A Day in the Life: Recruiting the Next Generation of Diplomats

My career has come full circle. It all started when I was sitting in a business class wrapping up my Masters at Florida International University. My professor began talking about potential career paths and briefly mentioned some exciting opportunities in the Foreign Service. As a business major, I had set my sights on going to work at a major corporation. Yet, his words inspired me to apply to join the Foreign Service and eventually seek out a career with the U.S. Department of State. Today, as the Diplomat in Residence (DIR) –- one of a small group of Diplomats based at U.S. academic institutions -- for South Florida, I am visiting those same classrooms, inspiring the next generation of Americans to consider a career in the Foreign Service and Civil Service. It is extremely gratifying work. 

As a Management Officer with no real public diplomacy or outreach experience, this position has taken me out of my own comfort zone and pushed me to develop new skills. I am teaching university classes, giving recruitment speeches to students, doing TV interviews, tweeting, posting on Facebook, producing videos, and was even the keynote speaker at a high school graduation. Moreover, I am able to tap into the experiences of senior State Department leaders and get them involved in our recruitment efforts. The payoff is that great feeling you get when you know our efforts actually changed someone’s life. It’s that excited call from someone that you invested time in telling you that they just got hired, accepted the Pickering or Rangel Fellowship, or was selected for an internship. It’s even more gratifying to have someone you’ve mentored participate in one of your recruitment events and give back after they’ve started their own foreign affairs career.

State Department's Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Arnold Chacon on the air with a student radio program at the University of Miami [State Department Photo].

I often remind my colleagues that the job of recruitment falls to all of us, no matter our specialization or position we hold. Our collective efforts serve as a multiplier effect to recruit the next generation of diplomats. This is especially important in underrepresented communities. Among these groups, there are fewer mentors that can build awareness of State Department opportunities. Still fewer know about internships that they can receive or the $95,000 Rangel or Pickering Fellowships that are available. For me, recruiting means going that last three feet to actually meet people and make a personal connection. This is why I encourage others, whether they are on home leave from an embassy overseas or back visiting their Alma matter, to contact their DIR or serve as a hometown diplomat –- a program where diplomats and other State Department employees return home to engage with their local community about our agency and foreign policy.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment, which runs the DIR program, aims to identify, attract, engage with, recruit, and hire the talent needed to implement U.S. foreign policy. Our primary goal is to attract candidates who reflect the diversity of American society. We are working to build an all-inclusive, multi-skilled workforce for the 21st century -- a workforce that provides the flexibility to respond quickly to constantly evolving needs and challenges around the world -- our office educates, informs, and influences candidates to consider Foreign Service and Civil Service careers.

As part of this effort, I encourage my colleagues to think about what motivated them to join the State Department and to share those experiences so they can help others to see themselves in our stories. What motivated me to pursue this career was giving back to the country that took my parents in as refugees. It was the pride I saw in my parents’ eyes when I helped swear in a group of new American Citizens in the same place they took their citizenship oaths decades ago. It’s about the camaraderie I feel with my colleagues. It is also about overseas adventures and opportunities for professional and personal growth.

My career has been eclectic. I started my career with USAID, then met my husband (a Diplomatic Security agent) and became an Eligible Family Member -- a spouse or partner who has opportunities to serve with the State Department domestically and overseas. I then served as a Financial Management Officer and eventually transitioned into a Management Officer career track. Now when I meet with audiences and potential recruits, I tell them about my four tours in Asia, studying at Columbia University, and being a Regional Director for the Office of Foreign Missions. These are just a handful of the amazing opportunities afforded to me since I committed to a career in foreign affairs.

As I look back over my career, including my time as a DIR, I am grateful for the experiences I have been able to share with perspective candidates and how this new information and new perspective might impact their lives. In my role I will continue to encourage my colleagues to take the leap and volunteer to talk to people about possible careers in the State Department. The truth is while all foreign professionals work to influence foreign policy, we need more leaders to recruit and encourage a new wave of leaders that will become the next generation of foreign affairs professionals. 

About the Author: Catherine Rodriguez serves as a Diplomat in Residence for South Florida and Puerto Rico.

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Ramakrishna P.
November 8, 2016
I am interested in the post. Please give me a chance to bring smiles.
Anthony O.
November 9, 2016
I am interested in this program
Diplomat in Residence for South Florida, Catherine Rodriguez (front, right side), with graduate students from Florida International University. [State Department Photo]
November 8, 2016


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