What It's Like to Work for the State Department: An Inside Look
Director, writer andproducer Steve Hoggard has traveled the world making more than 90 nonfiction films and series on subjects on topics like crime, history, archeology, and current events.
Even so, he told AOL Jobs that he's probably never been more amazed than when he and his crew traveled with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she ran the State Department, for a documentary called 'Inside the State Department,' currently airing on the National Geographic Channel.
Being on top of 60,000 employees and a $50 billion budget is one massive task, but she has a lot of help, and the State Department is always looking for more.
Hoggard says he didn't see any room for drones on the State Department staff. Everyone he came in contact with was a dedicated, hard worker. "It takes someone who wants to make the world a better place," he says. "And you also have to be a team player. From what I could tell, you must be super collaborative, but also super patient -- it is a bureaucracy."
However, the best, brightest and most successful State Department employees have exceptional interpersonal skills, according to Hoggard. "When you get down to it, diplomacy is built on human interaction, including egos, personality, how much I like you, whether you annoy me or make me feel insecure or comfortable," he says. "The reality is seeing how diplomacy works and how much depends on interpersonal interaction and chemistry in a room with two people.
Imagine if one meeting with a stranger could impact millions of people -- that's the kind of pressure Secretary Clinton is under."
Hoggard's documentary explored everything from what it's like to work on the incredibly thorough security team to one of the most curious jobs in the world: The State Department's Gift Vault Keeper. "Our crew met the man in charge of the gift vault," Hoggard says, "and filmed the gift preparation for the Islamabad-Morocco trip, including gifts for the king of Morocco and president of Pakistan. The vault includes some of the most interesting gifts, such as a signed pair of Shaquille O'Neil shoes that stretched from my waistline to my chin!"
The official word on State Department jobs
The U.S. Department of State's hiring website says "We begin our mission of diplomacy in Washington, D.C., where we hire Foreign Service, Civil Service and Student employees to work at our offices in the US and over 265 posts abroad." The US Department of State breaks down its employment opportunities into four categories:
1. Foreign Service Officer: The FSO helps formulate and regulate foreign policy. "An essential part of the frontline personnel at all US embassies, consolates and diplomatic missions, they will be found at more than 265 locations worldwide, as well as in Washington, D.C." Positions include Consular, Economic, Management, Political and Public Diplomacy Officers. You must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 20 years old and no older than 59, and be available for worldwide assignments, including Washington, D.C.
2. Foreign Service Specialist: As an FSS you would provide important technical, support or administrative services at and overseas post or in the Unites States. You would receive paid housing or a housing allowance, health and medical coverage, federal retirement benefits, paid education for dependent children between K-12 and generous paid leave. Jobs are grouped into seven major categories: Administration, Construction Engineering, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management, and Security.
3. Civil Service: People in Civil Service work within the states in positions as diverse as improving trade opportunities for U.S. businesses to helping American couples adopt children from overseas, to monitoring human rights issues, to providing management supervision. They receive domestic government wages and benefits.
4. Student Programs: These are meant to help students get work experience in a foreign affairs environment. There are programs for high school students as well as undergraduate and post graduate college students. They're designed to give experience in connecting with the global community, gaining insight into U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, exploring new career avenues and "most of all, acquiring lifelong skills as you represent America to the world."
If you want to work with the Big Cheese
Hoggard says that if you want to work directly with Clinton, an essential quality is youthful energy. "It is amazing to witness the hours worked by Secretary Clinton and her team. They are constantly on the go, working near 20 brutal hours a day and getting only a few hours of sleep," says Hoggard. "The pace they maintain is incredible to witness. Another surprise is how young her staff is, but it gives them the stamina to keep up with the secretary, who has an amazing energy reserve. Her staff calls her the 'Energizer Secretary.'"
His documentary also points out that it's essential to be flexible, especially if you want to be stationed overseas. Not everyone lives in elegant diplomatic apartments and embassies. Some State Department employees in third world and war torn countries live in small trailers, and have spotty utilities.
And of course, if you work for the State Department on any level, you'll have to get security clearance, which means an extensive background check. Even Hoggard and his crew had to undergo background checks before they could travel with Clinton, interview employees and shoot in various embassies across the globe.
Hoggard hopes his documentary will give people a better understanding and appreciation for what it's like to work for the State Department. "Not only will this film give viewers a VIP pass into the grueling schedules, meetings with dignitaries and travel of the State Department, but it will also shows the intense training it takes to be a part of the Foreign Service. During our filming, we visited the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) with Secretary Clinton, where Foreign Service Officers learn foreign language skills, role-play and receive cultural training." It's not for the faint of heart -- but few worthwhile jobs are.
Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want. Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets. Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.