How I Got This Job: Foreign Service Officer


Caroline Savage is a career Foreign Service Officer who served most recently as Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Center.

As a non-resident fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, her focus is diverse diplomacy leadership in foreign affairs, a project she began during her tenure as Virginia and Dean Rusk Fellow at ISD from 2018-2019.Prior to Georgetown, she served as Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassies Azerbaijan and Mozambique. In Washington assignments, she was Director for Russia and Central Asia on the National Security Council and Political-Military Officer in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Russian Affairs. She also served previously in Belarus and Luxembourg. A native of Wisconsin, she graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, then received master’s degrees in Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her languages are French, Russian, Portuguese and Azerbaijani. She is currently in Kazakh language training for her next job as Consul General in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this summer.

Line of Work / Career Journey

The foreign service generalist track houses specialties in political, economic, public diplomacy management and consular cones. The traditional path is you sign up to be a Foreign Service Generalist, and you’re typically sent overseas to begin your career at one of the 270+ embassies or consulates around the world. The work you’ll be doing involves representing U.S. interests abroad, putting a human face on American interests and policy, and forging relationships with local people.

Savage spoke about her first two years on the job and the time she spent overseas in Luxembourg. She reflected on the large workload and political portfolio she managed, as well as the meetings and issues she tackled while there. Savage explained the series of tests one must take to get their foot in the door to do foreign service. After she passed her tests, there was still a long process to receive her health and security clearance, during which she completed her Master’s. As an undergrad, Savage studied abroad in Russia, taught, and secured as many internships as she could. Her main goal was to gain as much experience as she could in whatever form it was available to her.

Application and Hiring Process

The big components are the written exam and the qualitative evaluation panel to basically look at your resume and your written products and decide whether you’re invited to the oral exam. Therefore, the written and oral exam are the big components. If you pass those, then you have to go through the process of receiving your health and security clearance, which can take several years.

Skills / Experience / Advice

  • If you’re interested in joining the foreign service, take the written test sooner rather than later, because you may have a couple years, like I did, between taking the test and actually starting the career.
  • Be aware, engaged, and informed about what’s happening in the world.
  • Re-read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so you know which amendments are which.
  • Sharpen your oral and written communication skills – be concise, clear, and compelling in your writing.
  • Be able to distinguish yourself professionally and experientially from other applicants in the oral exam and group sessions (leadership and collaboration skills).
  • Take practice exams, gain experience with local organizations such as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, network with industry professionals in the Midwest.
  • If you don’t pass the Foreign Service Exam the first time, it’s no big deal. Savage knew several people who passed the 5th time or the 8th time

Websites and Resources