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State Department official recruits future diplomats this week in Spokane

Courtesy of U.S. Department of State

Ryan Gliha visited Gonzaga, Whitworth and Eastern Washington universities.

A diplomat in residence from the U.S. State Department is in Spokane this week to talk up his industry: foreign service.

Spokane Valley is home to one of America’s top diplomats, Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to six nations in the Middle East and Asia.

Gliha also hopes to be an ambassador some day. But for now, he’s working to raise the profile of diplomatic service. He's based in San Francisco. But this week he was in Spokane, talking with faculty and students at Gonzaga, Whitworth and Eastern Washington universities.

“I think, in general, the public is very much unaware of who we are, what we do, what kind of roles that we’re looking for. I’ve come here to Spokane, in particular, to help get people more aware of these opportunities and hopefully plant some seeds and get people on that path to joining us in the foreign service," he said.

Gliha’s own foreign service career goes back to 2002, when he himself was in college.

“You know, I was in graduate school before I joined the State Department. I kind of had this moment when 9/11 happened where I realized I wasn’t on the right path. I was trying to get my doctorate in religious studies and I have a very niche sort of interest in my dissertation topic and 9/11 happened and I realized I had a lot of skills. I had language knowledge. I had cultural knowledge that I thought would be useful to the government, especially considering the conflict that we were about to go into with a region of the world that I knew very well, the Middle East," he said.

"I joined a few months after 9/11, July 2002, and by October, I was in Saudi Arabia, adjudicating visa applications. Since then my career has taken me many places. I’ve served in Lebanon twice, once as cultural attache, once as public affairs officer. I’ve served in Yemen as public affairs officer. I went back to Washington as a special assistant to an undersecretary of state, where I was her advisor on terrorism, counterterrorism. I went to London. I was the Arabic language spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, so you could see me on YouTube, on Al Jazeera defending U.S. foreign policy in Arabic," he said.

There were other stops as well, including Doha, Qatar and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

For at least the next year or two, Gliha is a recruiter for his agency, which requires that he know a lot about the job possibilities.

“We have over 20 career tracks that we hire for at the State Department for the foreign service," he said. "We have foreign service generalists, or what we call foreign service officers. That’s what I am. Under that title we have five different career tracks. The name generalist sort of implies we don’t hire someone with a specific skill set. We try to get people with broad skills where they can, maybe one assignment they’ll be in Mongolia, the next assignment they may be in Peru. So we don’t want them overly specialized so they can be successful in many different places.”

Gliha says diplomats such as Ryan Crocker get most of the attention when it comes to foreign service. But he says there are thousands of behind-the-scenes people who run U.S. foreign operations.

“We hire construction engineers to help us build embassies. We hire facilities managers to help us run those facilities. We hire medical professionals to help keep our community safe, doctors, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, lab technicians. We hire a lot of people with business backgrounds to help us with managing the operations of an embassy, so contracting officers, financial management officers, H.R. officers. Imagine this, we’re running embassies and consulates in 270 locations around the world. We definitely need great H.R. to deal with all those situations," he said.

Gliha says his visits to universities are not especially targeted recruiting visits, but more of a soft sell.

“Our process to join the State Department, it’s a long one. Because we’re so selective, most applicants aren’t successful the first time they apply. At universities, we’re trying to plant those seeds in the minds of students as they’re moving forward. What are the things, what are the classes they can take here, what are the experiences they can collect while they are at university in order to prepare them to get down that path to be a member of the foreign service?" he said.

"Actually, our average age on entry for all the different foreign service tracks is right around 34 years old. The people that tend to be most successful in our selection process are people that have had a little bit more life experience, a little more working experience. That’s not to say that we don’t hire people that are right out of their undergraduate experience, but they’re the rare ones. They are the ones that have really prepared and gotten those experiences and developed those skills that we’re looking for," Gliha said.

With the war in Ukraine top of mind and diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities, you could infer that raises the visibility of that industry and could drive people toward those types of careers. Gliha says that’s not a big factor.

“I think economic factors, what’s happening in the economy factors more so than what’s happening global politically-wise. Right now we’re competing with everyone else that is hiring. There’s a lot of opportunities here in the United States, economically, because of the upturn. More companies are hiring. But I think, in the end, we still are drawing the same people that want to be engaged, that are global citizens, that see a role for themselves as public servants, first of all, and this is just a unique way that you can serve overseas," he said.

You can find out more about State Department job possibilities here.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.