I Want to Be a Diplomat
September 19, 2006 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I am Canadian, and my dream is to work in International Diplomacy. For various reasons, I don't think I would have much future in the Canadian Foriegn Service - does anyone know how I could get work in a mission for some other country?

I am a unilingual anglophone and this limits my job prospects with the federal government, I do speak some French but at my age I don't think I will ever be able to speak fluent, unaccented French like so many other Canadians can. Also the starting salary for someone in the Canadian Foriegn Service is quite low and tends to favour youth, and recent graduates.

Otherwise, I think I am a useful guy. I have a degree in History. I could probably be considered a "computer expert", and have a diploma in Business. I've been on International Development Projects in South Africa and Vietnam and received the training for these assignments.

I could see how I would be useful to a developing country.

I don't know of any other countries I qualify for citzenship for, although I believe Canadians can establish residence in some former British posessions in the Carribean. Anyone know anything about this? I am willing to obtain a graduate degree if necessary, and of course move. Anybody have any ideas if I can find a way to enter the field of diplomacy?
posted by Deep Dish to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I knew the former german consul general to los angeles who used to tell me more than once about the ridiculously tough entrance exam he had to pass in order to become a diplomat.

he had been a quite renowned history professor and felt that in spite of his background he had been nothing short of lucky to have made it past the test. the most difficult requirement of them all according to him was the demand of proficiency in no less than five languages.

granted, this doesn't mean anything for you as a canadian. but I felt like sharing with you that you do not have to become a career diplomat in order to be appointed to a diplomatic position later in life.
posted by krautland at 8:45 PM on September 19, 2006

It depends what you mean by the field of diplomacy.

If you just want to work at an embassy/mission/etc, you can be hired as "locally engaged staff". Roles performed by LES include accountants, personnel officers, research officers, consular and passport assistants, office managers, translators, receptionists, visits officers and drivers (at least, this is the case for such staff at Australian embassies). These pay at local wage rates with no allowance for relocation (and you need to be able to get a visa to work there - and they may not provide assistance to do so). You may like to look at the positions available in the embassies in Ottawa, eg see here for positions available at the Australian High Commission in Ottawa. As you can see, there is a position there for Consular Officer with the duties of providing consular assistance to Australians in Canada, as well as assisting the Consul General with public diplomacy and the management of high profile events/VIP visits.

Sometimes there are "locally engaged" positions which are closer to what I think of when you say 'international diplomacy'; for example, there was recently a position advertised at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok for a Political and Economic Analyst (no longer online). You didn't have to be Australian, but you did need to be able to get an Australian security clearance to a particular level (for example, this position as a Consular Officer (Passports) at the Australian Embassy in Washington describes the security requirements as: This position is a designated security assessed position. "Applicants must be Australian, British, Canadian or New Zealand citizens and not a dual national of the USA to be eligible for engagement."

You'll probably find these positions by trawling through the websites of all the embassies. But if you don't like the starting salary for the Canadian Foreign Service, I don't think you'll really go for these positions.

If you are interested in a more broad sense in international relations, you might consider other government agencies which often post staff overseas. For example the intelligence services. I can't comment on the situation with the Canadian agencies, but the Australian one pays at least $10,000/year more than the Foreign Affairs department for entry level staff, AND they are planning/in the process of increasing staff levels by 80%. Other government agencies are those involved in immigration, trade, law enforcement, aid and development. Although I suppose in Canada, you may again hit the wall regarding the bilingual thing.

If you are interested in becoming involved in diplomacy in the sense that you want to be posted to embassies with diplomatic privileges and be able to become an ambassador or be part of a team sent to the UN on behalf of a country etc, you will need to join a foreign service and as you've pointed out, that will generally require citizenship. And their foreign service is not necessarily going to pay much more than the Canadian one at the bottom level. Or be very exciting - eg how many embassies do these small Caribbean nations have?! If this is truly what you want to do, then I'd suggest that rather than spend years trying to get citizenship somewhere else with the hope of being admitted to their foreign service (and if it is somewhere comparable to Canada, is likely to be just as competitive), you spend the time brushing up on your French, perhaps getting some grad qualifications in a relevant field and coming to terms with taking a pay cut.

The Australian department seems to be doing more lateral hiring these days, this may or may not be a trend for the Canadian department (but again, that bilingual thing?). For example, they have recently advertised for Foreign/Trade Policy generalists, are currently advertising for people to work in the Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office. Getting a position this way would depend on you developing some sort of relevant experience.

If you are interested, and have experience in development (not quite clear what you were doing on these), you can certainly pursue a career in this area - but I wouldn't describe it as diplomacy (although it is basically the implementation of foreign policy). This broadens the employers you could work for to include non-government organisations and businesses involved in implementing development projects. Have a look at who has won Canadian government contracts to implement these projects. See what sort of jobs they are offering up.

