Born Benita Waldner in Salzburg, she took her Matura exams in 1966 and then studied law, receiving a doctorate from the University of Salzburg in 1970. Until 1983 she worked in the private sector. Only in 1984 did she enter the diplomatic service.
From 1995 till 2000 she served as Staatssekretärin in two governments led by Social Democrats Franz Vranitzky and Viktor Klima. When Wolfgang Schüssel became Chancellor of Austria early in 2000 he made Ferrero-Waldner his Minister for Foreign Affairs, a position she has held ever since.
In January 2004 it was announced that Ferrero-Waldner would run for Federal President to succeed Thomas Klestil in July 2004. Her candidature is supported by the Austrian People's Party; her main opponent is Heinz Fischer.
Ferrero-Waldner's determinedly friendly smile has earned her the nickname Ferrero-Küsschen ("Ferrero Kiss"), after a sweet similar to Ferrero Rocher, produced by Ferrero for the German, Swiss and Austrian markets.