The Indian Foreign Service As A Career Option

India is being seen abroad as an emerging power with great economic potential despite many daunting challenges. Countries and institutions all over the world want to engage with India. Our Missions abroad and the Ministry of External Affairs play a central role in facilitating this engagement. The Indian Foreign Service (IFS) is the human resource that implements Indian foreign policy. It is currently expanding rapidly to match India’s rising profile and increasing role in the international system. Recruitment to the IFS has been increased from about 15 per year to around 40. In 2011, of 34 recruits, 26 had a science and technology background.

In brief, the role of a diplomat is to promote his country’s national interests and to provide assistance to nationals abroad. National interests are now wide ranging, covering political, economic and cultural sectors and involving not merely government agencies, but also relationships with businesses, and other cultural organizations. Effective diplomacy requires good cross cultural communication with people from different cultures and countries. It also requires good management skills, including being able to get the best out of the organization you belong to, in this case the Government of India.

A diplomat needs to develop the capacity for multitasking and adapting to a constantly changing environment. He needs to understand the country he is working in, develop contacts with key people there and project the most appropriate image of India. The work involved is constantly varying, from helping Indian business development, developing projects and implementing them, organizing events, winning friends and influencing people. It is a matter of great pride to represent India abroad, something that cannot be measured in material terms.
Science and Technology are playing an important role in our lives today, and diplomacy is no exception. Today, a science and technology background can be an asset in dealing with issues such as nuclear energy, climate change, information technology, arms control, outer space, the oceans, energy security, environment protection, international health, S & T cooperation, to name a few. India as a growing technology and knowledge power with a huge market is deeply involved in almost all these international efforts. My own experience was that my training in Physics proved very useful in dealing with subjects that I came across in my work, and in particular helped me in interfacing with S & T institutions wherever I was posted.

Training for our diplomats is provided over 2 years at a dedicated well equipped Institute with good hostel facilities. It is comprehensive, covering areas relevant to diplomacy today. Basic knowledge about India, its government, its politics, economics, history and culture is one aspect. A district assignment gives a firsthand exposure to realities at grass roots level. A course at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade provides training in foreign trade and international business. There are modules on current international relations topics, diplomatic practice, communications, administration, and study tours abroad. Our training programmes for diplomats are well regarded and we also provide training for diplomats from other countries at our Institute.
Our training includes mandatory study of one foreign language. Language learning  comes naturally to most Indians who are familiar with at least two languages, My own compulsory language was French, but along the way I did manage to learn others such as Arabic, German, Spanish, and finally Greek, with varying degrees of proficiency. It is possible with modern computer based materials to get a working knowledge of a language in about three months.

Working in a Mission abroad is never routine or boring. Every day is different with new challenges to deal with and you constantly sharpen your skills and knowledge. You work as a team with your colleagues including those from other services of the government. Taking new initiatives forward gives one a sense of achievement. I can recall working closely with Indian companies in bagging contracts in pharma and IT in Syria, a rather challenging market, for example. The canvas for operations is vast, and you can literally define your work and targets and achieve them.

Along the way, you get to develop lasting friendships with people from many countries, Indians abroad and visitors from home. Your family also should have a positive attitude to change. After all, beneath the layers of language and culture all of us are human and share common values and aspirations. It is a lifelong learning experience in which you accumulate skills and knowledge. Every one of my assignments – Sudan, Syria, Zambia, Austria, Cuba and Greece, and the UN in Geneva and Austria, and in India, has been of great value for me.Conditions of service in the IFS especially after the recent pay revision are quite good. Job security is assured. There is an effort to introduce performance based promotion systems. With modern communications, it does not matter much whether you are working in Manipur or Mexico – you can be connected to your home, access news, culture and family. With the rapid expansion of the IFS there will be many opportunities for career enrichment. It is possible to add to your skills through study programmes including higher degrees in relevant fields. Of course there are down sides. As in any other job there are difficult bosses, unfair situations, and frustrating bureaucracy. But if you put in your best, you will also receive the best sooner or later.The civil service includes many prestigious services which contribute to our national development, such as the IAS, IPS, etc. After a lot of introspection, I decided to join the IFS because it offered a professional and specialized career, with a core competence in international relations, which is becoming more important in the era of globalization. The IFS has also so far has remained relatively free of political interference and postings and transfers at the whims of politicians.Dr. Bhaskar Balakrishnan
bbalakrishnan.netau.net
bb0947@gmail.com

