Diplomat in Residence for Central South J. Nathan Bland (far right) hosted former Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch (second from right) for a virtual recruitment event broadcast from Bland’s host institution, Tulane University. Tulane’s Assistant Dean Eddy Cruz (far left), and Senior Associate Dean Amjad Ayoubi (second from left) both participated in the event. Photo courtesy of J. Nathan Bland
By Yolonda Kerney
The Foreign Service is relatively well known as the leading force in U.S. diplomacy, advancing America’s foreign policy interests worldwide. But the path to joining the Foreign Service remains a mystery to most Americans, as do the wide range of career opportunities available within the Department of State. To broaden public understanding of Department careers and encourage talented individuals from diverse backgrounds to apply for opportunities within the Department’s workforce—including fellowships and internships—Department recruiters are hard at work engaging audiences, cultivating candidates, and building a pipeline into the Foreign Service and Civil Service.
The Recruitment Division is part of the Office of Talent Acquisition (TAC) in the Bureau of Global Talent Management which is led by a senior Foreign Service director and a Civil Service deputy. The Recruitment Division consists of a Washington-based team of eight national recruiters with thematic portfolios, 16 Diplomats in Residence with regional responsibilities based at academic institutions throughout the country—including seven at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions—as well as a small marketing team and a nascent sourcing unit targeting professionals with relevant qualifications.
TAC is at the center of the Department’s effort to meet critical staffing needs, enhance the diversity of the Department’s workforce, and attract the next generation of diplomats and foreign affairs professionals to advance American interests across the globe. TAC employs a modern approach to recruitment, embracing private sector best practices and making use of the latest technology. This allowed talent acquisition to continue uninterrupted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, in both fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the Department hired above its initial authorized hiring numbers and expanded flagship fellowship and internship programs critical to recruiting a diverse, talented workforce.
For many U.S. citizens seeking employment with the Department, a TAC recruiter is their first point of contact. TAC recruiters develop targeted recruitment strategies to reach potential candidates, particularly those from under-represented communities. They cultivate contacts in academic institutions and professional organizations and host outreach and recruitment events at the national and regional levels to enhance awareness of and interest in Department student programs and career opportunities.
TAC recruiters also counsel and mentor individuals interested in joining the Department. Diplomats in residence (DIR) take time each week to conduct one-on-one consultations with interested Foreign Service candidates, meet with families who want to understand overseas life, and answer email inquiries. Frequently, candidates stay in touch with recruiters throughout the application process, sharing hurdles overcome and milestones met. Most people who join the Foreign Service apply more than once before successfully entering. The recruiter’s encouragement helps ensure good candidates stick with it.
“Our relationships with candidates can last years and span multiple diplomats in residence and recruiters,” said Recruitment Division Director Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm. “As DIR Northwest, I often spoke to people preparing for their oral assessment who originally learned about the Foreign Service from two DIRs before me when they were students. Maybe that DIR encouraged them to apply for an internship and my predecessor encouraged them to apply for a vacancy. My job was to keep them interested and remind them, during the long application path, why the Foreign Service excited them.”
During the pandemic, the Recruitment Division successfully transitioned all in-person recruitment efforts to a virtual environment, opening new opportunities to reach candidates where modern job seekers look for employment—online. Virtual career fairs, recruitment webinars, and one-on-one video chats are now the norm. Especially popular are the national FS 101 sessions, the FSOT overviews, and frequent Facebook Live events featuring a wide range of Foreign Service generalists and specialists and Civil Service employees. In November 2021, the Recruitment Division hosted the first Department virtual career fair dedicated exclusively to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and how to improve diversity in those fields. It included briefings and participation by multiple Department bureaus and offices whose work includes STEM fields. The Recruitment Division will continue to hold dedicated virtual career fairs in the coming year.
The Recruitment Division’s 25 career-specific social media channels, the Department’s overall careers.state.gov website, and the DOSCareers mobile app, all grew in 2020; the website alone saw a 916 percent increase in visitors from 2019. In 2020, the Recruitment Division started an aggressive marketing plan using LinkedIn and other professional networking sites to directly reach out to highly skilled potential candidates online. The Department’s LinkedIn site has more than 500,000 followers.
TAC recruiters engage both students and professionals, but every fall, interest in the Department’s internships and fellowships drives up appointments by students. Every year, TAC’s Office of Student Programs introduces thousands of young people to potential careers at the Department through unpaid student internships, the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program (USFSIP), and the three diplomatic fellowships leading to Foreign Service employment: Pickering, Rangel, and the Foreign Affairs IT (FAIT) Fellowships.
Throughout the pandemic, the Student Programs Division worked closely with the Department’s embassies and consulates overseas to convert in-person internships to virtual experiences, placing more than 4,300 interns. Beginning in 2020, TAC doubled the size of the two-year USFSIP, a merit- and needs-based program for undergraduate juniors and seniors, from 20 to 40 students each year. In 2020, the Department also increased the size of both the Pickering and Rangel programs from 30 to 45 each (90 total), and tripled the size of the FAIT Fellowship from five to 15 Fellows per year.
These programs continue to have a significant impact on the Department’s diversity goals. More than 30 percent of USFSIP interns go on to become Department employees, while more than 10 percent of active Foreign Service employees are alumni of the Pickering, Rangel, and FAIT fellowships.
At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken committed to “building a diplomatic corps that fully represents America in all its talent and in all its diversity.” Just a few weeks later, this pledge became a presidential directive in the Biden Administration’s third National Security Memorandum. The TAC team takes seriously its leading role in the Department’s efforts to build a diplomatic workforce that reflects America’s diversity.
This is why the Recruitment Division works closely with other bureaus that maintain separate recruitment teams—Diplomatic Security, Information Resource Management, Overseas Buildings Operations, and Medical Services. To spur collaboration and coordination of recruitment activities across bureaus, TAC also chairs a Recruitment Consortium and participates in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs’ Monthly Domestic Outreach Coordinators Meeting to ensure public engagement opportunities fully embrace recruiting potential.
In January 2021, TAC launched the Volunteer Recruiter Corps to be more inclusive in its efforts to build a diverse workforce. To date, nearly 500 Department Foreign Service and Civil Service employees—more than half of whom are active members of employee affinity groups—enrolled and participated in more than 100 virtual recruitment events around the country. Stationed abroad and domestically, Department volunteers have ties to all 50 states and several U.S. territories.
The Recruitment Division encourages all employees to share their paths to the Department and their experiences within the Department with others. Every conversation is a potential recruiting opportunity, and TAC is ready to assist all who are interested in a career with the Department. The careers.state.gov website is full of useful information and is an easy way for candidates to join recruitment events, sign-up for more information, and reach the Diplomats in Residence.
Yolonda Kerney is the diplomat in residence for the D.C. Metro area (recruiting through D.C., Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia).