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Working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

foreign office coat of armsA career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could take you to the heart of government – and across the world. Read on to find out more.

What is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is the government department responsible for foreign policy and representing Britain abroad. Their work focuses on areas like:

  • helping British citizens abroad
  • promoting British business and trade agreements
  • protecting Britain’s security
  • working with organisations like the EU, United Nations and NATO

The FCO’s head office is in London, but they also operate embassies and consulates in over 170 other countries. Depending on the role, a career with the FCO could involve lots of travel, so although good language skills aren’t essential, fluency in at least one other language will be a big plus if you want to work for them.

What jobs are available?

FCO staff are either specialists or generalists. Specialists advise the government on specific issues like law, economics or security, and will have previous experience in that area. Specialist staff also include research analysts, who are assigned to gather and analyse data from certain countries or regions such as East Africa. Research analysts normally need a postgraduate qualification in modern languages or a related subject.

Generalist staff cover a wider range of roles, both at home and abroad, and are recruited at three main levels:

  • Administrative assistants are part of the home civil service, meaning they only work in the UK. They include secretaries and other office staff. Administrative assistants need good IT and organisational skills, and at least two GCSEs.
  • Executive assistants are part of the diplomatic service, which means that they work both in the UK and abroad. Executive assistants normally spend two years in London before being posted abroad. Some executive assistants are ‘floaters’, which means that they are posted to different places when they are needed, for example to help with responding to a natural disaster. Like administrative assistants, executive assistants are often office-based, so need good organisational skills, and a foreign language is sometimes required, as well as at least five GCSEs.
  • Policy entrants are also members of the diplomatic service, and are responsible for creating and carrying out Britain’s foreign policy. They normally spend two years in London studying international relations, security and human rights, before moving to a managerial or diplomatic role in a British consulate or embassy overseas. Policy entrants are recruited through the Civil Service fast stream recruitment programme, and need a degree and normally at least one other language.

How do I apply?

Vacancies for administrative and executive assistants are advertised on the FCO website and sometimes in the national press, where you can find out more about the specific entry requirements for each job. People interested in becoming Policy Entrants should visit the Civil Service fast stream recruitment website for more information.

As part of the application process, all permanent staff need to pass National Security vetting before being offered a job.

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