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How to land a job in a coveted government graduate program

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Government graduate programs are highly competitive. Gain a competitive advantage by understanding the recruitment process for university graduates.

Think about the recruitment processes you may have heard about at some of the biggest companies in Australia. Things like cover letters, multiple interview stages, generic emails and a lot of disappointment may come to mind. Fun, right?

Now consider that the government as a whole is the largest employer in the country and that individual departments can receive thousands of applicants each year. That is a lot of CVs to sift through, and you’re going to have to wait your turn.

The sheer number of applicants means that the application process for the public sector can be likened to a marathon – it is a bit of a gruelling slog but the more you practice, the easier it becomes, and it is immensely satisfying to make it through. And at the end of it all? Another few months of waiting before you find out if you got the job or not. All in all, the process can take over eight months. It is not for the impatient or faint of heart.

Because there are generally more applicants for federal government graduate programs (you’ll find people from all over Australia applying for these roles as opposed to the state government roles which predominantly attract people from that state), there may be more stages in the recruitment process when compared to state government positions.

The recruitment process for graduates

In terms of what you need to know, and how you should prepare, the recruitment process is virtually the same for state and federal government positions. Though the specific tasks may differ between departments and agencies, they all follow a similar multi-stage process which uses a combination of the following steps:

  • A written application usually involving two or three targeted questions about why you are interested in the program and how you are suited to the capabilities they’re looking for.
  • Psychometric testing – an online test designed to test your ability to recognise patterns and solve problems in a logical way. These tests are designed to assess your verbal reasoning, numerical skills, comprehension and grammar, spatial reasoning, information processing and problem-solving.
  • Initial interview (often by phone or video).
  • Behavioural profiling – a test that measures your personality across a range of categories that’s used to determine how you would fit into the team you’re applying for.
  • Assessment centre (which may be comprised of any/all of the following)
  • Panel Interview
  • Group task
  • Individual task

Not all departments will utilise all of these stages. You might find that there is no initial interview, or that for some of the smaller agencies there is no assessment centre. However, you should be prepared to face a process that includes all of these stages.

Federal government recruitment timeline

To get a better idea of the timeframe of the overall recruitment process for a federal government department, let’s use a Department of Human Services (DHS) graduate program timeline as an example. Applications for this program opened in March and closed in late April. If your initial application was successful, you would then have faced the following stages in the recruitment process (assuming you made it past each one!):

  1. Psychometric test one began in late April. This consisted of three online games that were designed to assess candidates’ numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning and abstract reasoning.
  2. Psychometric test two began in early May. This test consisted of a situational judgment simulation that took you through real-world scenarios and then asked you questions about them.
  3. Initial video interviews began in mid-May. Video interviews are being increasingly used in recruitment and are essentially one-way interviews where you record yourself answering a set number of questions that are presented to you. You can find more information on how to ace your video interview here. DHS conducted a video interview using four questions that ran between 12 to 15 minutes.
  4. Behavioural profiling began in late May.
  5. Assessment centres began in June which consisted of a behavioural interview, a group activity and a written task.

After all of this, if you made it that far, you then had to trudge through reference checks, an entry-level check and a medical check before offers were made. Some people received their offer as late as October and the program didn’t start until February the following year.

As we said, a marathon. Make sure you stay hydrated.

Though the process may seem daunting, you can breathe easy as we will go into detail about the written application, interviewing, and assessment centres in the next few sections so that you are fully prepared to tackle each stage as you come to it.