Diplomatic Career

Many worker bees are behind the official negotiations and maintenance of the United States’ social, political and economic relations with other countries around the world. The national government appoints individuals to act on behalf of the nation. Diplomats, also called Foreign Service Officers (FSO) in some cases, oftentimes use their educational background and work experience to represent the policies and interests of the United States. The field is wide-ranging and can touch upon many causes, such as the environment, the economy, and religious freedom.

Job Activities & Responsibilities

Individuals with an interest in serving the country in a diplomatic manner may pursue a range of jobs associated with the field. Because of the wide-ranging opportunities to serve as a diplomat, the roles and responsibilities for this career field vary greatly, which ranges from serving as a minister to acting as an ambassador or envoy. There are five different paths that a diplomat may concentrate in: consular officer, economic officer, management officer, political officer, and public diplomacy officer.

A public diplomacy officer works with foreign countries on an in-person and online front. Consular officers are in the business of assisting and protecting American citizens when they are abroad. Economic officers may work with foreign interests to negotiate new trade laws or protect the environment. Embassies hire management officers to handle the affairs of their employees, while political officers concentrate on keeping U.S. ambassadors up to speed on political events.

Depending on the type of officer a diplomat is, the following could be part of a job description:

  • Attend state functions, such as dinners
  • Arrange visa for travelers to the U.S.
  • Oversee solutions in times of war and peace
  • Travel and spend a great deal of time overseas
  • Negotiate a treaty or international agreement
  • Help shape foreign policy


Having a college degree is not a strict requirement to enter the field of diplomacy; however, completing at least a bachelor’s degree-level education increases the chances of being hired. Being able to speak a foreign language is also viewed as an asset. College degree majors that provide a solid foundation for a career in diplomacy include political science, economics, and business. Completing coursework in foreign policy, intercultural issues, journalism, and communication also comes in handy.

Job applicants with a graduate degree often possess the kind of skills and knowledge that typically lead to advancement within the industry. A master’s degree in international relations provides a valuable background for the field. In anticipation of future placement in areas greatly affected by religion, faith-driven students may take courses in theology, divinity, and world religions as preparation.

Career Salary & Job Outlook

Diplomats travel to and are placed at more than 270 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic locations in the world to create a U.S. presence overseas. Salaries and pay are wide-ranging and oftentimes follow a specific government-regulated pay scale. The General Schedule (GS) pay scale is used for domestic service professionals, while the Foreign Schedule (FS) scale is associated with individuals providing overseas service. With nine pay grades and 14 steps in each grade, there is plenty of room for career advancement.

Diplomats are generally paid according to their ranking. The highest-ranking diplomats can earn yearly salaries between $99,628 and $179,700. Those who assume an entry-level position; hold a bachelor’s degree; and do not have relevant experience can expect to earn a yearly base pay of around $43,000.

Other factors come into play in regards to salary, such as the safety risks that a diplomat takes. Employees assigned to regions deemed dangerous, including Afghanistan, Cuba and Syria, may earn hardship pay of up to an additional 35% when they travel to areas plagued by constant acts of violence, kidnapping risks, bombings, and rebel uprisings.

As the U.S. continues to develop and strengthen intercultural relationships around the world, the call for more diplomats to facilitate communication, solutions and dialogue will also grow. Those with specialized skills; who have established relationships with high-ranking global leaders; and have many years of experience under his or her belt are especially in high demand.