US Department of State Reviews

Updated April 18, 2015
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US Department of State Secretary of State John Kerry
John Kerry
128 Ratings

Pros
  • If you work for the Foreign Service, you get to see the world in so many meaningful ways (in 30 reviews)

  • See the world while serving your country (in 14 reviews)

Cons
  • The biggest turn off for me were actually the foreign service officers (in 32 reviews)

  • This can dramatically impact work-life balance for years at a time (in 10 reviews)

More Pros and Cons

Employee Reviews

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  1. Foreign Service Officer

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Foreign Service Officer in Washington, DC
    Current Employee - Foreign Service Officer in Washington, DC

    I have been working at US Department of State full-time (more than 10 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    Ability to travel and see the world and get paid for it.

    Cons

    Foreign Service Officer themselves are one of the biggest turn offs. Culture is risk adverse and is often spends hours debating inane things with no strategic plan. Evaluation system is capricious and random. This is really an unhealthy environment to work, which is getting worse since they hired too many people in the last decade.

    Advice to Management

    Manage the organization!

  2. A negative atmosphere among Civil Service employees, only do it if you can be Foreign Service

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee

    I have been working at US Department of State full-time (more than a year)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    I believe the benefits are exceptioinal for Foreign Service Officers - opportunities to learn, travel, and cushy positions in DC when they aren't abroad.

    If you are Civil Service, the atmosphere is different but it looks good on your resume.

    There are a lot of opportunities to learn via training, events, and lectures.

    Cons

    The atmosphere among civil service employees is toxic - it is way too competitive. The people are cutthroat in trying to get to that next GS level. It is all about what you can do for them and your development isn't even an afterthought. The only way to get ahead here is to be competitive, network, and hopefully have a boss that will advocate for you advancing professionally.

    Contractors do all of the technical work - this is pretty universal in the federal government but it is incredibly disappointing. Any one with a technical background should be prepared to see their skills diminish as they spend the majority of time in meetings instead of actually doing the work.

    Advice to Management

    Don't promote people with technical skills that lack management skills. More importantly, don't play favorites and promote people to managerial levels who lack both the technical and management skills to perform and manage employees. Finally, fire people who don't perform! Don't just move around nonperformers because they are still going to cause problems.

  3. Helpful (2)

    A look inside a bureacracy

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - IT Manager
    Current Employee - IT Manager

    I have been working at US Department of State

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    Living overseas for most of ones career is fun, but it gets old over the years.

    Cons

    Management and leadership of the State Department is arrogant, pompous, smarmy, entitled, and mostly anti-american.

    Advice to Management

    Not worth the time. They never learn.

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  5. Bureaucracy... inaction

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Consular Officer in Washington, DC
    Former Employee - Consular Officer in Washington, DC

    I worked at US Department of State full-time (more than a year)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    Working for the US Department of State brings you close to interesting international work, as a part of the most powerful government on the planet. As a government bureaucrat (i.e. NOT a contractor) you will earn the salary and benefits that most only dream of. A typical first year employee will receive approximately $100,000 in salary, pension, perks, benefits and other goodies.

    Cons

    In return for the pros, you will work in a organization where half of the people walking the halls wish they were the Secretary of State, while the other half wish they were retied. This dynamic leads to a corrosive office culture, which is not aided by an antiquated hierarchy that emphasizes individual work and deemphasizes teamwork. Most people are unhappy working here, however, the average time between first applying and entry on duty is six years, thus with the sunk-cost fallacy at work, they feel unable to leave for fear of having wasted those years.

    Advice to Management

    Secretary Kerry, keep doing what you are doing, you want no part of this. The last Secretary of State to invest any time in the organization was Colin Powell, and things didn't turn out too well for him.

    American People, how much do you know about the work of the State Department? Is it really work 70,000 employees and $52 billion a year?

    Obama Administration, when was the last time you actually used the State Department?

    OPM, regulation limits freedom, make it easier to join and easier to leave, then you might hire a team work having. You've got a deadwood problem and you know it.

  6. Great Travel...but

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Foreign Service Officer in Washington, DC
    Current Employee - Foreign Service Officer in Washington, DC

    I have been working at US Department of State

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    Great travel. See the world and get paid for it.

