Graduate program FAQs

The following are questions that we are frequently asked about applying to join the DFAT graduate program and working at DFAT.

How many graduate positions do you have?

Each year our intake varies, but it’s usually around 30-50 positions

Can I apply for both streams?

Yes, you can apply for both policy and corporate management. We strongly recommend you only apply for the stream in which you have a genuine interest and for which you have a relevant academic background. For the corporate management stream, we are looking for candidates with qualifications in directly relevant fields, such as commerce, accounting, HR, project management and procurement. Participants in the corporate management program will undertake placements that focus on these aspects of the department’s operations.

How many applications do you get?

On average DFAT receives between 2,500 and 3,000 applications per graduate intake.

Can I do the graduate program from a State Office?

No. The two year graduate program is based in Canberra.

Can I apply in my final year of studies?

Yes, as long as you will finish all your course requirements before the end of the year. When completing the application form, please upload your latest unofficial transcript. If successful, you will be required to provide the official transcript of your academic results as evidence you have completed your degree before you are made a formal offer.

When does the graduate program commence?

DFAT’s graduate program commences in February each year.

Will I be a permanent employee?

Graduates are engaged as ongoing permanent employees within the APS, subject to a probationary period of six months (which applies to all new starters in the APS).

How are rotation placements determined?

Placements are determined taking into account your skills, academic qualifications, preferences and the operational requirements of the department. The span of four placements over the two year program is designed to provide broad exposure to the range of the department’s work.

Can I undertake further study while undertaking the graduate program?

The two year program provides both personal and professional development activities including an orientation week, mentoring and in-house training sessions. Due to the heavy schedule, graduates are not able to take on further study during the program. However, after successful completion of the program you are eligible to apply for DFAT Study Assistance.

Is it possible to do an internship or work experience with DFAT?

Unfortunately, DFAT is unable to offer internships or work experience in Canberra. Some of our embassies and high commissions overseas and other portfolio agencies do offer internships - check out our page on Other Opportunities.

Will I receive help with relocation?

Yes. If successful and you reside interstate, DFAT will provide relocation assistance to support your move to Canberra. We do not provide assistance for international relocations, but if you return to Australia from overseas, we will provide assistance from your nominated state or territory capital to Canberra.

I missed out last year, should I apply again?

Yes!  Each year is a different process – there are different committee members assessing applications and a different field of candidates you are competing with. Candidates who remain interested in working with DFAT, particularly those who are completing their studies or undertaking relevant work experience, should consider applying again in future. It is a highly competitive process and it can take multiple attempts before being successful. 

Applications are assessed using the APS Work Level Standards APS Level 3. Make sure to review these to gain an understanding of the work requirements and qualities we are looking for.

The DFAT program is extremely competitive. What are you actually looking for? What would make me stand out?

The department continues to build and renew the workforce by bringing in a mix of people with a wide range of skills, experience and knowledge.

For the 2021 intake we are looking for:

  • future leaders
  • strong academic achievers
  • critical and curious thinkers
  • team players who build relationships with stakeholders and peers
  • excellent communicators
  • practical problem solvers, who are flexible, adaptable, resilient and resourceful
  • candidates who display professionalism and high ethical standards.

We look at each candidate’s application, including their qualifications and professional experience and take into account transferable skills from a range of employment options, not just those which have direct subject matter relevance to DFAT’s work.  A candidate who has worked in hotel management or other areas of hospitality, for example, may bring skills in problem solving, adapting to change and managing people – all skills strongly relevant to working in DFAT.

Detailed ‘insider’ knowledge of the department’s operations is not expected. However we do expect you to have done some research, such as read recent speeches from our Ministers and Secretary, the Foreign Policy White Paper and maybe even our annual report if you are that keen!

Are graduate programs the only realistic pathway towards a career in DFAT?

No. The graduate program is an entry level program for people who have recently finished tertiary study. DFAT also recruits regularly for bulk intakes and for specialist skills and capabilities at different levels. All our vacancies are advertised on the careers pages of the DFAT website.

The graduate program suits early career professionals who are interested in undertaking a two year program that combines training in between four work placements around the department. The program provides graduates with a lot of support and guidance and the peer support that comes from being part of a cohort, which is an added bonus for graduates who have relocated to Canberra.

You deal with a plethora of issues which can sometimes be confronting. How do you address your mental health?

DFAT is committed to promoting a safe and healthy workplace. We are dedicated to being a mentally healthy workplace and providing a positive and productive environment where staff feel valued and are therefore able to work at their optimal level.

Our Mental Health Policy aims to:

  • build and maintain an inclusive workplace environment and culture that both supports mental health and wellbeing, and prevents discrimination and other forms of unacceptable workplace behaviour;
  • increase staff knowledge and awareness of mental health and wellbeing concerns;
  • reduce stigma related to mental health concerns in the workplace;
  • ensure staff are aware of the support services available;
  • appropriately support staff with mental health concerns; and
  • facilitate active staff participation in initiatives to support positive mental health and wellbeing.

Does the demand for STEM disciplines disadvantage humanities or more generalist disciplines?

No. The DFAT graduate program looks for candidates with a range of disciplines from a range of universities. We value diversity and different ways of thinking.

Is there any advice on how to participate in international programs, internships etc. without having the financial circumstances to reasonably obtain them?

Many students are fortunate to be able to participate in different programs in Australia and overseas that enrich their academic, personal and professional experiences. This is not, however, a prerequisite to join the DFAT graduate program. What makes a candidate’s application stand out is not what opportunities they have had, but how they have used them and how they can demonstrate to the selection committee that they have learned skills and abilities that would be relevant in the DFAT workplace.

Does DFAT value research from applicants in the form of a dissertation/thesis?

DFAT values the commitment, critical thinking and initiative of candidates completing a dissertation, however it is not a requirement when applying for the graduate program. We welcome the skills and abilities that are developed through undergraduate study. General life and work experience are also valued, where candidates learn practical skills including team work, resilience and interpersonal skills.

What is the biggest challenges faced in the day to day life of working in ‘foreign service’?

Most DFAT employees who work overseas find the work rewarding and deeply professionally satisfying. It can also be personally very enriching, given the opportunity to be immersed in another culture. But that can also be challenging – each employee needs to take into account their personal circumstances in deciding when or whether overseas service might be a good option for them. For more personal insights on working overseas with DFAT, see a recently published interview with the Australian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva and Ambassador for Disarmament, Ms Sally Mansfield.

Last Updated: 25 November 2019