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Foreign Service Specialist Career Tracks

The Foreign Service Specialist selection process begins with an application, proceeds through the selection process, and for those who succeed, culminates in hiring from the register for assignment to an orientation course that marks the beginning of every Foreign Service career.

Foreign Service Specialist (FSS) Selection Process Steps
 
 
1. Choose a Specialization


The U.S. Department of State offers career opportunities to professionals in specialized functions needed to meet Foreign Service responsibilities around the world. As a Foreign Service Specialist, you will provide important technical, management, healthcare or administrative services at one over 265 posts overseas, in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere in the United States.

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Choose a Specialization

In total, there are 22 different specialist jobs that are grouped into eight different categories:

  1. Administration: General Services Offices, Financial Management Officer and Human Resources Officer
  2. Construction Engineering: Construction Engineer
  3. Facility Management: Facility Manager
  4. Information Technology: Information Management Specialist, Information Management Technical Specialist – Digital, Radio or Telephone
  5. International Information and English Language Programs: English Language Officer, Information Resource Manager
  6. Medical and Health: Health Practitioner, Regional Medical Technologist/MLS, Regional Medical Officer, and Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist
  7. Office Management: Office Management Specialist
  8. Security: Diplomatic Courier, Special Agent, Security Technical Specialist, Security Engineering Officer, Security Protective Specialist, and Supervisory Security Protective Specialist

Need more help in choosing your specialization? Take an online assessment or read vacancy announcements for requirements and qualifications.

 

Eligibility Information

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Eligibility Information

To be eligible, you must be

  • a U.S. citizen,
  • between the ages of 21 and 59 (hired before 60th birthday), or
  • between 21 and 36 (hired before 37th birthday) for Diplomatic Security Agent positions and,
  • be available for worldwide assignment.

 

 
 
2. Submit Your Application


Now that you have chosen the Foreign Service Specialist position for which you may qualify, the next step is to refer to the specific vacancy announcement and complete all additional required procedures.

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Submit Your Application

A completed application package contains all of the material listed announcement. An application can be terminated whenever the materials do not support the basic eligibility requirements for employment in the Foreign Service.

Applications must be submitted through the online application system via USAJobs. Please visit the Opportunities section of the careers site views a list of open – and closed - vacancies, and to subscribe to receive email updates.

 

 
 
3. Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP)


Once you have completed the initial review stage, your application will go before the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP).

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3. Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP)

Candidates who are successful in the initial review stage by meeting the basic eligibility requirements for employment in the Foreign Service will have their professional experience, job history, and motivation evaluated by the Qualifications Evaluation Panel.

 

 
 
4. Take the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment


Candidates forwarded by the qualification process will engage in a program to determine whether they have the essentials to successfully perform Foreign Service work.

Update: Download the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment Study Guide (pdf).

 

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Take the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment

Download the Foreign Service Specialist Oral Assessment Study Guide (pdf).

Candidates forwarded by the qualifications process are invited to travel to Washington, D.C. at their own expense to the Foreign Service Assessment Center to participate in an oral assessment test that consists of a writing exercise, a structured interview, and an exit interview. The new format for some specialties also requires a competency exam (online technical multiple-choice test.)

You are evaluated solely against the 12 dimensions (pdf)  by trained examiners. Before the assessment begins, you are required to sign a non-disclosure statement that requires you not to divulge the contents of the examination. Go to our Download Center to download and read "What to Prepare and Bring to the Assessment Center." (pdf)

When you come to the Oral Assessment, you will be asked to read and sign the following three forms pertaining to the conditions for taking the Oral Assessment and conditions of employment in the Foreign Service. If you are not willing to abide by these conditions, you should not schedule an Oral Assessment.

Writing Exercise:

Candidates will be asked to write either an essay or will be presented a hypothetical problem set in an embassy environment related to the candidate’s area of specialization. The candidate will be required to write a two-page memo outlining how to solve the problem presented. The candidate will have 45 minutes for the writing exercise. He/she will have a computer available to use, but may write the essay or memo in longhand.

Structured Interview

The interview will be conducted by two examiners, a Foreign Service generalist and a Foreign Service specialist or generalist working in your field. The interview generally takes about 75 minutes.

