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Foreign affairs

An IFS officer is supposed to project and protect national interests in a range of spheres, including bi-national economic and political cooperation, trade promotion, cultural links, media relations, as also multilateral issues, domestic as well as overseas.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:24 IST

The lowdown
An IFS officer is supposed to project and protect national interests in a range of spheres, including bi-national economic and political cooperation, trade promotion, cultural links, media relations, as also multilateral issues, domestic as well as overseas. An officer begins his career abroad as a third secretary and is promoted to second secretary as soon as he is confirmed in service. Subsequent promotions are to the levels of first secretary, counsellor, minister and ambassador/high commissioner/permanent representative. Officers can also be posted to Indian consulates abroad

Clock Work
Average day of an undersecretary for country X, when parliament is not in session:
8am: Drive to work
9-9.30am: Reach office. Check mail and country X’s media reports. Attend meeting to discuss events taking place over the weekend 11.30am: Do groundwork for the visit of a delegation from X
1pm: Lunch
2pm: Summarise reports from the Indian embassy
4pm: Meeting with embassy officials
6-6.30pm: Leave for home

With Facebook and Twitter, there’s a paradigm shift in the way we communicate. A diplomat’s job will become more challenging in the years to come
Sriram Srirangam, faculty member, Sri Ram’s IAS, Delhi

The payoff
The grade pay at the entry level is approximately Rs7,400 a month. The basic pay does not change for up to the seventh year of service but the FA (foreign allowance) goes up. FA can range from $3,500 a month in New York to $2,700 to $2,800 in Kathmandu). A joint secretary’s grade pay is the same as a minister’s in a mission (Rs10,000; FA is about $5,000 at most stations) but the monthly take-home is around Rs60,000

A joint secretary is eligible to be ambassador. He or she also receives dearness allowance (DA), 100 per cent medical cover, HRA (or government housing), city compensatory allowance, travel allowance (a JS/additional secretary can opt for an official car instead), and your children's school fees reimbursed.

Skills/TRAITS
. Good communication and inter-personal skills
. Interest in international relations, expert in global affairs
. Knowledge of your country’s politics, culture and economy
. Analytical skills
. Diplomatic approach to issues
. Decision-making ability
. Leadership quality
. Physical stamina and poise
. Ability to adapt to different environments and cultures (e.g. you might be posted to a mission in a country with limited healthcare facilities)
. Loads of patience
. The polish and intelligence to be aware and respectful of the host country’s culture

Getting there
Entry to the IFS is through the Union Public Service Commission’s civil services examination, open to graduates in any discipline, though an international relations background would help.

The exam includes a written preliminary test and a main exam, followed by an interview. After a foundation course at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, entrants are sent to the Foreign Service Institute for specific training.

For more details, check upsc.gov.in

Institutes
.You need a bachelor’s degree from any recognised Indian university, or equivalent. More at upsc.gov.in

Pros and cons
. You represent your country and work to achieve national objectives
. You have to travel the globe and rub shoulders with celebrities and big names in the course of your work and during leisure time
. Enjoy diplomatic immunity
. Your foreign posting might at times not allow you to take your family along
. Insular service – there’s not much public dealing at the HQ
. Work can get terribly strenuous