Graduate opportunities

Applications for the 2016 DFAT graduate programs will open in February and March 2015.

About our program

The Policy Graduate Program is for applicants from all academic backgrounds and prepares successful candidates for a career as a generalist policy officer. Policy graduates work to advance Australia's interests across a broad range of areas — from security to human rights, international trade to development and aid management, and represent Australia in a formal capacity while serving overseas.

The Corporate Graduate Program is for applicants with commerce, accounting, human resources, ICT or similar qualifications. The program prepares graduates for a career managing the department's human and financial resources, assets and programs. When serving overseas, corporate graduates assist in the management of the mission's financial, human and property resources, and provide consular and passport assistance to Australians.

Both policy and corporate graduates undertake a two-year professional development program in Canberra, combining work placements with formal training modules. This enables our graduates to develop a broad knowledge and understanding of the Government's foreign, trade and aid policy priorities, the international environment and the department's financial and corporate context. The program commences in February with a comprehensive induction program and a first placement.

The graduate program includes a block of courses designed to build upon and give graduates the opportunity to fill gaps in their academic studies. For example, those who haven't studied economics have the opportunity to take an introductory course in economics and those without law have the opportunity to take an international law course. There are also workshops to develop graduates' presentation and negotiation skills, as well as courses in human rights, diplomacy, international development, people and financial management, and consular services. Graduates also have an opportunity to travel interstate to make calls on peak industry bodies and government officials.

Over the course of the program, policy graduates will generally undertake five placements of 5-6 months across key areas of the department's work. These include multilateral desks (such as disarmament, development issues, counter-terrorism or human rights), bilateral desks (including foreign policy and aid program delivery), trade desks (covering areas such as the WTO, free trade agreements or international finance), development desks (including development and sectoral policy, humanitarian response and aid management) and corporate desks (such as consular or human resources).

Corporate graduates will typically have six to eight placements covering financial services and management, corporate planning and audit, post management and consular issues. We also cover the costs and study leave for corporate graduates to study towards a CPA, CA or other financial management qualification.

On completion of the program, graduates take up a longer-term placement in the department and become eligible to apply for overseas postings.

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Graduate careers brochures

Policy graduate careers brochure

Corporate graduate careers brochure

The Graduate Experience video

The Graduate Experience video transcript and description

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Who we want

As a dynamic agency working in a complex environment, the department is looking for graduates from varied backgrounds.

We are looking for graduates with high-level analytical and communication skills. People who are adept at working in teams. Practical, results-oriented people who are able to work under pressure, occasionally in difficult environments, meet tight deadlines, and who are pro-active in getting out and about and making contacts.

We are looking for graduates with a strong record of academic achievement, as well as extra-curricular activities in whatever form that might take, be that paid work supporting yourself through university, involvement in community groups and events, or a range of other activities. We are looking for graduates who have a genuine interest in international issues and understand the contribution Australia can make internationally.

Successful applicants will have a strong record of academic achievement and usually have honours, combined or higher degrees. However, academic qualifications are not the sole criterion for selection. Applicants will also be assessed on the quality of work experience, extra-curricular achievements and community activities.

The department is looking for graduates who are:

  • talented and highly motivated
  • good communicators
  • strategic thinkers and practical problem solvers
  • team players, flexible, adaptable and resourceful
  • sensitive to, and appreciative of, difference and diversity.

In recent years DFAT policy graduates have had degrees in Antarctic studies, architecture, arts, Asian studies, business, commerce, communications, computer science, economics, international relations, language studies, law, medicine and science.

Corporate graduates have had degrees in commerce, accounting, human resource management, arts, ICT and business administration.

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Indigenous Australians

In support of the Government’s Closing the Gap Strategy:  Indigenous Economic Participation Agreement, the department is aiming to increase its recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.  The department is seeking to fill a number of graduate positions with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants.  The filling of some of these vacancies is therefore intended to constitute a special measure under section 8(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.  We strongly encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to apply.

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What we offer

Graduates will commence on a salary equivalent to Australian Public Service Level 3.2.See DFAT Enterprise Agreement 2011-2014 [PDF 502 KB] | [DOC 515 KB] for rates. Other conditions of service include:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Annual recreation leave
  • Cumulative personal/sick leave
  • A comprehensive superannuation scheme
  • Long service leave

For more information visit the salaries and conditions section.

Training and development

Beyond the graduate programs, we offer training and development opportunities across a broad range of topics, including leadership and management skills, core professional knowledge and skills, and languages.

We also offer leave and financial assistance to support further part-time study in fields relevant to the department’s work. Graduates may apply for our study provisions after completing their two year graduate program.

