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U.S. Department of State

Ken Barnes

Ken's Tips on Internship and Career Opportunities in the State Department


Hi, my name is Ken Barnes and I'm a Program Coordinator at the Internship and Career Center. During my time at Davis, I've worked with a number of State Department Diplomats in Residence (DIR) and have picked up a few tips along the way. Here are some tips you may find useful.

  1. Diplomat in Residence. First and foremost, meet the Diplomat in Residence and stay in contact with him/her. Do this for several reasons. The first is that DIRs are senior level Foreign Service Officers (FSO), so they know the State Dept. inside and out and can give you tons of information about career options, lifestyle, traveling, etc. Secondly, DIRs are always up-to-date on the current hiring process (which has changed significantly in the last few years), so they can tell you what to expect and give you tips on how to apply. Also, ask them about their experiences. These senior level FSOs have led very exciting lives with fascinating details (mostly good times, but also some rough times). Getting to know them is the easiest way to see what your career could entail.
  2. 13 Dimensions. Second but equally as important, learn and master the 13 dimensions of the State Department. If you want to succeed in the State Department (the recruitment process or the job), you'll have to show fluency in each dimension. They are an integral part of the Foreign Service Officer position and are also used in their other positions such as foreign service specialists, civil service positions, and internships. Know them; master them!
  3. Know Why. Know what you are getting into and why you want to do it. Just as many organizations ask why you want to work for them; the State Department wants to know why you want to want to be a Foreign Service Officer. They are looking for people committed to serving their country and building diplomatic relations - NOT IN HIRING YOU SIMPLY BECAUSE YOU NEED A JOB. In knowing why you want to do this, you should read the mission statement of the State Department and also know what a career in the Foreign Service entails. A good way of learning about life within the Foreign Service is by reading the newsletters of the American Foreign Service Association.
  4. Current Events. Stay up-to-date on current events. Read the books and publications detailed in the suggested reading list on the State Department's career site. The State Department also has an excellent email subscription system that will give you updates on current events. Consider subscribing to a few of their lists. Click here to see a complete list. You should also read and listen to world news and know what's going on that would involve the State Department (and believe me, any American interest overseas involves the State Dept.). Though I don't endorse specific news agencies, I've found that CNN International Edition and BBC News are excellent online sources. I've also found that the New York Times gives comprehensive details on their international stories and the Economist is excellent for economic news (which is beneficial not just for those interested in the economic track, but all tracks).
  5. Travel. If you haven't traveled, consider studying abroad for a quarter or year learning about different cultures. Also, international trips give you experience, so consider traveling abroad and visiting different countries. It's very rare that the State Department would hire someone into their FSO position who hasn't traveled internationally.
  6. Be Flexible. If you are considering an internship abroad in the State Department, be as flexible as possible. For example; if you say that you are only interested in opportunities in London or Paris, you will significantly increase the competition for those positions (and probably not get an internship); however if you list a number of countries where French is spoken, you open up quite a few possibilities. Also, consider posts that aren't very popular but still hold your interest. In short; focus on the experience, not necessarily the location.
  7. Choose Carefully. If considering the Foreign Service Officer position, choose your track carefully. It is very difficult to change tracks once hired; so make sure you consider all the different aspects of each track and choose the one nearest and dearest to you.
  8. Study Up. If you've been out of school for awhile or you haven't prepared for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), you'll need to study. First and foremost, get the study guide. It's an excellent source for assessing your weak spots. Use it to help you figure out where to focus. Also, you'll probably need to refresh your memory on the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Government. The UCD Bookstore sells laminated reference sheets published by BarCharts, Inc for $5 - 6. They contain plenty of information on both subjects.
  9. Be Persistent. Most FSOs didn't make it through the first time but they didn't give up. They kept at it until they successfully made it through. Be persistent in everything you do. If applying for the FSO position, keep at it - it's a long and sometimes tedious process; but well worth the wait. Keep at it until you achieve your goals.
  10. Keep a Record of Your History. Positions in the State Department often require "Top Secret" security clearance. To get a security clearance, you'll have to report 10 years of residence and 10 years of employment history (dating back to age 16). For "Secret" clearances, you'll need seven years of history. You'll may also have to report educational institutions. Start a document and keep track of all pertinent information (MS Excel makes it easy by allowing you to have multiple sheets in one file, but MS Word is also good). For residence; keep track of dates (month and year) and physical addresses (for military, do not use APO/FPO addresses, use physical addresses). For work history (including internships and volunteer experiences), keep track of company/org. names, supervisors, addressses, phone numbers, and most importantly - dates. Update this file every time you move or change your employment status. Start now and make it easy for you in the future.

Well, those are my helpful hints. This list is by no means comprehensive, so look at all the information on the State Department Career Site and talk to the DIRs. If you want to talk more about internship and career opportunities in the State Department, stop by my office in 211 South Hall.


Additional Resources:
Working for the U.S. Department of State
Meet the Diplomat in Residence - Brooks Robinson
So You Want to Be a Diplomat - an article by former diplomat, Les McBee