president appoints ambassadors so the more higher up political connections you can make, the better.
    • Donating time can mean volunteering on campaigns, at rallies, or with other similar political events.
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    Stay involved with the country or countries you favor. Even though you do not need to have a career with the U.S. State Department or an embassy, you should demonstrate knowledge and engagement with the country of your choice. Political appointments, meaning the president appoints you as an ambassador, arise from demonstrated knowledge as well as relationships.[12]
    • Your involvement can be through both public and private institutions.
    • It can also help if you are of the same ethnicity as your target country.
    • If there are any significant issues your country of choice is presently addressing, know as much about those issues and their possible solutions as possible.
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    Make connections. If you are seeking a political appointment, it is best to stay in politicians' minds. Demonstrate your competence on a country. Offer your consulting services when foreign affairs issues arise with that nation-state. Overall, engage as much as possible with the U.S. government's policy on that country.

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Categories: Careers in Government