For more information visit the training section.

Overseas postings

Working overseas is one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of a DFAT employee's career.  The graduate program aims to prepare officers for work in the department, including overseas. After completing the program, graduates are eligible to start applying for overseas postings. Generally, graduates can expect to be in Canberra for up to three years before their first posting. While individual preferences will be taken into account, these will not necessarily be the determining factor in a posting decision. You will also be expected to serve in a variety of locations, including difficult and demanding ones.

For more information visit our overseas service section.

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Top 10 myths

Myth #1 – DFAT only takes graduates with law degrees

It is not a requirement to have a law degree. We are looking for applicants from a broad range of academic disciplines. Of the 34 policy graduates selected in 2012 for the 2013 program, exactly half had a law degree, usually combined with another discipline (economics, commerce, arts, international studies, language studies etc). Other graduates have had a diverse range of degrees including, among many others, degrees in music, maths and engineering.

Myth #2 – You have to have post-graduate qualifications, preferably a PhD

It is not necessary to have post-graduate qualifications. The minimum entry requirement is a three-year bachelor degree. We are looking for applicants with a strong record of academic achievement, and successful candidates do often have honours, graduate diplomas or masters degrees, but not all. Academic achievement might also be demonstrated by excellent grades, or the receipt of scholarships, awards or prizes.

Myth #3 – You need to have done lots of volunteer work while at university

In addition to academic achievement, we are looking for people with a range of interests and experience. While volunteer work is one way to demonstrate extra-curricular interests and experience, we recognise that many students do not have the time or the financial capacity to do unpaid work while they are studying. Volunteer work is not a pre-requisite for entry to the DFAT graduate program.

Myth #4 – DFAT wants older applicants, with at least a few years of full-time work experience after graduating

DFAT does not discriminate on age, either for older or younger applicants. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the graduate program is like a two-year apprenticeship and positions are at a junior level in the department. It is intended for relatively recent graduates looking to join the workforce and learn the ropes. The graduate program is not the only way to enter the department and applicants who graduated some time ago and already have several years of full-time work experience may wish to consider applying for other advertised positions at more senior levels.

Myth #5 – DFAT never takes graduates on their first application, you have to apply two or three times to get in

Most of our graduates are successful on their first application, while others have applied more than once. Remember that the field of candidates will be different each year, as will the selection committee. Applicants who don’t progress very far through the process one year, may be successful the next, while others who progressed to the later stages of the process in one year may not get as far the following year.

Myth #6 – DFAT only takes applicants from Go8 universities

Not true. Our graduates come from a range of universities across Australia. Some of our graduates have also studied overseas. We are more interested in how well you’ve done in your studies and your other achievements than where you’ve studied.

Myth #7 – You need to have done international internships

As with volunteer work, international internships are a useful way to demonstrate extra-curricular interests and experience, including an interest in international affairs. However, a great number of students do not have the financial means to do internships overseas, especially if they are unpaid. International internships are not a pre-requisite for the graduate program.

Myth #8 – DFAT does background checks on applicants

We do not conduct background checks on applicants during the course of the selection process. The only time DFAT conducts background checks on applicants is after the selection process is complete. Successful applicants, who have received offers of employment, undergo mandatory security clearance processing. All offers of employment with the department are subject to passing medical and security clearance checks.

Myth #9 – You need to be fluent in at least one other language, preferably more

Speaking another language is an advantage but is not a requirement. DFAT provides language training for staff posted to overseas positions that require particular language skills.

Myth #10 – You need to be fluent in Asian languages, European languages don’t count

As noted above, having another language, Asian or otherwise, is not a requirement of employment. The department does not specifically recruit for staff with particular languages, although it is an advantage to have a language, including languages which are highly valued by the department, such as Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Arabic. However, if you are considering learning another language it is better to learn a language that you have a strong aptitude for, rather than attempting a language for which you may not be suited.

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Graduate FAQs

Do I need to have my international qualifications recognised in Australia?

We invite candidates with international qualifications to apply for our graduate programs. During the selection process you will be asked to provide proof that your qualification is recognised in Australia. We only accept verification from the:

  • National Office of Overseas Skills Recognition
  • State or Territory Overseas Qualifications Unit

If you only hold a qualification from an institution based overseas, your application will only be accepted if Australian documentation recognising your qualification is submitted with your initial application.

Will a particular university degree or work experience increase my suitability for the graduate program?

We welcome graduates from all disciplines.

