How to...

...get into the diplomatic service

Paul ButeJuly 2010

Our insider: Paul Bute (BA 1994)

I joined the British diplomatic service in 1994, after graduating from Bristol. I volunteered to learn Hindi and was fortunate to be part of the British High Commission in New Delhi for three years covering Indian politics. Since then I have had a fascinating time working on the UK’s international policy back in Whitehall, and supporting Nepal’s peace process from our Embassy in Kathmandu. Most recently I led the Foreign Office’s digital diplomacy.

There’s only one way into the Diplomatic Service now – through the Civil Service Fast Stream. It’s a long process, and can take up to a year. You can read about the tests, the assessment centre, and the final selection board at On average there are 100 applicants for each diplomatic appointment.

What are we looking for?

People who understand different cultures and have a lively interest in international affairs. We recruit those have excellent interpersonal skills as well as the ability to make sense of the bigger picture. Most diplomats move to a new role every three years. We need diplomats who can adapt, fast, and are excellent managers.

What’s my advice?

Very few diplomats see their work as a day job. Most are motivated by working on the big global issues that affect us back in the UK (countering terrorism, promoting our commercial interests, helping Brits in trouble). There is no doubt that international experience, particularly working abroad, helps your application.

If you want to get in because of the popular portrayal of the diplomatic lifestyle, then look elsewhere. Increasingly we work in the most difficult parts of the world, because that’s where the problems are. We need those who can be resilient in the toughest places, and in the midst of crises.

Those who do get in have the opportunity to meet people, see places and influence events that you could never do outside of the Diplomatic Service. I highly recommend it.

Find out more at

According to the University’s Career’s Service, the FCO is one of the most sought after employers among Bristol students.

Read more How to get into... stories in the summer 2010 issue of Nonesuch (PDF, 3.33Mb)


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