Since this blog began, Culpwrit has been encouraging readers to consider taking indirect routes toward their dream jobs. Last year, I met with Palak Shah as he was assessing his desire to make a career transition from law to public relations or other field. Palak eventually chose an very interesting career shift, and shares his “how to do it” in the following guest post:
I recently joined the Foreign Service with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Two thoughts stood out during the swearing-in ceremony that took place on our first day. First, I recall how proud I felt to embark on a career of serving my country while helping others in need overseas. Second, I remember thinking how I wish someone had told me about this opportunity much earlier in my career. If you ever wondered what Foreign Service officers (FSO) do and how to become one, please read on.
1. Background. There are five U.S. government foreign affairs agencies that hire FSOs, and each has separate application procedures. The Department of State (DOS) is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency and staffs the vast majority of FSOs. USAID works with DOS to drive U.S. foreign policy toward objectives of global peace, prosperity, and stability through foreign assistance. Since I joined USAID, I will focus on the application process there. I have included links below for more information on FSO opportunities with other foreign affairs agencies.
USAID employs 1,200 FSOs worldwide and is attempting to double this number through its Development Leadership Initiative. Some basic requirements for USAID FSO positions include: US Citizenship; Worldwide availability (willingness to accept assignments anywhere USAID works); and the Obtainment of top secret security and medical clearances. In addition, most FSO positions require an Advanced degree (e.g., Master’s, PhD, JD, or MD).
2. Application Process. International experience is not required but may make you more competitive in the application process. You may apply to specific job vacancy notices, which vary by technical area (e.g., health, democracy and governance, and program/project development). USAID receives applications electronically, and these are reviewed for basic requirements and competitiveness. Current or retired FSOs may then recommend you for an interview, which would take place in Washington, D.C. in front of a panel of FSOs working in your technical area.
Prior to you being offered a position, USAID completes reference checks and security and medical clearances. Of course, you must have patience. The application and clearance process takes approximately four months to one year or longer. You may apply for a position six months prior to receiving your advanced degree.
3. More Information on USAID. In addition to the great satisfaction of pursuing this public service career, FSOs receive a number of other benefits. Specific position and salary information, along with detailed information on the FSO application process and program, may be found at http://www.usaid.gov/careers. From there, please visit other parts of the USAID website to learn more about its international development mission.
4. Information on Other Foreign Affairs Agencies. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) hires FSOs to fulfill the diplomatic mission of the United States. For more information on applying to the Foreign Service at DOS, please visit http://careers.state.gov/officer/index.html
The U.S. Department of Agriculture hires foreign agricultural officers to enhance U.S. export opportunities and global food security. For more information on applying to the Foreign Agricultural Service, please visit http://www.fas.usda.gov
The U.S. Commerce Department hires FSOs to assist U.S. businesses to increase their exports and sales abroad. For more information on applying to the Foreign Commercial Service, please visit http://www.trade.gov/cs
The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) employs FSOs to bring news and information to people around the world in 60 languages. Please visit the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s website for more information on the IBB at http://www.bbg.gov/
Finally, readers might find a broad overview of the Foreign Service and anecdotes of a “Day in the Life” of FSOs helpful. I encourage you to read “Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works for America.” For more information on this book, please visit http://www.afsa.org/inside Please check this link often as a new edition may be released this coming fall.
Palak Shah is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) specializing in democracy and governance issues. Prior to joining the USAID Foreign Service in 2009, he practiced law in the private sector in Chicago. Palak graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations and the University of Chicago Law School with a J.D.