[The author studied B.Sc (Hons) Physics at IIT Kharagpur after topping the entrance test from the Western Zone. He went on to do an M.Sc from Delhi University in 1968 and a Ph.D in theoretical Physics from Stonybrook University, USA, 1972 and returned to India to pursue an academic/teaching career as CSIR Pool Officer with Panjab University 1972-74. He joined the IFS in 1974 after getting the first rank in the civil services examination that year. He retired in 2007 and among other things is a visiting professor at JSS University, Mysore. He would welcome queries or comments on this article]

33 Comments

  1. Karan Kamble says:

    I am fortunate to have come across this article at a time when I’m preparing for the Civil Services Examination in order to pursue a career in the Indian Foreign Service. The articles evokes inspiration.

  2. Gaurav says:

    Respected sir,
    I am currently undergraduate in NIT surat and also a IFS aspirant. I want to know what qualities and knowledge should i develop to join this prestigious service alongwith routine preparation for civil services. i am also very keen to understand foreign relations of india with other nations. so, what should i refer to which not only helps me in getting through exam but give me a platform to excel and acquire things needed to be a succesful diplomat.
    sincerely yours
    gaurav kumar

  3. Amrita Singh says:

    Hello Sir… As an IFS aspirant, I would like to ask you about the service conditions prevalent. Furthermore, why is it that despite the crucial role performed by the IFS officers, as you have also pointed out, why is it that the public perception about the service does not account for the significance or the complexity of the nature of work?

    • B, Balakrishnan says:

      Good questions. Service conditions are reasonably good, and on par with the IAS. One needs to have a spirit of adventure and be ready to live and work abroad. The IFS is oriented towards external diplomacy, and winning friends and influencing people positively towards India. The standards of work and conduct required are of an international level.
      Public perception in India is low because the work of the IFS is mostly abroad and attracts little media coverage and attention unless there is some crisis where Indian nationals’ safety is involved. Many candidates opt for the IAS, IPS or Revenue services because of the perception that these services offer more power and influence.

  4. saikrishna says:

    guys log on to this website http://www.ifsdream.weebly.com to know more about IFS

  5. karan malhotra says:

    hello sir im student of b.com and i intrested in ifs what is the procedure of ifs

  6. reshhmaa says:

    Is a bhms student allowed for a civil service

  7. B, Balakrishnan says:

    For those interested please see the material at the site – http://www.brilliant-tutorials.com/PDF/iasprosp13.pdf

  8. rajj says:

    Respected Sir, I have been working in IT for 7 yrs now and planning to write Civils..If I join IFS at the age of 33 is it worth???I am from OBC and so I have age relaxation till 33 yrs.
    I generally feel that for IFS 33yrs is too late…Pls advise me sir.

    Thanks,
    Rajj

  9. Ashwin says:

    Great article sir !
    I am an Indian citizen doing my bachelors in Engineering in the US. I believe that a career in the Indian Foreign Service will suit me. Could you tell me if a bachelors degree from the US qualifies me to take the civil service examination?

  10. Prashant says:

    i appreciate your views about indian foreign service, these are really encouraging….but what are your views on corruption in ifs, is it really prevalent in ifs?

  11. Dr.Samrat says:

    A very happy new year sir:))))…i am a doctor.. currently in third year pursuing Masters in Surgery from delhi…i am very much attracted to the work profile IFS offers…and thanks alot for this amazing blog….i just want to know what is the procedure for IFS officers to represent India in United Nation??….and is my experience in medical field of any use in the work profile???…and can i get time to further study surgery subject out of interest in future????
    Thank you:)

  12. Anita says:

    Dear Sir,

    Thank you for such an informative article.

