The work of an Operational Officer is far from boring. It's not only interesting but an essential element to what we do.
Our Operational Officers (grade B3) in the Diplomatic Service specialise in the practical side of Diplomatic work. This could range from inspecting visa applications and aiding distressed British nationals overseas to helping coordinate policy at an international level.
The first three years are usually spent working in London and followed by an overseas posting.
Operational Officers also manage clerical staff in the UK and locally-engaged workers when abroad. Dealing with staff training needs and writing annual appraisals are just two of the many tasks involved.
I joined the FCO in 2007 as a B3 Operational entrant, after spending a number of years in the travel industry since graduating from Southampton Solent University in 1999 with a BA (Hons) in European Policy & Modern Languages. After an incredibly fun and life-altering (but ultimately directionless) few years working in the ski and beach resorts of Europe, a career in the FCO appealed greatly to me; it seemed to be an ideal means of combining my educational background with a keen interest in international affairs and overseas travel.
After being unsuccessful in my first application attempt I was delighted to be accepted at the second time of asking (demonstrating the powers of perseverance!), following a lengthy and challenging selection and security vetting process.
I am currently just over 12 months into my first 18-month position in London, working as the Deputy Head of the Overseas Learning and Development Team. Our small team is responsible for the successful management of the FCO’s growing number of Regional Training Centres – we currently operate in 12 locations worldwide, with several more planned to follow.
Coming under the umbrella of HR, ‘glamorous’ was hardly my initial reaction on learning what my first position would be! However, just a few weeks later I found myself in South Africa, chatting with the Rt Hon Paul Boateng during an event he held in his capacity as British High Commissioner! Subsequent overseas travel has meant operational visits to our centres in Hong Kong and Dubai, and I also represented our London team at an opening ceremony for new training facilities at the British High Commission in Accra, Ghana. I do feel incredibly fortunate to visit new places and learn from new experiences as part of my day-to-day work.
As well as regular exposure to the FCO’s work overseas, I have also learnt a great deal about learning and development – a field in which I had no previous experience. To me this is one of the biggest attractions to working for the FCO – the opportunity to ‘get your hands dirty’ and become involved in an extraordinarily diverse range of subject areas from a very early stage.
The modern FCO is set up in such as way as to equip its staff with relevant, transferable skills, and I genuinely feel that the organisation is committed to investing in my future. Right from the start I have had line management responsibilities, and have also been fortunate enough to benefit from many personal development opportunities, including chairing meetings and public speaking - often in front of senior audiences. Real importance is placed on diversity and work-life balance within the FCO; in fact two of my immediate colleagues both benefit from flexible working arrangements.
In a couple of weeks’ time I’m away on my travels again, this time to attend a training conference in Singapore. The sheer variety of experiences and opportunities that are open to me as an FCO member of staff means that I have absolutely no regrets in pursuing this career path. In around 6 months’ time I will be moving on to a second 18-month London-based job, and following on from that I would then be expected to be posted overseas for a further 2 or 3 years – another life-changing experience I’m very much looking forward to.