    Cons

    Promotion process is capricious and vindictive. HR is broken. People don't know boundaries. Dull work even after 15 years. Culture is petty! If you want to do real work, find a different employer! I am.

    Advice to Management

    Deal with reality!

  7. Helpful (2)

    Disappointing and deflating

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Rather Not Say in Washington, DC
    Former Employee - Rather Not Say in Washington, DC

    I worked at US Department of State full-time (more than 5 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Approves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    Depending on what office, bureau or embassy you're at you meet some of the most fascinating people from around the world. The travel opportunity is unlike most and for Foreign Service Officers (FSO) it's obviously mandatory. The living facilities are fantastic for FSOs and they often get bonuses (can be substantially large) regardless of government cutbacks (separate funds than other departments and agencies). Most FSO are able to fly business class internationally which I suppose if a pro depending on what your view point is. Happy hours, receptions, and happy hours are common and many supervisors find holes so they Department pays for it. Working under a political appointee makes life much easier. Looks great on a resume when you leave. They have no problems buying you the most expensive desk chair, keyboard, lamps, or couch for your office if it's what you want. Very large salaries compared to other U.S. Government departments and agencies.

    Cons

    This was probably the least fulfilling and most deflating job I've ever had for quite a few reasons. The Foreign Service Officers for some reason have the largest sense of entitlement and arrogance you will come across at any organization. Obviously there are a select few that are exceptional but they are hard to come by. They truly believe that their work in combat zones is just as commendable as what our troops do (literally heard this from more people than I can count). You can't speak out about anything because of fear you'll be isolated.

    Speaking of troops they treat veterans like trash. There's absolutely no respect for them (probably has something to do with how they talk about "serving" like they are a veteran) and I watched multiple veterans have their career paths blocked for standing up for what's right. If you're on loan from DoD they can't touch you but no matter what you think they do talk trash behind your back always talk down to you. Unfortunately my mind was not blown when a 39 year old FSO demanded that he get the same respect as a Marine Colonel. Just what I came to expect at State.

    The new generation of mid level management is a serious problem; the older the supervisor the better from my experience (50yo and up). Good ideas are consistently ignored or blocked from being channeled to the executive levels. Money is thrown around like it's falling off trees and pretty much anything a section head wants they get. It's just flat out abuse of tax payers money. I watched a podium get purchase for 25k and a dining room table for almost quadruple that. Holiday decorations are actually a major priority for supervisors which I found to be appalling when I saw civil service have their bonuses denied (Civil service has tiny bonuses compared to FSOs. Like I mentioned before they come from different funds).

    Another issue is that it's nearly impossible to get fired if you're civil service and not capable of collecting retirement. Most civil service is worked to the bone for their first five or ten years and then they stop caring. They get paid complete garbage (especially when you compare to FSO salaries) and put up with the unbelievable attitudes of FSOs so maybe that has something to do with it.

    The ambassadors and secretaries (not a desk secretary) I worked with were pretty good to go for the most part but that's because most are old school State. The problem here is I think State treats FSOs like they are corporate execs in the private industry and that's where the arrogance and entitlement stems from.

    The Foreign Service uses the term "serving" a TON but in reality it looks as though it's U.S. tax payers serving them. Sure some FSOs go to what is called the "big three" (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) but State pays tons of money to make sure they get their pools, booze, business class flights and great housing. Money is thrown down the drain and it's just flat out depressing if you truly care for Americans suffering from the economy.

    Advice to Management

    Check the integrity of your mid-level management. More oversight on the higher scale FSOs and new SFS. It should be a privilege to work in the Foreign Service and that should be instilled back into the ranks.

  8. Helpful (1)

    non-existent career trajectory for non-FSO

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Office Management Specialist
    Current Employee - Office Management Specialist

    I have been working at US Department of State full-time (more than 10 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    Benefits and foreign travel. Fairly good leave.

    Cons

    Lack of respect for specialists is rampant in the FS. I imagine that is why there is no mechanism to promote specialists into officers, despite their wealth of first hand experience in embassies. Specialist careers are static for perpetuity, with FSO scavenging up all the management opportunities, despite the fact most FSOs were hired for their policy crafting and writing abilities, and generally have poor organizational leadership skills. The primary thing they teach FSOs in A100 is is Kiss Up (to your FSO superiors) and Kick Down (specialists). If you are a specialist, be prepared for a culture of abuse.

