Is the Foreign Service Right for You?

Joining the Foreign Service is a career opportunity of a lifetime, but it isn’t the right lifestyle for everyone. While some people might find the career challenging, exciting and rewarding, others will see it as a less-than-perfect match. The questions below will help you to determine if the Foreign Service is right for you.

The need to influence the rapid pace of world change requires more assignments to hardship posts where such change is occurring. Some of these positions are in danger or war zones and a good number involve sending officers without their families, who usually remain in the U.S. for the duration of the particular assignment. Hardship posts are those where living conditions are considered more difficult than in the United States. Climate, isolation, civil unrest, quality of local health care, crime rate, pollution levels, and availability of spousal employment opportunities are some of the factors considered in determining which locations are designated as hardship posts.

Employees serving at hardship posts receive a “hardship” differential of between 5 and 35 percent of salary, depending upon the severity of the hardship. For example, in 2013, Asuncion, Paraguay was a 10% hardship differential post; St. Petersburg, Russia was a 15% post; and Freetown, Sierra Leone was a 30% post. There is an additional increment of pay for service at a designated danger post. For example, Kabul, Afghanistan has 35% danger pay as well as a 35% hardship differential.

There are no right or wrong answers, but it is important for you to answer each question truthfully. After all, this is your career choice and you want it to be the right one. The results of the questionnaire will be tabulated into a bar chart for you. But remember, no chart will offer you 100 percent certainty as to whether a particular job is right or wrong for you. The U.S. Department of State does not record, retain or pass on the information obtained in this questionnaire. The results are for your information only.

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A career in the Foreign Service provides the most interesting work in the world and opportunities that few jobs can rival. Ask yourself, “Would I enjoy…”

1. Being a representative of the United States to businesses and governments worldwide? Yes No
2. Protecting America’s interests through lasting diplomatic efforts? Yes No
3. Having high levels of responsibility? Yes No
4. Working and interacting with very important and interesting people? Yes No
5. Working closely with foreign governments on issues of global importance (e.g., protecting peace, eliminating hunger, promoting free enterprise, etc.)? Yes No
6. Traveling frequently to foreign lands? Yes No
7. Meeting a wide range of people from many backgrounds and cultures? Yes No
8. Learning about and living in new and different cultures? Yes No
9. Knowing that the work I do has a direct impact on people? Yes No
10. Doing work that has long-term implications affecting the next several generations? Yes No
11. Working in an ever changing, challenging and exciting environment? Yes No
12. Having a long-term career of 20 years or more? Yes No
13. Working with peers and colleagues who are just as talented and motivated as I am? Yes No
14. Having excellent living accommodations abroad? Yes No
15. Having a career that is a way of life rather than just a job? Yes No
16. Working in a busy, lively environment? Yes No
17. Helping people to resolve their problems? Yes No
18. Having considerable autonomy in my work? Yes No
19. Hosting and attending representational events? Yes No
20. Resolving important issues with representatives of businesses and governments? Yes No


However, the fantastic features of Foreign Service careers also have downsides that can be unpleasant and stressful to some people. It is very important for your career satisfaction that the upsides outweigh the potential downsides. Before deciding that the Foreign Service is the ideal career for you, you should ask yourself, “Am I willing or able to…”

21. Live and work anywhere in the world, even in locations considered “hardship” posts?” [Note: This is an absolute requirement.] Yes No
22. Learn at least one, if not several, additional languages?” [Note: This is an absolute requirement.] Yes No
23. Change jobs and locations every 2 – 4 years?” [Note: This is an absolute requirement.] Yes No
24. Enthusiastically support and defend actions and policies with which I may personally disagree? Yes No
25. Live in locations where medical facilities are limited? Yes No
26. Excel under considerable time pressure? Yes No
27. Be comfortable working with important, high-level people? Yes No
28. Work long or unusual hours as necessary (e.g., hosting events, traveling, accommodating others’ time schedules, etc.)? Yes No
29. Interact with people who are very frustrated or angry with their situation? Yes No
30. Live without familiar amenities for extended periods? Yes No
31. Stay motivated even if I were assigned to locations or positions that I did not choose? Yes No
32. Tolerate situations where there may be chance of physical danger or health hazards? Yes No
33. Tolerate living in a location that does not have employment or quality educational opportunities for my family? Yes No
34. Enjoy spending two-thirds of the next 20 years living overseas? Yes No
35. Tolerate living in locations with very different or even harsh climates? Yes No
36. Calmly handle situations where there is pressure (or even conflict) from high-level people? Yes No
37. Work on projects with long timelines and undefined outcomes (as opposed to short, discrete tasks)? Yes No
38. Tolerate continual interruptions? Yes No
39. Repeatedly get people out of problems that they got themselves into? Yes No
40. Live in areas where there are few other Americans? Yes No

YOUR RESULTS: This chart lets you see how your enthusiasm for the opportunities provided by a Foreign Service career compares to your ability to tolerate the potential drawbacks. When reviewing your score, you need to weigh both categories and make a decision as to if the Foreign Service is right for you. Again, this is only a guide and the final decision to proceed further in the hiring process is up to you.

Score Key

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