There are two parts to the structured interview. In the first part of the interview, the candidate will be asked about his/her motivation for joining the Foreign Service and about background experiences that might be relevant to their work as a Foreign Service specialist. In the second part of the interview, the second interviewer will ask questions in the candidate’s field and provide hypothetical workplace problems to resolve. Candidates are expected to use common sense and good judgment and to make assumptions they believe are appropriate in responding to the hypothetical situations.

Competency Exam

Candidates may be given a computer based multiple-choice exam that presents a series of technical and/or situational judgment questions. It is intended to measure job-related knowledge and how the candidate might apply that knowledge on the job. This exam is timed and lasts approximately 45 minutes. The exam is designed to present more questions than can generally be answered in the time allowed, so candidates should not expect to answer every question.

Exit Interview

At the conclusion of the interview, candidates will return to the waiting room while the examiners consolidate their scores. They will then be asked to return to the interview room where the examiners will inform them whether or not they reached the cut-off score which will enable the State Department to continue the candidacy. If the candidate reaches the cut-off score, the examiners will brief him/her on the next steps in the pre-employment process.

What to bring to the Assessment Center

It is essential that you visit the Download Center (search for Assessment)  for a list of what you should prepare and bring to the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. In addition to valid U.S. state or federal government-issued photo identification, you will need to bring various completed forms to show or submit if you pass the Oral Assessment. Some of the release forms must be signed by your spouse or estranged spouse, co-habitant, or fiancé(e).

 

 
 
5. Clearances: Medical and Security


All candidates must receive medical and security clearances in order to be hired and serve abroad.

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Clearances: Medical and Security

Medical ClearanceSubscribe to receive email updates

The Office of Medical Services of the Department of State determines a candidate's medical fitness and ability to serve overseas. Many Foreign Service posts are located in remote areas with extremely limited medical support; therefore, each candidate must meet rigorous medical standards in order to qualify for the required worldwide medical clearance. Medical clearance determination by Medical Services is based on its thorough review of each candidate's medical history and physical examination, including an individual assessment of his/her specific medical needs and the medical capabilities of Foreign Service posts to meet those needs. All children under six must have their medicals done by their pediatrician.

After receiving a Conditional Offer of employment, each candidate is provided with the necessary examination forms (with instructions) to give to the examining health care practitioner (MD, DO, NP, PA). We also provide an authorization for the Department of State to pay for the examination. Candidates who live within 50 miles of Washington, DC must schedule their medical exams at the State Department’s Office of Medical Services. Those who live more than 50 miles from Washington may have them done by their own physician or at the State Department. Children under the age of six must be seen by their own pediatrician, regardless of location.

Regardless of who administers the medical clearance exam, the Department's Office of Medical Services determines whether or not a candidate is medically eligible for assignment to all Department of State posts worldwide. While a candidate may effectively manage a chronic health condition or limitation within the United States or in specific areas outside of the U.S., the Office of Medical Services might well determine that the same individual is not eligible for a worldwide ("Class One") medical clearance. Such clearances may only be issued to candidates whom the Office of Medical Services deems able to serve at the most isolated and restricted overseas posts.

Such a post could feature extreme isolation in terms of limitations on reliable air service in and out of the country, unreliable Internet and telecommunications connections, and/or unreliable postal and delivery systems. Any of these limited services can have a severe adverse impact in terms of both bringing in required medical services and/or supplies, and/or permitting timely medical evacuations. Other infrastructure at such a post might also be inadequate. There might be a poor or negligible public health system, poor sanitation, unreliable electricity and a lack of potable water. There might also be infectious and communicable diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, rabies, encephalitis and gastrointestinal diseases. There might be no health unit at the post and next to no local medical facilities. The emergency room, for example, might be completely inadequate, without ventilators, defibrillators, x-ray capabilities, etc. There often would be no blood bank or medical supplies or medications available locally. Because of political instability, security could be a concern.

Candidates should be aware that these posts are not few in number nor confined to a specific geographic region. Also, there are numerous other posts — in Asia and Europe for example — where conditions appear similar to that of the U.S. but which also feature some of these restrictive characteristics.

As a result of these characteristics of a post, the stress level among employees might be very high. Given these concerns, the Department of State would only assign employees with unrestricted medical clearances to such posts (of which there are many), and is unable to hire new employees without such clearances.

