Jobs and hiring at U.S. embassies
People often ask me how to get a job at the U.S. embassy as a diplomat or local hire. I covered the types of Embassy jobs for Americans there are in a blogpost already and now I’ll do my best to cover the other part: which kinds of positions there are for local hires, where to find job listings, and how the hiring process generally works.
Positions in the embassy
Many people don’t realize that the vast majority of the staff at U.S. embassies is locally hired support staff. There are lots of different sections and units in an embassy or consulate (unless it’s a tiny one) working on different topics, including the political and economic sections, health unit, char force, security force, travel and shipping office, consular section, IT department, language instruction, and more.
Here are the job categories that typically exist in medium- to large size missions:
Cleaning (sometimes through local contractor)
Consular services (passports, visas)
Culture and educational exchanges
Economic and commercial sections
Facilities (electricians, gardeners, mechanics)
Finance and cashiering
Information Technology (IT)
Note that all embassies and consulates are organized a little bit differently and not all of these jobs are available in each mission. Also, sometimes staff is employed by a contracting company, not directly by the embassy, for example the char force and language instructors.
Levels and grades
Many local positions at an embassy follow a framework regarding job titles and grades. How many people are hired at each level depends on the size and need of each mission. All positions are supervised by U.S. officers, although some local positions are also supervisory positions.
Specialists typically have the highest rank among locally hired staff. These positions (commercial specialist, cultural specialist, etc.) require relatively high educational qualifications and significant work experience. This is often a supervisory position, especially in bigger missions.
Assistants are one step below specialists, have a lower pay grade, and require less in terms of prior education and work experience.
Administrative assistants don’t require topic-specific education or work experience but general administrative skills.
There are plenty of other local jobs that don’t fit within neatly this framework, usually because they are more skills-based, like nurse, mechanic, or language instructor.
The qualifications required regarding education, work experience, and technical expertise are different for each job. How highly qualified you have to be may also depend on the level of local competition. However, there are some requirements each new hire has to meet:
Nationality: actually, nationality doesn’t matter. You don’t have to have the local nationality, but you do need a work permit. Every embassy has workers with a range of nationalities, including Americans and nationals from the host country, neighboring countries, and other English speaking countries.
Language: each position comes with its own language requirement. For jobs that require English writing and lots of interaction with Americans, good English is typically required§ 1. For other jobs, for example in maintenance or cleaning, minimal English is needed. Often a good command of the local language is required.
Background checks: each new hire has to undergo a background check that includes security checks, interviews, and filling out lots of forms. Depending on your background (if you have financial issues or criminal behavior in your past, or lived in other countries) this process can take several months.
The hiring process is increasingly done online through the Electronic Recruitment Application (ERA). Vacancies are listed on each embassy’s or consulate’s website. For example, in Germany you can find the vacancies on ERA here.
Applications typically must include an electronic application form and additional documents (identification, diplomas and transcripts, work permits if relevant, etc.). These submissions are sent to HR, who screens them to determine if the applicant is qualified to apply for the job.
All or perhaps a selection of the most qualified applicants are invited to the embassy or consulate for a job interview. To ensure fairness, interviews are typically conducted by a panel that ideally includes the supervisor, a representative from HR, and at least one other person.
Many local hires at embassies hear about job openings through friends and family, and sometimes multiple people from one family work at an embassy. However, friends and family are not allowed to supervise each other in order to avoid any (appearance of) nepotism. So if your father is a press specialist, for example, you probably won’t be hired to become a press assistant.
Ultimately, the hiring of successful candidates can only proceed if they are able to pass all the required security and medical checks. For most people this is not a problem, but it can take a lot of time (like 3-6 months). Also, if you were hiding something about your past it’s likely to come out during this process, and it won’t bode well for your candidacy.
Certain job vacancies show the hiring preference order. For example, sometimes internal candidates are preferred because they already have a security clearance. Or U.S. family members of diplomats are preferred because they have few job opportunities on the local market. U.S. law also dictates that U.S. veterans have hiring preference over others.
Disclaimer: I'm not an official source on this information and everything I'm writing is in my personal capacity. For official information on working at U.S. embassies check their websites or visit careers.state.gov.