  9. Helpful (9)

    Should be a dream job, but the State Department lacks integrity

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Former Employee - Foreign Service Officer
    Former Employee - Foreign Service Officer

    I worked at US Department of State full-time (more than 3 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    The salary is great and you will have very unique learning experiences

    Cons

    I'd love to write a positive review, much as I would have loved to enjoy working in the US State Department after spending my entire life studying and training to be a Foreign Service Officer. As soon as I showed up for the A100 class, though, I was disgusted by the culture of politics and self promotion that permeates the department. When I got to post to do the work, I was astounded at the level of managerial incompetence. This is an institution that lacks the managerial skills to effectively manage its burdens, and lacks the integrity to address those deficiencies honestly. Instead of focusing on performing the job they're paid to do, officers focus uniformly on getting good written reviews from supervisors and building good "corridor reputations," by going along with managerial incompetence and aggressive politicking. I was astounded at just how much of an officer's work is spent on internal politics vs. doing the actual job. The culture is filled with unhappy people spending much of their work trying to figure out how to correct the mess they find, hide the problems they encounter so that they won't embarrass their managers, and politic around to get the next dream post in a far away land. It's tragic. Many officers pretend that the work "representing their country" makes up for the managerial shortfalls, but in my observations those shortfalls meant that we actually were often doing anything but the real work of out country or representing the US with integrity. The cons are balanced by the unique opportunities if you can stomach giving up integrity for politics, and the reality that you can save a lot of money in the job. Indeed, a lot of officers spend the bulk of their time figuring out how to game the system and earn more money and perks, which leads to yet more politics. The support services are often so overwhelmed that you have to do their job for them, and politic just to make sure things run smoothly. Everyone bends over backwards to help out people in positions of power, but everyone else has to push to make sure things get done. Fundamentally, the institution lacks integrity, which is tragic given how important it is and the consequences of its failures. The scandals you read about in the headlines are only the very tip of an iceberg, because State is very adept at "putting the needs of the service first" and getting officers to hide its dirty laundry in return for career opportunities.

    Advice to Management

    Replace the EER process with a real peer review. It is absurd that people work to make sure they have a good EER as opposed to achieve real results, and the EER process is widely abused and manipulated. The fact that an entire month is practically devoid of task work because officers are focused on the EER cycle says a lot about where priorities lie within the culture, and should be a point of shame. Implement opportunities for officers to expose incompetence and provide anonymous feedback other than the Dissent Channel, which is too high level for the many serious but mundane issues. Until State shows integrity in the way it manages its employees, for example by not abusing junior officers in visa tours, it won't fund much integrity amongst its officers. Which is a shame cause outside of the State system they are some very good people.

  10. Helpful (3)

    Project Manager

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Project Manager in Washington, DC
    Current Employee - Project Manager in Washington, DC

    I have been working at US Department of State full-time (more than 10 years)

    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook

    Pros

    Very Good Benefits. Staff is very dedicated and smart.

    Cons

    Advancement is based on a "beauty contest" rather than accomplishments, experience and demonstrated capabilities. Less qualified candidates have been chosen consistantly over more qualified candidates.

    Advice to Management

    Take some Management training.

  11. Helpful (1)

    Avoid State Department Management & Operations

    • Comp & Benefits
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Senior Management
    • Career Opportunities
    Current Employee - Financial Management Officer in Washington, DC
    Current Employee - Financial Management Officer in Washington, DC

    I have been working at US Department of State

    Doesn't Recommend
    Approves of CEO
    Doesn't Recommend
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    State Department is divided into several "cones" or divisions. You'll probably be satisfied if you go in as a political, economic, consular, or public diplomacy officer. Just not a management officer.

    Cons

    Don't ever go into anything that deals with internal management, especially if you're in the civil service or foreign service specialist. The bureaucracy is suffocating. Management is incompetent, and to get anything done, working through layers and layers of red tape is just simply exhausting. People actually take pride in finding loop holes around the regulations in order to get something done.

    Advice to Management

    Why are there any financial or general service specialist in the foreign service when any generalist with no prior financial management or procurement can also take the job with a bare 2 months of training?

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