Foreign Affairs: Graduate Area of Work

Represent and protect Singapore’s and its citizens’ interests abroad – all while maintaining international relations.
The gradsingapore Team
Dawn Yip
Foreign Affairs: Graduate Area of Work

At its core, foreign affairs is the maintenance and management of diplomatic and mutually beneficial relations between countries. Moreover, with the added factor of globalisation and resulting travel and transnational activity, foreign policy now spans a great range, from establishing trade relations and supply routes, to territorial disputes and care of citizens both living and holidaying abroad.

In Singapore, this is the premise of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which works to “uphold Singapore’s sovereignty”, “sustain Singapore’s relevance internationally” and “connect with Singaporeans travelling and living overseas”, among others.

Career Overview

Graduates looking to join the MFA will likely find themselves employed as Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), and stationed either in MFA’s headquarters in Singapore, or at one of the country’s 50 missions around the world.

Depending on your own interests and abilities, you’ll be assigned to one of two tracks – the Political and Economic track, and the Functional and Corporate track. However, keep in mind that regardless of the track, you’ll be rotated between Singapore and missions overseas (with each stint lasting approximately two to three years). This will expose you to the varying duties that come with the job role.

The Political and Economic track focuses on providing reports on geopolitical developments (such as the 2022 Malaysian general elections ), as well as closely monitoring how it may impact Singapore’s interests. On the other hand, the Functional and Corporate track not only assists Singaporeans requiring consular assistance (such as recovering lost travel documents and extending aid to those in more precarious situations), but also ensures the smooth running of their assigned mission, whether through means of finance, procurement, facilities, inventory, or events management.

Due to the potentially sensitive nature of the work, the hiring process is quite extensive, and can take up to about 5 or 6 months. If a candidate has been successfully shortlisted, they will first have to sit through written tests and a group interview (that typically includes discussions on current global affairs) before going through an assessment centre. Afterwards, a final panel interview will be conducted.

Required Skills

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t necessary to have qualifications in either political science or foreign relations in order to join the MFA. Rather, there is a higher focus on the skills and traits that they possess, and if they’re suitable for the role.

In general, regardless of track, all new hires should have strong analytical skills, be highly adaptable and able to think quickly on their feet. A strong interest in international affairs is also ideal, especially for those who intend to enter the Political and Economic track. In addition, strong interpersonal skills and empathy are needed, as FSOs often handle Singaporeans from different backgrounds in distress. Good time management is also essential if you wish to succeed in this line of work.

Last but not least, aspiring political officers should take the initiative to keep abreast with current global affairs. As a bulk of the workload often includes drafting up reports to be submitted to the government, strong writing and research skills are important as well.

Pros and Cons

A common grouse among FSOs are the long hours they occasionally work – geopolitical situations don’t log out in the evenings just because work hours are over. Moreover, the intensity of your workloads are dependent on where you’re stationed in the world and what’s going on, from upcoming political situations to emergency consular cases. Rotations between missions may also mean that you have to quickly pick up a new language before deployment, as well as having to often uproot your life to move from mission to mission.

Additionally, because it’s difficult to gain relevant working experience beforehand (apart from undertaking MFA’s own internship programmes), the learning curve is steep, and you’ll be kept on your toes throughout the onboarding process. Fortunately, the MFA offers training programmes through the MFA Diplomatic Academy.

Regardless, because this work directly impacts the lives of Singaporeans all over the world, FSOs find it extremely rewarding. Some also deeply appreciate the ever-changing political landscape, and how no two days are ever the same, making for an exciting challenge with opportunities to learn a great deal on the job.