We look for diversity amongst candidates, and to ensure that diversity is maintained we do not provide advice on what applicants should study or guidance about any work experience they should undertake. Rather than choosing a particular university course that you think may be relevant to DFAT's work, you should select a discipline for which you have a particular interest and in which you are likely to perform well. This will broaden your career options and, at the same time, give you the opportunity to achieve strong results.

Can I apply if I'm not an Australian citizen?

Under the Public Service Act 1999 all applicants must be Australian citizens to be eligible for engagement as an employee of the department. Applicants for the graduate program must be Australian citizens at the time of application.

Do I need to come back to Australia for the exam/interview?

Written examinations and psychometric testing is done online, however, interviews and group exercises are held at our head office in Canberra.

Are all graduate positions based in Canberra?

Yes. All graduate positions are based in Canberra.

If I am offered a graduate position, can I defer my start until the next year's intake, or start later in the year?

No, it is not possible to defer an offer of employment, nor to start at an alternative date later in the year.

Are there any programs for Indigenous students?

Yes, the department is seeking to fill a number of graduate positions with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicants.  The filling of some of these vacancies is therefore intended to constitute a special measure under section 8(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.  We strongly encourage Indigenous students to apply.  Please see our Indigenous recruitment page for further details.

What if I have a partner or children? Can they come with me on an overseas posting?

Staff of the department are able to take their families with them on posting. Only a very small number of our overseas posts are restricted to unaccompanied officers – because of the particular security risks in those locations. When serving overseas, officers with a partner and/or children may be entitled to additional payments and conditions to help them meet the challenges of moving and maintaining a family overseas. See the section on overseas service for more information about postings.

Can I complete my legal traineeship with DFAT?

We do not offer practical legal traineeships as part of our graduate programs. However, a number of graduates with legal qualifications join the department each year. They often complete a work rotation in one of the department's legal areas and may be able to use this practical legal experience towards their admission requirements.

Can I undertake an internship, work experience or vacation work with DFAT?

We are unable to offer internships, work experience or holiday work due to our strict security requirements.

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Application and selection process

The selection process for our annual graduate intake involves a number of stages and runs over several months. This year we are adding two new testing tools to our selection process. After the cognitive test, candidates will be invited to sit an online one way video interview and on interview day, candidates will re-sit their cognitive test to validate the results from the earlier cognitive test.

Stage 1: Application

Graduate programs will be advertised on the department's current vacancies webpage from around February/March each year. Interested people should monitor this site closely around this time because late applications will not be accepted.

Submission of written applications using our online application form is the first stage in the application process. Candidates should put every effort into the preparation of their application and provide as much detail as possible about their studies, work and voluntary experiences, and any other activities they have been involved in.

If you only hold a qualification from an institution based overseas, your application will only be accepted if Australian documentation recognising your qualification is submitted with your initial application.

Stage 2: Online cognitive test

Candidates who progress to the next stage will be required to complete an online cognitive test.  The cognitive test is designed to test candidates’ capacity to process and apply information.

Stage 3: Online written test and one way video interview

Candidates who progress to the next stage will be required to complete a written exercise and a one way video interview.

The written exercise is designed to help us assess analytical, writing and problem-solving skills, as well as candidates' general understanding of major foreign and trade policy issues.

The one way video interview provides the committee with a more rounded view of candidates, including how they think on their feet and how they present themselves.

Stage 4: Interviews

Interviews, group exercises, a further written exercise and cognitive retest take place in Canberra. We cover domestic (but not international) travel expenses incurred in attending the interview.

Before attending the interview, candidates must also complete an on-line behavioural profile (psychometric) test. The test is not determinative, but contributes to the selection committee's assessment of a candidate's 'fit' for the job.

Short-listed candidates are invited to Canberra a day before their interview schedule usually in groups of five. Interviewees will be asked to complete the department's security clearance forms to bring with them on their interview day.

The interview day begins with an informal morning tea with the selection committee. This is followed by a group exercise where candidates are given a scenario and asked to work together to make a presentation to the committee. Candidates are then asked to complete a further written test within a designated timeframe. Individual interviews are scheduled over the remainder of the day. Candidates may also be asked to re-sit their cognitive test.

During the lunch break, candidates are offered a tour of the building by recent graduates. This is a valuable opportunity for candidates to hear the personal experiences of a recent graduate as well as ask questions about the work environment and culture.

Stage 5: Offers

Offers will usually be made by telephone. Graduates must be available to commence their program in February the following year. It is not possible to defer an offer of employment, nor start at an alternative date later in the year.

Offers of employment are subject to medical and security clearances. The department will withdraw offers of employment for graduates who do not obtain their security clearances within a set timeframe.