Foreign Service Officer
Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are members of the United States Foreign Service who create and implement the U.S. foreign policy. FSOs spend most of their careers overseas as members of U.S. embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions.
Entry-Level → Mid-Level → Senior Level
United States Department of State
A bachelor's degree is required to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). You will need to choose an FSO career track before you begin the application process (consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy). Then, you will take a series of tests, which include multiple-choice questions, essays and verbal assessments. You will need to be able to obtain medical and security clearances as well as be deemed fit for service by a panel. Knowledge of economic principles and good analytical skills are needed for this job. Strong English verbal and communication skills are also important and any additional language skills are a plus. (The state department provides internship opportunities for high school, undergraduate and graduate students).
National Average Salary:
How will your economics degree help in this field?
The U.S. Department of State is looking for employees who are passionate about diplomacy, so this is especially appealing to economics graduates with minors in international relations or political science. A knowledge of economic principles and issues is imperative, in addition to good problem-solving skills.
Foreign Service Officer Bio:
BYU Economics alum George L. Ward's Foreign Service career started with one of the United States' most terrifying moments in history: September 11th. "I began my career at the U.S. Department of State the very day before the terrorist attacks of September 11 th. Witnessing firsthand the upheaval that occurred in our nation's capital that day, and the recalibration of the foreign policy of the United States in the months and years that followed will always stick with me."
Ward, an alum of BYU, studied economics and international relations and followed with a graduate degree from University of Delaware in Economics and a Public Administration degree from the George Washington University. After his fellowship at the State Department, he passed the Foreign Service exam and has since served in many different cities since 2003, including: Warsaw, Washington, Taipei, Baghdad and Singapore, where Ward is currently stationed. Ward says that though his jobs have varied, each has impacted his life.
"Each position required short learning curves with each new assignment–from conducting visa interviews and visiting Americans in prison in Poland to monitoring breaking events for the Secretary of State in Washington, to working with Iraqis to secure their energy resources in Baghdad to advancing bilateral trade relations with Taiwan–but I have found it rewarding to be stretched by constant new challenges and change."
For his most life-influencing appointment, Ward speaks of his experience in Baghdad from 2013 to 2014, working to stabilize an unstable economy. "I was the deputy of our energy team at the U.S. Embassy . . . . Car bombs and related terrorist attacks struck the capital city almost daily, becoming so commonplace that they rarely made international headlines."
Despite the insecure environment, Ward discussed that what struck him most about living in a country full of turmoil was the courage and determination of the Iraqi people. "In the face of such adversity and violence, I witnessed Iraqis persisting on with day to day life and routines as much as they could under those circumstances—a true demonstration of the steel will and determination of the Iraqi people. It's an ongoing condition that outsiders can scarcely comprehend, but demonstrates the power of hope in the most depraved circumstances."
For his role as a diplomat, Ward's primary focus concerns advancing economic and trade relations with the countries that he serves, attempting to foster economic cooperation and reduce trade barriers between other countries and the United States. But, Ward says that some of his most impactful moments were the specific interactions with people.
Currently, Ward serves as the Economic Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, where his responsibilities include "advancing the U.S.-Singapore bilateral economic relationship, monitoring implementation of our free trade agreement, pressing for Singapore's support of U.S. economic and geopolitical priorities in the international arena, identifying opportunities to support economic participation of women and minority groups in Singapore and Southeast Asia and more."
A lot of Ward's position involves engaging with important people from around the world, so he often finds himself in a position to learn more about the culture where he serves.
One of Ward's favorite experiences involved a Sichuan cooking course in Chengdu, China, where he was the only foreigner among 1,500 students. "We were encouraged to take on a solo immersion experience for a week to stretch our language ability. My teachers were all professional Sichuan chefs, and [we spent] the rest of the day in a courtyard kitchen learning how to prepare and cook dozens of Sichuan dishes."
Ward says of the experience: "[It] stretched both my language fluency and my waistline!"
Ward did recognize the challenges that came along with attempting to secure a position with the Foreign Service. "I thought the barrier to entry, however, would be impossible to overcome, imagining advanced degrees, extensive overseas living, and fluency in multiple languages were all essential." But, when it came down to it, Ward realized that those things, while beneficial, are not required.
"So many in the Foreign Service have different backgrounds and academic/work paths they've followed to get in, and the State Department, by design, seeks out diverse candidates with a variety of experiences." So, while Ward served an English-speaking LDS mission in California, his lack of a foreign language didn't hold him back when considering a job for the State Department.
In the end, Ward uses a familiar phrase to encourage students in their dreams: "Don't give up on your goals – adjust, modify, as appropriate, but press on!"