Three Voices from the World of Transferable Careers within the FDFA

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) transferable career staff includes over 900 employees who are engaged in advancing these foreign policy priorities worldwide on behalf of Switzerland. They begin careers in “diplomacy”, “international cooperation (IZA)” and “consular affairs, management and finance (KBF)”, after the successful completion of the admission procedure.

Portrait of Claudio Tognola, Stéphanie Périllard, Jonas Belina

From left to right: Jonas Belina, Stéphanie Périllard and Claudio Tognola. © FDFA

The Concours

The concours entails a fifteen-month, multi-stage paid training course that is both demanding and varied. Following the admission procedure and a period of theoretical training at the FDFA headquarters in Zollikofen, candidates are deployed for a year of practical training – usually abroad – where the skills learned can be put to the test. The concours ends in a final evaluation of the candidates before the admission board. If successful, they join the ranks of the FDFA’s transferable career staff, and put their expertise at the service of Switzerland.

The 2024 concours will be open for applications from May 27 – June 17, for the three careers in "diplomacy", "international cooperation (IZA)" and "consular affairs, management and finance (KBF)". This year, recruitment for the diplomatic career and career in “international cooperation (IZA)”will exclusively consider applicants no older than thirty years (i.e. born in or before 1994). 

Diverse thematic areas and career prospects

The careers in “diplomacy”, “international cooperation (IZA)” and “consular affairs, management and finance (KBF)” offer challenging and varied tasks, as well as numerous opportunities for development. Employees handle a wide range of topics at the head office in Bern and Zollikofen, foreign representations and missions, as well as in cooperation offices or international organizations in Switzerland and abroad.

Transferable staff are subject to the transfer obligation, which means that they are usually moved to another post every three to four years.

Employees in the diplomatic career deal mainly with topics in the fields of politics, economic affairs, human rights, culture and international law. They can expect to spend around two thirds of their career abroad and the remaining third in Switzerland.

For the employees of the career in international cooperation, a commitment to Switzerland's development cooperation and humanitarian aid tradition is key. They are generally posted in foreign countries for over a third of their careers. Assignments typically involve planning and implementing SDC projects, programs and policy priorities in the fields of economic development, migration, good governance and sustainability, both in bilateral and multilateral fora.

The “consular affairs, management and finance (KBF)” career combines three priority areas, including operations management, consular services as well as the financial management of representations abroad and international cooperation programs. These employees spend almost all of their careers working around the globe in Switzerland's partner countries.

Bridging the divide between science and society

Picture of Jonas Belina
Jonas Belina, chief of the Economy, Finance and Science Department at the Swiss Embassy in Berlin. © J.B.

Jonas Belina, a transferable employee in the diplomatic career, leads the Economy, Finance and Science Department at the Swiss Embassy in Berlin. A scientist by training, he holds Master’s degrees in Physics and Philosophy, as well as a PhD in Neuroscience. Jonas’ current role with the FDFA is based in Germany – one of Switzerland’s closest partners in research and education. There, he works on a variety of topics including the transformation of the economy towards sustainable energy sources, carbon neutrality, energy security and the resilience of global value chains.

Discovering the intersection between science and policy making early on, Jonas chose to pursue a career in diplomacy with the FDFA, recognizing the unique professional opportunities it presented to help translate solutions from science into effective policy.

“A lot of global challenges – from climate change, to the rise of artificial intelligence, to antibiotic resistance – require not only scientific solutions, but the collaboration between multiple stakeholders including states, civil society, academia and the private sector. Scientific solutions need to be translated into a wider context. Diplomacy allows you to do just that.”

This kind of multistakeholder collaboration was the foundation of his first diplomatic assignment in the Peace and Human Rights Division of the FDFA in Bern. His work focused on the application of new technologies to humanitarian aid, with the goal of making it more effective in areas such as the responsible use of humanitarian data and the improvement of the search for missing persons. He considers the launch of the Global Alliance for the Missing in 2021 a highlight of his professional achievements in this role, as it reaffirmed the importance of diverse stakeholders working together to address the issue of missing persons and separated families in situations of armed conflict, emergencies and disasters.