While the candidate must be medically cleared for worldwide service, the Department of State does not consider the medical condition of eligible family members for pre-employment purposes. State does, however, require that each eligible family member have a medical clearance before they can travel overseas at U. S. Government expense when accompanying an employee on assignment.

Please note that employees with a family member who has been issued a limited medical clearance (not worldwide) may be assigned to posts where that family member cannot accompany them. We strongly advise candidates to consider this situation as they pursue employment with the Department of State.

On request, the Director General of the Foreign Service, or designee, may consider granting a waiver of the worldwide availability requirement for a candidate who is unable to qualify for a worldwide medical clearance. Candidates should be aware, however, that the granting of such waivers is rare.

For more information on medical clearances, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page, or visit the Forums.

Security ClearanceSubscribe to receive email updates

Candidates who pass the Oral Assessment must apply for the security clearance required for appointment to the Foreign Service. A comprehensive background investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies, will provide the information necessary to determine a candidate's suitability for appointment to the Foreign Service and for a Top Secret security clearance. The process considers such factors as: failure to repay a U.S. Government-guaranteed loan or meet tax obligations; failure to register for the Selective Service; past problems with credit or bankruptcy; unsatisfactory employment records; a criminal record or other violations of the law; drug or alcohol abuse; and less than honorable discharge from the armed forces.

Candidates who hold dual citizenship (pdf), have had extensive travel, education, residence and /or employment overseas, or who have foreign contacts, a foreign-born spouse, immediate family members or relatives who are not citizens of the United States, should be aware that the clearance process will take longer to complete. The background investigation includes interviews with current and previous contacts, supervisors and coworkers. Candidates who do not receive a security clearance are ineligible for appointment. Potential candidates who have any serious issues that may prevent them from receiving a clearance should give some thought to the likelihood of their being found ineligible before starting this process.

 

 
 
6. Final Review Panel


Upon completion of the background investigation, the candidate’s information will go before a Final Review Panel.

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Final Review Panel

Upon completion of the background investigation, a Final Review Panel will examine your completed file (except medical records) to determine your suitability for employment with the Foreign Service.

The attainment of U.S. foreign policy objectives depends substantially on the confidence of the public (both American and foreign) in the individuals selected to serve in the Foreign Service. The Department of State, therefore, requires the highest standards of conduct by employees of the Foreign Service, including an especially high degree of integrity, reliability, and prudence. Given the representational nature of employment in the Service, employees must observe proper standards at all times. The purpose of the Final Review is to determine, from the candidate's total record, whether the candidate is indeed suitable to represent the United States. The Final Review Panel has the authority to terminate a candidacy.

Individuals who have been found unqualified for employment by a Department of State Final Review Panel within the previous two years are ineligible to apply for a Foreign Service position (unless the individual was a candidate for a Special Agent position with the Diplomatic Security Service and the decision to deny eligibility was based on the candidate’s inability to fulfill the unique duties of that position).

In evaluating suitability, the Final Review Panel takes into consideration the following factors:

  • Misconduct or negligence in prior employment;
  • Poor or marginal job performance;
  • Criminal, dishonest, or disgraceful conduct, including a lack of financial responsibility;
  • An intentional and material false statement, deception, or fraud in the Foreign Service examination or appointment process;
  • Abuse of alcohol or other intoxicants that could affect your ability to perform the duties and responsibilities of the position;
  • Illegal use of narcotics, drugs, or other controlled substances;
  • Conduct that gives rise to reasonable doubt as to your loyalty to the U.S. Government; and
  • Conduct that clearly shows poor judgment or lack of discretion.

 

 
 
7. Register of Cleared Candidates


Once you have received a conditional offer of employment, what’s next?

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Register of Cleared Candidates

Candidates who have received a conditional offer of employment and who have successfully completed the security, medical and suitability stages will be placed on the Register in their specialty, and rank ordered by their overall assessment scores, including language bonuses/veterans’ preference points.

 

 
 
Veterans Preference


What information would you need if you are a veteran?

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Veterans Preference

Foreign Service Specialist candidates whose Oral Assessment is scored on a 1-7 point scale will receive the same bonus points as Foreign Service Officer candidates. For Specialist candidates whose Oral Assessment is scored on a 0-100 point scale will receive five or 10 points, respectively.

