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FS Career tracks: best & worst

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Of the five career tracks within the general Foreign Service I chose consular because I realized it was my best chance of never being bored during the workday and always feeling satisfied with having done a good day's work by helping people out.

But I considered the political career track too because that's where I worked twice; I've also worked in one economic section and a management section; and my husband works in the public diplomacy section. So I have a pretty good idea what I like and dislike about the different career tracks. If I boiled down the pros and cons of working in each track, for me personally, it looks like this:


Best: when you and your team helped out a whole bunch of people that day with urgent and meaningful things like getting emergency travel documents or solving complicated issues around obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Worst: when you interview a hundred people a day and have to tell half of them they don’t qualify for a visa and aren't going to the United States any time soon.


Best: when you coordinated another embassy event that went off without a hitch and everyone praises you because without you, and the two hundred people you manage, nothing gets done around the embassy

Worst: someone complains about something annoying you have to fix: diplomats who don’t like their assigned housing, employees who are squabbling and need HR to step in, some pipe that broke in the ambassador’s residence, one of the armored cars that won’t start and can’t be serviced locally, the cafeteria that needs a new vendor, and so on.


Best: like, you just facilitated a 200 million dollar trade deal, with Coca Cola, or Google, or some unknown but massive mining company that will have a big positive impact on the U.S. economy and an ever bigger one on the bilateral relationship.

Worst: you work in a country with so little economic development and so much corruption that no American companies are interested in investing. Your manager asks you to make a list of companies working in a certain sector from what looks like a phonebook to present it to any American company asking for information, even though nobody is asking... yet.


Best: when you write a cable to Washington about an important issue, like the human rights situation in Burma or a regime change in Egypt, that your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss (aka the Secretary of State) finds interesting and uses to inform U.S. posture or policy.

Worst: when you have to show up at the airport in your a suit at 3 AM only to support another visiting congressional delegation with getting their luggage to the hotel.

Public diplomacy

Best: when the countries’ cultural elite knows you and sends you invitations to attend and speak at inspiring educational and cultural events.

Worst: when you’re in charge of the ambassador’s social media accounts and spend half your day composing and sending Tweets.

Want to know more about a career with the State Department? Check out or check it out on social media @DOSCareers


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Kate Gaughan
Kate Gaughan
Dec 08, 2021

Hi! Love your blog. Thank you for sharing all of this information! I wanted to get your opinion: is it still possible to become an FSO without an IR background? I’m a litigator with experience working for the federal courts, but I’ve never taken an IR class in my life. I’m (also) most interested in the consular path, as it involves helping folks navigate US legal channels. Thanks for your time!

Kate Gaughan
Kate Gaughan
Dec 10, 2021
Replying to

Thank you so much for getting back to me! That definitely helps. My husband and I (both practicing lawyers for 3 years now) are interested in applying to be FSOs: he has a JD and an MA in IR; I’m just a JD. He’s a big tax/environmental nerd and is interested in the economics track. We’d love to hear any additional advice you have regarding navigating the application process, the early parts of our careers, and family life. Would also love to hear from your fellow litigator friends if you don’t mind putting us in contact with them! I look forward to reading more of your blog posts!

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