What about academia? This would allow you to spend a lot of time analysing diplomacy and international relations, if you become an expert in your field, you may well be of use to the government in a consultant capacity, or give yourself the skills for the lateral hire positions.

That's my long 2-cents on it.

Or I suppose you can become wildly renowned in some way that means the government will give you an ambassadorship through a political appointment, but I wouldn't bet on that one!
posted by AnnaRat at 8:49 PM on September 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Think about what you want to do first, you mention "would be useful to a developing country", sorry to dissapoint, but the first priority of embassies is to represent their country abroad, not serve the interests of the countries they are in. Think about what you are interested in- diplomacy, or development work. For the first I suspect nationality will be more of an issue, for development work not so much, however you will likely need to do a degree for both. If it is development you are interested in check out www.vso.org.uk or www.unv.org. Both recruit for overseas assignments.
posted by MrC at 8:53 PM on September 19, 2006

What is it that you actually want to do at your job? What does your "dream" actually look like? Do you want to write treaties and international agreements? Sit around in meetings with heads of state all day negotiating the nitpicky details of those agreements? Craft policies about how much foreign aid should be given by rich countries and how poor countries should spend said aid? Convince the rich that they should give to the poor? Help ensure that aid actually gets to the people it was meant to help?

There are lots of nongovernmental organizations that do all of those things all over the world, and I think that if you can be more specific with us about what you want your job to look like, we can give you some good advice about how to proceed.
posted by Amy Phillips at 9:09 PM on September 19, 2006

Response by poster: Okay I can provide more information.

First I used to be an International Development worker, so I understand the distinction between diplomacy and development. MrC mentioned VSO, and I am very familiar with that organization. NGO work is very good, noble and worthwhile - I met some of the finest people of my life while working in the NGO field. While I feel these positions are very good, they are rather limited in number, tend to be staffed in-country, and poorly paid with no retirement benefits, or unemployment insurance. After my last NGO posting I came home broke, and unable to find new work for several months - I very nearly went bankrupt, and I vowed this would never happen happen again. I suppose there may be a suitable NGO position, but I think I need more financial security than most NGO posts offer. I attended the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development as a delegate though NGO work, and that was one of the high points of my life.

A lot about Diplomacy interests me, I like to research countries, people and cultures so I would love to gather intelligence, I have worked with several large corporations and I would love to be a deal-maker between businesses, I also find treaties and agreements completely fascinating. I'd like to protect expats. All these areas appeal to me, and I would happy in any of them.

I've considered a few ways of entering this field. First I explored this program I found online. but the tuition is something like 27K (USD) - (Canadian schools are way cheaper) and I don't know anything about the university.

I then considered the Canadian Forces, and trying to attend Royal Military College - studying something related, try to work through ranks in a field like intelligence, and then try to apply my military training to civillian world in the foriegn service. This would also solve my language problem. I then talked to a Captain and a Major I know. They advised me that all Canadian soldiers train as infantry first (in case you have to say defend your post), and that you don't necessarily carry out your specialized function and that even a theoretical intelligence unit, could be out in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban which is highly unsafe. I am also a bit old to train as a soldier.

Now regarding the remark I made on helping developing countries - I mean that I could be more useful to the foriegn service of a developing country - I have heard that some diplomatic posts, such as the ones in the High Commission of Zimbabwe are harder to fill. I then made the leap of logic, that it might be easier to get into the foriegn service of another country altogether. This option also allows me to slip back into the corporate world easily if things go badly.

I am willing to work and study, and I am willing to travel. I also really want to be a part of this world. I am going to follow up on the Australia / New Zealand angle, that seems like a good lead.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:22 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

What AnnaRat said.

I know several people who work for Western foreign services. If you're Canadian, you'll pretty much have to work for the Canadian foreign service.
posted by TrashyRambo at 4:01 AM on September 20, 2006

The Locally Engaged Staff gig is definately one of the ways to work in Canadian Embassies and High Commissions. The problem is that you need to have a working visa for the country that you want to work in. I know that in London the High Commission has LES working in trade related positions but I'm not sure if there are any such positions for the Political side of things.

Write the Foreign Service Exam and see what happens. With your previous NGO skills it might be of interest to the department.

Another option would be to look at working in CIDA, which would have a small diplomacy aspect to it.
posted by smcniven at 7:23 AM on September 20, 2006

Also, the bilingualism aspect may not be such a hassle. You would be sent on language training to achieve the required levels (this could be as long as 1 year, covered by your employer). The key if you are a manager is that you must be able to communicate effectively with any of your subordinates who prefer to work in French.

I work at DFAIT (and am heading out on posting in 2 weeks) and have a history degree as well. I'm not actually working in any of the political or trade areas (I'm going over to support the IT infrastructure) but I have worked in the trade side (and a bit on the political side as well) prior to switching to the IT group.
posted by smcniven at 9:15 AM on September 20, 2006

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