Debunking the myths: the DFAT graduate program

sally-mansfield  By Sally Mansfield, DFAT’s Chief People Officer

As a global organisation with staff working all around the world, our people are our most important asset. Attracting, developing and retaining the right staff is a key priority for me, as DFAT’s Chief People Officer.

The annual graduate recruitment process is not the only way we bring staff into the department, but it is a very important one and one that, over the years, has produced leaders across all aspects of our operations.

But there are quite a few myths about what it takes to be accepted into DFAT’s graduate program. It is simply not true that we are only interested in graduates who speak three languages, have a post-grad qualification and have done an internship at the United Nations. It’s also not true that you only get one shot – applicants are often successful on their second or third attempt. To be blunt, we have two key criteria:  a degree and Australian citizenship.

DFAT recruits graduates for two programs: policy and corporate management. For both streams, we are looking for effective communicators:  people who can talk to other people and explain ideas. Judgement and professionalism are key attributes, along with reliability, discretion, resilience and flexibility.

For our policy program, the area of study that graduates have completed is often less relevant than their personal attributes. We are looking for keen thinkers – inquiring minds with a genuine interest in the world around them. Language skills are not a prerequisite by any means, but they are welcome. We also have great opportunities for graduate economists, across foreign, trade and development policy work.

The graduate experience

Both graduate training programs run over two years and combine formal training opportunities with on-the-job training. Graduates who join our policy stream will have the opportunity to work across a broad range of the department’s work, including trade negotiations, investment, bilateral economic and political relations, humanitarian and aid management, development policy, international security, public diplomacy, international law, environment and human rights.

For the corporate management stream, we are looking for particular qualifications as well as skill sets. This stream aims to produce future managers of the department’s resources. So it’s not surprising that we are looking for qualifications in accounting, ICT, human resource management and similar. Work placements for Corporate Management Graduates might include working with my team managing our staff; financial or property management; or delivering consular and passport services to Australians.

After finishing the grad program, recruits are able to apply for postings across the department’s network of 100 embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world.

I’m often asked to sum up the appeal of a career at DFAT. The simplest answer is the variety. The opportunities to work on such a range of different and interesting areas with diverse and committed colleagues is very appealing, whether that is in Canberra or around the world.

The graduate recruitment process

Like and follow our Foreign Affairs and Trade Grad Program for updates.

Sally Mansfield joined the department in the 1985 graduate program. Her first posting was to the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv in 1987. In Canberra, she has worked on multilateral issues, media liaison and bilateral political and trade matters. She has served in Paris, including as Deputy Head of Mission and Ambassador to UNESCO; in Noumea as Consul-General and as Director of DFAT’s WA Office. She also worked with the UN in Burma. Sally is currently Chief People Officer.

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