Foreign Service Officer candidates who can document creditable veterans' service by submitting form DD 214 will be given additional points on the Register: 0.175 for a five point standing and 0.35 for a 10 point standing.

In all cases these points are added after you pass the Oral Assessment. You will receive instructions on how to claim these points after the Oral Assessment.

 

 

 
 
Foreign Languages


While you are not required to know a foreign language, proficiency in a language will enhance your competitiveness on the register by giving you a slight increase in points.

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Foreign Languages

Effective November 2, 2012: Specialist candidates can receive .17 bonus points for all languages listed here (pdf) if they pass the Foreign Service Institute telephone language test at a speaking level 3 after passing the Oral Assessment. Candidates testing in the following eight languages need only a level 2 speaking ability (as measured on the telephone test) to obtain the .17 language bonus points: Arabic; Chinese (Mandarin); Hindi; Persian (Dari); Persian (Farsi); Pashto; Urdu; and Korean.

Candidates may test in more than one language but will receive bonus points in only one. They may also retest in the same language after at least six months. Language scores are valid for 18 months or the length of each candidacy initiated during the 18 month language score validity period.

Candidates whose specialist candidacy began prior to November 2, 2012 will be grandfathered under the previous policy (outlined below). If you also have a candidacy for a generalist position please review the language bonus points policy for generalists (FSOs). For information to help you assess your own speaking level, visit http://www.govtilr.org and click on "Speaking" under the skill level descriptions for a general description of the expected proficiency. The speaking self-assessment tool, available on the same site, will also help you estimate your language proficiency.

In addition, effective April 5, 2013, demonstrated proficiency by a specialist candidate in one of those eight priority recruitment languages can garner higher points (.38 or .25). To be eligible for the higher bump up points, candidates who pass the telephone test will then need to pass an in-person, two-hour speaking and reading test conducted at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia. Any costs associated with the in-person test (travel, time in Washington, etc.) are at the candidate’s expense. Those who achieve a minimum score of 3 speaking and 2 reading (S3/R2) will be eligible to receive a total of .38 bump-up points. Candidates who receive a rating of at least 2 speaking and 1 reading (S2/R1) but less than 3 speaking and 2 reading (S3/R2) will be eligible to receive a total of .25 bump-up points. Should the candidate not receive a score of S2/R1 or higher, s/he will retain the .17 points received by passing the telephone test. Language bump up points are granted for one language only. To receive the additional points candidates have to agree to serve one tour of their first two overseas assignments in a Language Designated Position (LDP) or in a country where the recruitment language is a primary language. Most candidates will need a country-specific security clearance before being granted the higher language points.

Candidates whose OA is scored on a 1-100 point scale will receive bump-up points as follows: .17 = 2.4, .25= 3.6, .38= 5.4.

For candidates whose specialist candidacy began prior to November 2, 2012

Effective January 1, 2012, the Foreign Service Institute will only offer phone tests in the languages listed here (pdf).

All passing scores in languages listed garner an additional .17 points. Those candidates with the following recruitment languages - Azerbaijani, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Pashto, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Singhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Turkish, Turkmen, Urdu, and Uzbek who pass an FSI telephone test earn a total of .40 points, while those with a passing score in Arabic based on a telephone test earn a total of .50 points.

You may take the phone test after you pass the Oral Assessment. The test results are valid for 18 months or for the life of your candidacy, whichever is longer. In addition, you may claim points in only one language but may test in a second language if you do not pass the test in the first language. For the phone test, an S-3 proficiency level is required for the following languages: Danish, Dutch, French, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. All other languages listed require an S-2 proficiency.

For information to help you assess your own speaking level, visit http://www.govtilr.org and click on "Speaking" under the skill level descriptions for a general description of the expected proficiency. The speaking self-assessment tool, available on the same site, will also help you estimate your language proficiency.

 

 
 
Candidates with Disabilities


Are there requirements for appointments to the Foreign Service that candidates must meet?

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Candidates with Disabilities

For qualified candidates who will require accommodation upon appointment, the Office of Employee Relations determines reasonable accommodations. To qualify, a candidate must meet all requirements for appointment to the Foreign Service.

 

 
 
Commitment to Foreign Service Work


Anyone applying to be a Foreign Service Specialist must be willing to accept the following three commitments of Foreign Service work: flexibility in assignments, public support of U.S. government policies and worldwide availability.