- A high-ranking official from an African country is due to meet the Foreign Secretary to discuss human rights. As the desk officer for the region, it is your job to write a brief explaining the issues and suggesting points for discussion.
- A member of the Royal family is touring your host country. It is your job to oversee the arrangements and see the visit goes according to plan.
- Civil unrest has broken out in a remote part of the country where you are based. London needs detailed information about why this has happened and who is involved.
- A British company contacts you asking for advice on exporting its products to your host country. It is your job to help them identify some suitable trading partners.
- As the UK representative at an EU working group, you have to negotiate the inclusion of some wording to which the Government attaches great importance.
As a policy entrant in the Diplomatic Service you could be dealing with any one of these situations or indeed all of them, or something similar, from your first few months in the office. You will change jobs every two or three years: the only thing they have in common will be the challenges and stimulation they offer.
People in the policy grades in the Diplomatic Service help to formulate policy on political, commercial and economic matters. That could mean anything from writing a progress report on complex arms negotiations in Geneva to briefing a minister on the latest plans to expand the European Union. Although you will concentrate on policy work, you may have the opportunity to try press and public affairs, consular, immigration or management work as well. So have you got what it takes to be a successful diplomat?
Skills and abilities
As a policy entrant, you must be able to think quickly and analytically, have good interpersonal skills and an interest in international affairs. You should be a graduate with at least a second class (2.2) honours degree.
When you join the Diplomatic Service you will be assigned to a desk in one of our geographical or functional departments at the FCO in London. Before long, you will be expected to provide analysis and information on your desk’s countries or subjects.
You will need good communications skills. As you build up knowledge in a certain area, ministers will expect you to provide briefings of a quality that could contribute to discussions at Cabinet level, stand up to robust questioning in Parliament, and satisfy the media, as well as expressing the policy of the government of the day.
You should also be a good organiser. In London, you could be liasing with representatives from foreign diplomatic missions to help organise ministerial visits. Overseas, you could be involved in the complex business of arranging a visit by a British minister or a trade delegation.
You will also need plenty of motivation. We will expect you to be driven by a fascination for you work and to take the initiative to get out into the community, making contacts and gathering information when you are overseas.
Staff management will be an important part of your job. This requires both maturity and tact; as a policy entrant, you will have people working to you who may be older and in some cases more experienced than you in their particular field. You will also be responsible for the development of your staff, which includes evaluating their performance and carrying out regular appraisals.
You are likely to spend about half your career overseas.
Overseas postings are important and offer you the chance to get to know a country and its people in depth. You might also be involved in high level international negotiations. We want you to build up a wide experience. This means we will want you to work in a number of different jobs in different types of missions. But you will have a say in the jobs you would like to do.
What two policy entrants say...
Rebecca Hall (C4) joined the FCO in 1994. After a year in the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy Unit she went to UKMis New York as a conference officer, before returning to London to be a desk officer in United Nations Department. In 1997 she went to UKRep Brussels for 18 Months during the UK Presidency of the EU, and then returned to London for German Language training before taking up her current post in Vienna as second secretary, EU affairs.
'One of the great things about this job in Vienna is that I am able to build on the EU experience I have had - but in a bilateral post. This means that I am still dealing with a wide range of European issues, but now instead of negotiating texts in Brussels I am working with bilateral contacts here to promote the UK position and reporting back to London on the situation in Austria - more 'classic' diplomatic work. It's an excellent post, too - one of the most beautiful cities I've lived in, fascinating culture - and great food!'
Priya Guha (C4) joined the FCO in 1996 after graduation. Her first job was in Aviation and Maritime Department at the FCO. She is now working as Second Secretary in Madrid.
'It's a great opportunity to live and work in a different country. Every day, I am dealing with people from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, of course, in touch with colleagues back in the UK. The work is really interesting and varied, and I'm given a lot of day-to-day responsibility. The best part is having the chance to learn a new language full-time before you come on a posting which really helps your understanding and enjoyment of the country.'
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