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Director General of Foreign Service Arnold Chacon discusses values of working in government

Belmont hosted a convocation event with Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Arnold Chacon on Nov. 9.

A Denver native, Chacon’s entry into politics was somewhat unconventional. He always knew he wanted to help others but initially thought he wanted to be a doctor. This sent him to Latin America, where he would later serve as the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala.

“Through medical work in Latin America, I met diplomats and development workers who turned me onto foreign service. I loved that they could work on interesting issues but also live in different cultures and have an immediate impact. So I got the bug, changed my major to international affairs and started to go down that career track,” said Chacon.

Chacon was drawn to the exciting prospect of serving others while getting to challenge oneself.

“I love the notion of reinventing myself every three years or so with different tours, constantly learning something new and different while I specialized in particular areas. I knew I could expand my horizons, liked working on teams and like the stimulation of lots of passionate, motivated people working together in pursuit of objectives,” said Chacon.

Despite Guatemala’s rocky history with the U.S., Chacon was well-liked as ambassador, as he tried to focus on the future and America’s values.

“It’s a big responsibility because you are basically on 24/7, you are an official representative of your country so you hold yourself and others hold you to a very high standard. Not only in your own personal conduct, but in everything you do. When you represent the American flag that it will have consequences. For me it was always a high priority not to be out there preaching and doing things but to have people draw from our lessons as they try to strengthen their institutions and democracy,” said Chacon.

Since his employees also represent the government, he values well-rounded individuals who can go above and beyond their basic responsibilities. To seek these people out, Chacon describes part of his job as a “travelling talent scout” to build a diverse and effective workforce.

“We want to assess candidates for not only their intelligence but also other vital skills and attributes like judgment, integrity, resourcefulness, written communication skills, people skills and leadership skills because it’s kind of a holistic approach. We need people that work well on teams, that understand that we can leverage all our talents to really accomplish great things,” said Chacon.

One of Chacon’s biggest suggestions for those looking to pursue a career in foreign service is to start early as an intern with the department. The department has dedicated a full website to recruitment that potentially interested candidates can visit, The job is not one size fits all – people join the foreign service at all ages and from all sorts of backgrounds.

“One of the best ways to determine if this is a career for people is to have them do our internship programs, to work alongside diplomats and embassies overseas or in Washington to get a sense how exciting the work is and how different it is everyday, which can prepare them for entry into the foreign service,” said Chacon.

As a proud government employee, the day after the presidential election, Chacon was hopeful for the future of America. Despite changing political hands, he emphasized the unique way the U.S. was founded on the Constitution, which helps it stay true to its values.

“I’ve been at this for 30 years and had the privilege to serve both Republican and Democratic presidents. There are differences, but there is a great deal of continuity in the area of foreign policy – more than any other area. That’s because of our fundamental interests. It’s all premised on security, prosperity and peace, and our values as a nation are fairly constant,” said Chacon.

Chacon’s deep love and passion for the U.S. is contagious as both a recruiter and a civil servant.

“I believe in the issue of public service,” said Chacon. “I believe public service is the best way to have a life of purpose and meaning and impact and to do things for our government because they’ve done so much for us.”

This article was written by Sara Scannell. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State.

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