Mariko - Graduate profile
Desk Officer, Trade Policy Section.
Other positions in DFAT
Desk Officer, Sea Law, Environment Law and Antarctic Section.
Where did you live and what were you doing before joining DFAT?
After graduating from university, I spent some time overseas before taking up a position as a lawyer at a top tier law firm in Sydney.
What qualifications do you have?
I have combined degrees in Arts (Hons) and Law from UNSW.
How have you used your qualifications/experience during your time in DFAT?
I’ve been able to apply my legal qualifications pretty much from my first day at DFAT. My first placement was in the Sea Law, Environment Law and Antarctic Section, where I provided legal advice on international and domestic law, treaty interpretation and assisted with developing legal policy advice. My current placement in trade does not require me to apply my legal qualifications so directly, but the analytical and drafting skills I developed as a lawyer have been very useful.
Do you speak another language?
Yes, I speak Japanese.
Why did you apply to DFAT?
I’ve always been interested in international relations and politics and DFAT was a natural choice. The opportunity to have a diverse career, learn a new language, work on intellectually stimulating issues and to serve overseas were also very appealing to me.
What was the most challenging aspect of the recruitment/selection process?
Getting noticed at the first stage is the most difficult and competitive part of the application. At this point, you’re competing against potentially thousands of other very capable applicants, and only have a limited number of words to capture your potential and personality. Applicants should read the assessment criteria thoroughly and ensure that each one is addressed. Leaving plenty of time to put the application together and ensuring that salient examples from university, professional or other experiences are drawn upon to demonstrate your skills are key.
Do you have any tips for applicants on how to approach the application process?
Read widely to prepare for the exam and interview. I poured over newspapers, read blogs, absorbed The Economist and digested the DFAT Annual Report. During the interview, applicants will be asked for their views on Australia’s foreign policy priorities, so it’s important to know what these are and to be aware of current issues in international affairs.
Has the reality of working in DFAT differed from your perceptions of what it was going to be like?
The professional development opportunities provided in the graduate program have exceeded my expectations. During the first year, graduates are taken offline to undertake two months of extensive academic and practical training in areas such as economics, international law, foreign policy and negotiation skills. Academics from leading Australian and UK universities provide the training, making it a really valuable and stimulating experience.
What has been the highlight of your career with DFAT so far?
My career at DFAT is still in its infancy. However, highlights so far have been the legal policy work I did on maritime delimitation and illegal fishing issues; and being part of the Australian delegation for the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.
As an economist/accountant/lawyer etc, why would you recommend DFAT over other career options?
Yes, absolutely. The diversity and opportunity to work in fascinating legal areas such as the law of the sea, international humanitarian law and sanctions are persuasive reasons to pursue a career at DFAT. One of the other major benefits of a career at DFAT is that officers are encouraged to move around the department, meaning that it’s difficult to be pigeonholed, particularly early on in your career.
How do you enjoy living in Canberra?
For anyone who is interested in foreign affairs, government and policy in Australia, Canberra is the only place to be. Once I got over the fact that working in these fields would require relocation to Canberra, I never looked back and now feel that this is my home. Canberra is the type of city that rewards those that put in the effort, so my advice to anyone moving to Canberra is to come with an open mind and get involved with lots of activities. You won’t regret it.
Have you any other insights for potential applicants?
Serving overseas is an exciting part of a career at DFAT, but prospective applicants should remember that a significant proportion of a career at DFAT will be spent in Canberra as this is where strategic decisions are made and policy formulated. That said, the work in Canberra is really stimulating and you’ll be given opportunities that would not be possible in other careers.