United States Foreign Service: Background and Careers

Current events have spotlighted several individuals in the United States Foreign Service.

Law students may want more background on the Foreign Service, and they may be curious about whether a law degree could be one step on a path toward a foreign service career. As always, the law library has resources.

Background on the Foreign Service

American Diplomacy is a collection of essays by scholars and diplomats examining what diplomacy is and is not able to do, particularly focused on the Obama era.

Foreign Service: Five Decades on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy is a career memoir dated 2017. As former ambassador James F. Dobbins reflects on his career, he gives an insider’s view of U.S. relations with Vietnam, Russia, Germany, Afghanistan, Somalia, and more countries, spanning from the 1960s to the 2010s.

Careers in the Foreign Service

Foreign service officers may serve with the State Department, Agricultural Service, Commercial Service, or USAID. Certainly the websites of these organizations and usajobs.gov are great places to start when researching these career options. A few library resources may provide additional insight.


The third edition of Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the US Foreign Service, dated 2017, is co-authored by Harry W. Kopp and John K. Naland. These former foreign service officers “describe the five career tracks—consular, political, economic, management, and public diplomacy—through their own experience and through interviews with more than one hundred current and former foreign service officials.” -Georgetown University Press

Careers in International Affairs has a broader focus than Career Diplomacy. Editors Cressey, Helmer, and Steffenson cover government employment with the foreign service as well as careers with multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, and more.

To access the full text of any of the above e-books, click the link that says “Connect to: USC All Libraries from EBSCOhost,” then enter your USC Network ID and password.

Additional Resources

The law library also has biographies of ambassadors, and deeper historical background on the U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Service, among other resources.