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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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5 insider tips for DFAT grad program applications

Jeffrey Duncan

Prosple Co-founder
GradAustralia surveyed recent graduates at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to bring you the top five essential tips for applying to the DFAT grad program

1. Do your research

Thorough research and preparation is part and parcel for most roles at DFAT, so no surprises that it’s also important when applying...

"Make sure to do the available research - be up to date with the major current issues in foreign and trade policy (it's not enough, but one helpful tip is to read the Economist in the week of your interview or week before). Get used to looking at an issue through the framework of national, bilateral and international implications or interests affected. Listen to radio national, topical and relevant issues covered everyday."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"Read widely on the work of DFAT, Australian foreign policy and international affairs more generally. Make sure you cover all areas of the department's work including foreign policy, consular assistance, development and trade. There is a lot of material on the DFAT website and the Lowy Institute has a number of great publications and blogs."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"Talk to people who already work at DFAT - friends, friends or friends; we're all very happy to speak to people who are keen to apply. Read extensively on the DFAT website, particularly about the hot foreign affairs topics of the moment."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"Read the Ministers' and Secretary's speeches and be up-to-date on current affairs."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

2. Communicate clearly and address the selection criteria

Clear and concise communication is highly valued in the Department of Foreign Affairs, so make sure you’re able to demonstrate this skill in your application

"Invest a significant amount of time and effort in crafting responses to the selection criteria. The selection committee refers back to these at each step of the interview process, so they form a crucial part of your application. Obviously read key documents on the DFAT website prior to the essay and face-to-face interview, as you will be asked about current priorities."
Graduate, Canberra

"DFAT places a premium on clear, concise and persuasive communication (written and oral) backed by rigorous analysis. Your responses should be considered, structured and well written."
Graduate, Canberra

"Get some advice on writing to selection criteria from different people in the public service (definitely get more than one perspective). Understand what the department's objectives are. Ask questions and don't be scared to clarify what the interview panel are asking of you."
Graduate, Canberra

3. Know why you want to work at DFAT

Make sure you have a compelling story about your motives and interests in working for DFAT...

"Why do you want to work for DFAT? What do you understand DFAT does? Tell us about the work of DFAT with specific reference to senior executive statements."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"DFAT are not looking for people with significant expertise in areas of international affairs - you can learn this on the job if and when it's needed. Instead, know why (in a genuine sense) you want to have a career in international affairs. And then, most importantly, have experiences which highlight the point that you are a generally capable person in whatever you do."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"Read widely, form your own opinions and demonstrate interest and commitment to advancing Australia's foreign, trade and development priorities through internships/volunteering/study."
Entry level, Canberra

4. Be prepared for some tricky interview questions

DFAT need to know you can think on your feet, so expect to occasional curveball just to test you!

"I was asked a range of questions, from views on Australian foreign and trade policy objectives, to national security priorities, to more personal and generic questions such as discussing times you faced adversity in the workplace or in your personal life and how you overcame them etc."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

“I was asked who inspires you? How should the department's work be evaluated for effectiveness? What is Australia's place in the world and how can it effectively influence events?"
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"The questions varied and included (but were not limited to) foreign policy-focused questions, questions relating to your area of expertise, and questions designed to throw you, to see how you acted under pressure."
DFAT Midlevel, Canberra

5. And finally, don’t give up!

If it doesn’t go the way you had planned, don’t despair!

"I think the best advice for this kind of process, where there are so many stages and so many variables along the way, is to apply more than once. A number of people (including myself) made it into DFAT having been rejected in previous recruitment rounds.Volunteer work, broad interests, have an opinion"
DFAT Graduate, Canberra

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket - it's a big wide world with many opportunities and DFAT is but one of them. Consider a range of employment opportunities. Reading key statements of Ministers and the Secretary is helpful preparation. Also have a viewpoint - regurgitating ministerial talking points will only get you so far."
DFAT Graduate, Canberra