Liz, a Supervisory Special Agent with the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, has been a DSS Special Agent since 2010. In this Q&A interview, she talks about the flexibility needed to be a DSS Special Agent and she gives advice for preparing for the Clarke DS Fellowship selection process.
When did you become a DSS Special Agent and why did you choose this career?
I became a DSS Special Agent in 2010. I found out about this career through a family member, who also works for the Diplomatic Security Service. Prior to working as an agent, I was in the fitness industry. I was a personal training manager, and I was training people that traveled all the time, and I wanted to travel like they did. And my family member was traveling all over the world, so I asked him about the job. He explained what the job is and how to apply, and I applied and got in.
Where have you been posted and how long do DSS Special Agents stay at each post?
My career is unique. I have served primarily in Washington, DC, for the duration of my career. However, in my career, I’ve been to over 50 countries and some of them I’ve been to four or five times. When DSS agents serve overseas, they serve for one to three years depending on the assignment.
What has been your favorite assignment and why?
My favorite assignment was with the Secretary of State’s protective detail. I worked on the Secretary’s detail under Hillary Clinton and under John Kerry and we just got to travel as a team to many amazing places; it was a wonderful opportunity to see the world in my 20s.
What would you say is your most memorable or fulfilling experience as a DSS Special Agent?
My most memorable assignment as a DSS Special Agent was from 2020 to 2022, when I served as the DSS human trafficking investigations coordinator. This was very important work that we’re doing – we are part of the investigations when passport and visa fraud are part of a human trafficking crime or scheme. And I just really enjoyed the opportunity to particularly work with victims of human trafficking and further support investigative work to seek justice in those crimes.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a DSS Special Agent?
The most challenging aspect of being a DSS agent is just the degree of flexibility you must have in terms of learning something new. So, much like if you were in college and you changed your focus or major or changed careers, within our DSS career, you will change assignments and change your focus every few years. And you have to learn an entirely new set of skills. I think this is wonderful for ensuring you’re never bored with work, but you have to have a lot of self-initiative and willingness to show up and say, “I may not know everything but I’m going to figure it out as fast as I can”. And that’s where we succeed and the type of people that DS is looking for are those that can do that over and over.
Do you have any advice for those who are applying for the Clarke DS Fellowship program?
For those applying for the Clarke DS Fellowship program, my recommendation would be to make sure that you’ve got a great routine when it comes to your own health and wellness. If you are selected as a finalist, you will be required to pass the Physical Readiness Test (PRT), and as I mentioned you’re going to do a lot of travel in this work. Having a good routine and baseline for sustaining healthy habits to help you with challenges, such as jet lag, changes in routine and changes in your work hours, is really important in terms of thriving in this career and having longevity as a DSS agent.
How can candidates prepare for the PRT?
In terms of preparing for the Physical Readiness Test that’s part of the application process for the Clarke DS Fellowship program, I would recommend that candidates give themselves around three months of physical training to prepare for the push-ups, running and sit-up sets you’ll have to do in this test. One of the things we do in training as DSS agents when we go to the federal law enforcement training center is work together, for example, on our push-ups. On the first day of class, you all do one push-up as a group and then the next day you do two and the next day you do three, etc. We were building up to doing 50 push-ups as a team. That’s a simple strategy that you can do to prepare for a physical fitness test. Start with a small amount of work and build onto it each day, so your body gets used to it and is ready for test day when it comes.
Do you have any final word of advice for those applying for the Clarke DS Fellowship program?
If you’re thinking about applying for the Clarke DS Fellowship program and becoming a DSS agent, my recommendation is to consider this as a lifestyle change. You’ll be taking on a career path that takes you all over the world, you’ll be part of the fraternity and sorority of federal law enforcement and you’ll make incredible friends. So just prepare for that. I remember when I applied, and I when I was accepted, driving away from the interview and thinking “wow this is going to change my life.” And it truly did. I would just encourage you to take on the adventure.
Photo: Courtesy of Diplomatic Security Service. DSS Special Agent Liz during a protective detail at an embassy.