    I have done M.B.A. in International Business and would liked to join IFS. My preference for IFS over IAS/IPS is because it has lesser political interference in addition to my interest in representing my country abroad. I heard that this service has not good scopets for female and also one needs to attend lot many parties. All these true?

    Kindly reply.

    Thank you in advance.

    • B. Balakrishnan says:

      There is good scope for women in the IFS.They have made it to the highest posts. Parties and social occasions are part of diplomatic life- actually they are useful for our work because one can meet with a large number of people and get information from them, and build useful contacts for our country..

  13. Arkojyoti Ghosh says:

    Dear Sir, I am pursuing ‘B.B.A. Computer Applications’ through correspondence from Distance education dept. of Annamalai University. Would I be eligible for IFS once I get my bachelor degree from Annamalai University?

  14. saif shaikh says:

    hi..sir iam student of b.com & open cetegery i am intrest a IFS so what a prosses

  15. saif shaikh says:

    best career option

  16. premnair88 says:

    My questions are a little bit of all the one posed to you above me, sir. So I would like to kindly direct you them and request you answer them.
    And also could be kind enough to post another article here about how to go about preparing for the exams in general. Is it possible to juggle job, responisbilities, and perpare for this exam at the same time?
    Hoping you would find the time to reply to these questions. And also thank you very much for such and informative post. I really am now inclined to make my wish to be in this position of International Action a reality. :)

  17. sriram says:

    Hi, i am a below average student having degrees from normal college’s, and most of the civil service people are like you iit alumnus, do i stand a chance to crack and get into ifs, lately i am in love with the ifs and i aspire to join it, if i start now can i crack it in the 4 attempts i am permitted please tell about your preparation and how much time it took for you? sorry for such a naive question

  18. suvendhu says:

    Hello Sir! I have a query. Supposedly an IFS officer wants to build any aspect relevant to the service, he/ she can apply for higher studies etc as you have mentioned. Does the government grant funds or the person has to pay a part or the whole?

  19. Lester says:

    Dear Sir,
    Post the exams and interview when short listed candidates are selected as probationers and undergo rigorous training, which I believe lasts for two year or three years, correct me if I am wrong. When do candidates start to earn: is it during the training? or after training? And what is the starting pay of an entry level officer?
    And when an officer is posted abroad, can his spouse and children also travel with him?

    thanks,
    warm regards,
    Lester Menezes.

  20. Prakash says:

    Dear sir, is there any scope for those who belong to arts and humanities as i have read in newspapers that most of the times the IAS, IFS and IPS exams are cleared by Science and Engineer graduates. Also i see India as an individual who is very talented and is full of energy at this point of time and want this man’s full energy to be utilized. Would love to hear from you.

    Thanks & Regards

  21. rajkiran says:

    good evening sir i am studying in Intermediate Second Year and i want to do IFS. Which subjects in the degree will be relevant to IFS. What kind of preparations will i need to do IF….. Thanking you
    Rajkiran :)

  22. sumi says:

    dear sir, i am an ifs aspirant. I want to know whether i can apply for ifs without studying foreign language…since i dnt knw any of the foreign languages

  23. Abraham says:

    Sir, did you at any point find the job of a diplomat demanding unethical or morally disturbing actions?

  24. kshitij says:

    sir can a undergraduated from usa apply for ifs ias??????????????????

  25. Gaurav Kartikey says:

    Respected sir,

    As charming and exciting as IFS sounds i have my reservations about the content of the work that an IFS officer has to do in his day to day activities. I think its not really as dynamic as that of an IAS officer and depends mostly on soft skills. How much use of management skills and intellect is really required in IFS…? Sir I am asking this question because What an IFS officer really does has remained a mystery that even google cudnt solve till now. Please answer.

    Thank you

  26. Shreya says:

    Respected Sir,
    I am a student of final year architecture aspiring to crack the services exam for IFS. Will my architecture background be of any assistance to me for my future aspiration?

  27. shravankumaar says:

    Sir, i m a young doctor, now purely concentrating towards getting an IFS. I have no bigger passion towards IAS or IPS.Rather i find IFS exciting. I would like to know about the career of an IFS? question no :2 What long term goal should i pursue to excel in this field of service?

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