Collaboration underpins his professional assignments in diplomacy but also aligns with his personal values. “As an individual, I get to do what I believe is important. My work involves engaging with diverse, highly motivated, inspiring people on a variety of topics for the greater good of society.”

Still, he points out that while a career as transferable staff member with the FDFA is an enriching opportunity, it is not without its challenges: “with each new assignment you always leave something behind, but you always gain so much more in return.” 

Intercultural Exchanges

Portrait of Stéphanie Périllard
Stéphanie Périllard, Consul General of Switzerland in Lyon . © S.P.

After completing apprenticeship training in finance and notarial services, Stéphanie Périllard worked in banking and real estate, before choosing to pursue the FDFA’s “consular affairs, management and finance (KBF)” career. Stéphanie, who considers herself a good example of the success of Switzerland’s dual track apprenticeship system, is now the Consul General of Switzerland in Lyon. In this role she is responsible for managing Switzerland’s biggest consular representation in the world (in terms of registered Swiss citizens abroad). Her duties include protecting the welfare of over 112,000 Swiss citizens in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Burgundy-Franche-Comté regions of France. She is also involved in a broad range of bilateral activities that seek to promote and facilitate collaboration between diverse partners on both sides of Switzerland’s shared border with neighboring France.

“I enjoy taking care of the Swiss community; talking to them and learning about the stories behind the passport photos. After 27 years of working with the FDFA, it is hard to single out just one particularly significant moment in my career. Instead, it is the accumulation of the little services I carry out which positively influence peoples’ lives that makes this job meaningful and memorable”.

Stéphanie’s career with the FDFA has taken her to over a dozen countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. It has offered her enriching opportunities to encounter a wide variety of people and cultures. "In my posts in the “consular affairs, management and finance (KBF)” career, you have to embrace diversity and enjoy exchanges with different cultures," she says.

While these experiences abroad have been a source of great enrichment, they also come with certain constraints. In many countries, the security risks are elevated, the standard of living is not comparable to Switzerland and working conditions, especially for accompanying persons, are often restricted. Offering a sober assessment of this component of her career, she asserts: “This career is a passion. It envelopes you and your whole family. It becomes a way of life.”

Far-reaching impact in diverse contexts

Portrait of Claudio Tognola
Claudio Tognola, head of the SDC office in Niamey. © C.T.

Claudio Tognola, who hails from the Italian-speaking part of the canton of Graubünden, decided early on to pursue a career in international cooperation. Today he is head of the Cooperation office in Niger. His decision to work in international cooperation came following an assignment he completed in 1996 as part of an SDC programme in West Africa. A recent geography graduate at the time, this work provided invaluable experiences abroad. It led him to further assignments in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger, and finally a permanent post with the SDC in 2001.

Today, over twenty years later, Claudio maintains that his work in international cooperation with the FDFA remains as stimulating as it was during his first assignments. “In our roles in international cooperation, our engagement is required in a wide range of situations. It is undoubtedly one of the most stimulating aspects of our profession, which means that we never get bored.”

He recounts as an example, an early experience participating in the award ceremony for diplomas offered to several thousand young adults of the Peul ethnic group in Benin, following the completion of a local language literacy project implemented by the SDC.

“I remember with emotion the testimony of a young woman, who explained to us with ease in her mother tongue, that since obtaining writing and calculation skills, she could avoid being cheated in her commercial transactions. Thanks to these newly acquired literacy skills, she had seen a significant increase in the income generated from her small business activities.”

Several years later, after Claudio had been appointed head of international cooperation in Benin, he had the opportunity to meet with the country’s president during high level discussions on education. He recognized the symbolism of his earlier experience and the far-reaching influence of Switzerland’s role in international cooperation in the region. “Through its representations, Switzerland’s widespread presence abroad offers us a unique proximity to development issues in the countries of the global south. My work with the FDFA offers me an incredible chance to contribute to resolving these complex contemporary issues close up, beyond the limits of a computer screen.”

Interested in joining the ranks of the FDFA’s transferable career staff?

Visit our website at or contact to learn more about the application process for this year's concours.

This year the FDFA will be accepting applications from May 27 - June 17, 2024 (5PM).

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