Have a passport you want to fill? Want to put your top-secret security clearance to work, continue to serve your country, not ready to settle down and join corporate American? There’s a career path that may be a perfect fit.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security — the arm of the U.S. Department of State tasked with securing diplomacy — is actively seeking veterans to fill overseas positions. The bureau currently has numerous open specialist slots, and qualified applicants are in demand.
“You get to travel the world on the government’s dime,” said Angela French, deputy director of public affairs for the Diplomatic Security Service. “If you still have that restlessness in you, this is the job.”
Foreign Service Specialists include security engineer officers, security technical specialists, and diplomatic couriers, all who are often posted overseas on their first assignment. Special agents have a different path but are frequently posted to overseas missions in their first two years.
The bureau, which has the most extensive global reach of any U.S. federal law enforcement agency is located in 180 countries and more than 275 cities around the world. They also have field offices in 33 U.S. cities.
The benefits of working as a Foreign Service Specialist may outweigh what some might perceive as a moderate starting salary, which ranges from $52,000 to $84,000 according to the USAJobs federal employment website. Perks include worldwide travel for you and your family, comfortable housing, as well as top-rated international schooling for children, student loan repayment, and employment opportunities in embassies and consulates for spouses and qualified dependents.
The DSS currently employs 2,500 special agents, diplomatic couriers, security technical specialists, and security engineering officers across the globe. Careers in the DSS run the gamut from security techs, which is currently the bureau’s most significant recruiting demand, and the elusive position of the diplomatic courier, where they only hire two new bodies a year.
Educational requirements differ by field
Positions currently available span educational backgrounds ranging from high school equivalency to specific degrees in engineering and physics. Recruitment requires that applicants be at least 20 years old to become a Foreign Service Specialist; this includes careers as a special agent, security engineering officer, security technical specialist, and diplomatic courier.
Security technical specialists must have a high school diploma or equivalent plus two years of experience. A four-year degree is required to become a DSS special agent or security engineering officer, while diplomatic couriers must have an associate degree or 60 credit hours from an accredited college or university by the time of appointment.
“Slots we definitely need are security technical specialists,” said French. “If they qualify, they’re getting hired immediately. Engineers are also in high demand.”
For special agents and security engineering officer applicants, they must have the college degree in hand by the time they apply,” said Supervisory Special Agent Kala Bokelman, DSS recruitment unit. “That means if you are graduating on February 1, but the position closes on January 31, you do not meet the basic requirements, and your application will not be considered.”
The Foreign Service Specialist selection and hiring process includes an oral interview, a written test, and security clearance. The path begins with an application, followed by the selection process, and then assignment to an orientation course that marks the beginning of a career with the DSS.
It takes anywhere from a year to eighteen months to complete the hiring process. The time is dependent on the individual and the career slot. For example, security clearances may take less time for younger candidates.
Active-duty personnel can begin early by planning and studying to take the Foreign Service Exam before they separate. Be advised, it’s not easy, and almost no one passes the first time. A career at DSS requires tenacity to get on board. It also requires a plan for the interim period before employment begins. The selection process is complex to some, but it’s laid out clearly in in seven steps.
The DSS also places a strong emphasis on what they refer to as the 12 dimensions, the criteria for all Foreign Service Specialist candidates.
Language skills are considered a bonus, but no particular language familiarity is required. Like the military, the DSS administers language proficiency tests and Specialists required to speak a specific language or dialect attend the Foreign Service Institute for a year of school in Arlington, Virginia.
Age requirements and veteran’s waivers
The age limit for special agent recruits is 37. However, older eligible veterans can still apply as long as they are able to pass the physical test and maintained the applicable security clearances.
“Eligible military veterans can apply up to the age of 60 years old,” said Bokleman. “That’s the cap for anyone entering the Foreign Service.”
All those seeking a career as a DSS special agent must first serve 2 years in a US field office before bidding on an overseas diplomatic post. However, Bokelman says DSS special agents can still be assigned temporary overseas assignments during their first two years, such as supporting security at the Olympics or working a protective detail for a senior State Department official
“The special agent vacancy is open now for one week only,” said Bokelman. “We hope to open up this vacancy again toward the end of 2022. Within a couple of years, you could be living and working in London, Rio de Janeiro, Pretoria, Istanbul, Prague.”