What is a FSO

LIFE IN THE FOREIGN SERVICE

What is a FSO

When most people hear of a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), they immediately think of diplomats attending rich parties or performing high level meetings.  However, in most situations, this isn’t the case.  The life of a FSO is multifaceted.  Their jobs can range from assignments in working deals with local businesses in Kabul to promoting human rights in Sri Lanka or even handling custody cases at a consulate.  To fully understand the job of a FSO, you must understand their lifestyle, their career path and even their selection process. This article hopes to provide you with the basic information on what a FSO is and give you a quick overview of the process to become one.   

A FSO is a direct representative of the U.S. State Department and represents the interests of the US government in foreign relations.  They are spread throughout 265 embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions to include congress, combatant commands and institutions of education.  As defined by the State Department, the mission of a FSO is to “promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.”  They should have proven leadership skills, relevant overseas experience, and solid team-building and interpersonal skills.


Because of the nature of the job, a FSO must be willing and able to serve anywhere in the world.  Certain missions in the world can be very taxing, requiring great sacrifice.  Some locations are in a warlike state and are therefore unsafe for family.  Some locations have specific cultural and or legal stipulation that may require a FSO to change their way of living.  However, regardless of the challenge presented in the particular job, the FSO must take it and always remember, that they represent the U.S. government at all times.   

To become a FSO, is no small task.  You must first take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT).  This test covers a vast amount of topics to include history, politics, geography, international relations, English, etc.  Although you may have a strong background in this level of education, only 21% on average pass this test.  If you would like to experience what this test is like, you can take our free online FSOT Practice Test. 

If you pass the FSOT, you will have to submit a personal narrative and pass a Qualification Evaluation Panel (QEP) and those that pass the QEP will still have to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA). 




Even if you pass all three of the above evaluations, you are still not guaranteed an FSO job.  Instead, you are given an overall score and listed in a registry.  Those with the highest scores are listed on the top and those with the lowest scores are on the bottom.  Then when there are openings for FSO jobs, those ranked in the top positions are taken first.  Your name will remain in the registry for 1.5 years and if in that time you are not selected, then your name will be removed and you will have to take the three evaluations again. 

Each step in the process is extremely difficult and requires the utmost in preparations.  In 2004, only 4% of those that applied passed all exams and were entered in to the FSO register.  However, even though that 4% entered the registry, only half of those entered actually got a job. 

As you can see, the job of a FSO is not only demanding but also very selective.  Because of a FSO mission and responsibilities, the U.S. government can ill afford to have unqualified personnel fill the positions.  The FSO must well rounded in their knowledge, have proven leadership skills and display a manner that promotes the interests of the U.S.  Although challenging, the job of a FSO is very rewarding. 

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