My current position is Mandarin language trainee, in preparation for my posting to Taiwan as Deputy Director of the Australian Office.
Other positions in the department:
Since serving in Kuala Lumpur, I worked in the Free Trade Agreement Division. During that time I was fortunate to attend the opening round of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations in Brunei, and gain first-hand experience of how multilateral trade negotiations work.
Australia in the Asian Century White Paper Secretariat; International Legal Branch; Europe Division.
What qualifications do you have?
I’m admitted as a lawyer in NSW. I have a law degree, and a Bachelor of Economics (Social Sciences) degree for which I did an honours year writing a thesis that developed my majors in government and international relations.
What were you doing before you joined the department?
I lived in Sydney, and spent 18 months working as the legal associate to a Federal Court judge.
How have you used your qualifications/experience during your time in the department?
My academic background in government and international relations probably held me in good stead working on the Asian Century White Paper and in the Europe Division. I certainly used my legal training while working in the International Legal Branch.
Do you speak another language?
After six months of full-time language training I can now speak and read basic Mandarin, and will hopefully understand the language a little better by the end of my training!
Why did you apply for the graduate program in the department?
I started to become aware of the idea of the foreign service midway through uni. The more I learned about it, the better it sounded. I started working in law but realised early on that I didn’t love it enough to really succeed at it. I should have seen it coming really - I asked my parents for a subscription to TIME magazine for my 13th birthday so I could read the stories on international affairs – tragic. I get a kick out of starting the workday by reading interesting diplomatic reporting cables that have come in overnight from Australia’s posts around the world.
What has been the highlight of your career so far with the department?
The highlight is undoubtedly my current stint as Third Secretary at the Australian diplomatic mission in Malaysia. A desire to serve as a diplomat abroad is probably the main reason you would enter the foreign service, and I’m very lucky to have been given the opportunity to do it. I’ve been lucky in that I have travelled abroad a few times with the Foreign Minister, and representing your country while sitting behind the ‘Australia’ sign or flag behind the Minister at an international gathering is pretty cool. Underlying all that career stuff though a real highlight is absolutely the group of friends I’ve made in DFAT and in Canberra.
What was the most challenging aspect of the recruitment/selection process?
The whole thing is an utterly grueling process. It is long – it took something like 7 months from submitting my application to finding out I was in. It is broad – when I went through there were three stages to the selection process, each of which tested different skills. I first had an initial written application; then an academic exercise; then a day of interviews.
Do you have any tips for applicants on how to approach the application process?
I would suggest that the utmost care be taken in responding to the selection criteria section in the written application. You are being asked to show that you have a certain set of skills, so rather than simply saying you have the skills you must show them, ie tie every assertion you make to a real-world example. In the academic exercise, understand that you are being assessed not so much on what you know but rather how you think – they probably want to see a balanced, measured approach to the scenario. The interview day is difficult, in that you need to demonstrate a broad set of skills simultaneously – people skills generally, leadership skills, skills at thinking on your feet, and when they throw hypotheticals at you they’re looking for at the least a rudimentary understanding of the international system.
Has the reality of working in the department differed from your perceptions of what it was going to be like?
Yes. On our first day in the department the Secretary advised us to try to really understand our own country, as understanding its complexities is integral to representing its interests abroad. I honestly feel that I’ve learned as much about my own country as I have others. Also, working as part of a bureaucracy – both DFAT itself and the larger Government - can be more frustrating than I would have ever realised. I’ve clearly still got a lot to learn, but my tip so far would be to try to quickly come to terms with the bureaucratic context in which you work, because it means you can engage in the real substantive work the department has to offer.
How do you enjoy living in Canberra?
I was dreading moving to Canberra from the comfortable life I’d built for myself in Sydney. After a rocky start I am now the proud bearer of an ACT drivers’ licence. I guess it’s like anything in that you only get back what you put in.
Have you any other insights for potential applicants?
The application process is drawn out and difficult, but you should take solace in the fact that a career in the department is certainly worth it.