Graduate Trainee profile - Jacob
Desk Officer, South America and COALAR Section
Other positions in DFAT:
Where did you live and what were you doing before joining DFAT?
I'm originally from Melbourne, and after finishing postgrad studies in Canberra in 2010, I undertook an internship in Washington DC, took some time off in Melbourne and did some travelling in 2011.
What qualifications do you have?
Bachelor of Arts (Hons), Master of Arts (International Relations) (Hons), Master of Diplomacy (Hons).
How have you used your qualifications/experience during your time in DFAT?
My postgraduate studies in international relations and diplomacy as well as my work as a research assistant at ANU on Asian regional security issues have given me a solid base of knowledge of global affairs and diplomatic practice from which to draw. For me, having a broad sense of why I am doing something and where it fits into the big picture is an important part of doing it well. Additionally, an internship in the US Senate prepared me well for some of the practical realities that one faces when working in an inherently political international environment.
Do you speak another language?
Why did you apply to DFAT?
I’ve always had an interest in international issues, particularly security and global justice, and I wanted a career that would allow me to make a contribution on the international stage. I also couldn't imagine living a life in only one city or one country.
What was the most challenging aspect of the recruitment/selection process?
I found the online exam quite daunting, because it presents you with a scenario that weaves together several different issues areas and asks you to devise a concise response in a very small amount of time to problems with which even experienced diplomats struggle. The individual interview with the selection panel is also very challenging, because the panel won't give you any free kicks and will ask you to support your arguments.
Do you have any tips for applicants on how to approach the application process?
At the earliest stage of considering applying to DFAT, think about what you are bringing to the table for the selection panel to consider. If still at university, look at how you can expand your portfolio of experience through research assistance positions, internships and volunteering (also good things in their own right). When writing your initial application, think hard about relating relevant and diverse examples of your experience to each selection criterion. Take the time to construct an application that best demonstrates, with evidence, why you are suited to work at DFAT in particular.
Has the reality of working in DFAT differed from your perceptions of what it was going to be like?
The senior member of my selection panel told me during my interview that DFAT's relatively small size means that as a new graduate, you will be put onto real and meaningful work almost from day one. Despite my initial scepticism, he was dead on. Within weeks of starting, I was writing briefing material for the Foreign, Trade and Prime Ministers, representing Australia and the Department to foreign dignitaries and diplomats, and working on consular crises seriously affecting Australians overseas. Despite the healthy dose of mundane office work that I was expecting, I definitely wasn't expecting things to get so interesting so quickly.
What has been the highlight of your career with DFAT so far?
It’s hard to pick a single highlight, because they come thick and fast once you get started. In general, the people I have worked with are truly excellent and I have learnt more in six months than I thought possible. In particular, I recently spent five days escorting a visiting foreign minister to several cities in Australia, during which I managed his travel itinerary, activities and meeting agenda. As an escorting officer, you are the face of the Department and, to some extent, Australia for the visiting dignitary. Although maybe not as exciting as some of the experiences many others in the department have had travelling overseas at short notice during international crises, it was extremely rewarding to be entrusted so early in my career with a high‑level minister's visit.
How do you enjoy living in Canberra?
It's definitely not a big city, but once you get to know it, you can find most of the things that make life in a big city enjoyable in Canberra too, like good bars, pubs and restaurants, just not in the same quantity or density. You also have ready access to all the national museums and galleries, and there’s a brilliant wine region 20 minutes away. I’m definitely a city person, but the country feel of Canberra has grown on me a lot, and in some ways it has the best of both worlds.
Have you any other insights for potential applicants?
It’s important not to forget the consular dimension of what DFAT does, which is a huge part of the organisation’s mandate. While high diplomacy is understandably what a lot of people focus on, helping Australians overseas is a crucial, exciting and rewarding part of working at DFAT. Remember that that is what you’re signing up for as well.