Just like in other industries, structured graduate programs in the public sector are amongst the most highly sought after positions you will find yourself applying for. These positions are very competitive, well paid, and provide clear paths to future, ongoing employment in public service.
There are two main types of government graduate positions that attract some of the largest pools of applicants in the Australian job market – graduate roles in federal government departments, and graduate rotation programs in state government.
Beyond these two main categories, keep in mind that many government agencies (at both federal and state-level) also offer their own graduate positions. There are far too many agencies to list all of their programs here, so keep an eye on the websites of any particular agencies you are interested in for information on potential graduate positions.
To find out a bit more about some of these agencies and what they have to offer, head on over to the government and public service section of our website at gradaustralia.com.au.
If you can’t stand the thought of relocating to the nation’s capital, then federal government roles are not for you. Graduate roles in the federal government are offered by individual departments and agencies (most of which are located in Canberra) and are specific to that department or agency.
The nature of these programs varies between departments, but they are usually between 18-24 months and are entry-level programs aimed at training you up for a career in the public service. There are usually offers of ongoing employment waiting for you at the conclusion of the programs, however, this also varies between departments.
The real decision comes in deciding which departments to apply for – and this really just depends on your personal interests. Would you rather be working to better Australia’s Health system? Education? Foreign affairs? The options are wide and the choice is yours.
Many departments offer graduate roles in multiple streams that are targeted at people with different tertiary backgrounds. These streams are split into general policy-based streams (which make up the majority of available graduate positions), ICT (Information and Communications Technology) streams, as well as the odd legal stream.
The great thing about roles in the policy stream is that the skills you learn and apply are generally applicable and are easily transferred to the private sector if you decide to make a career change down the track! Unlike vocational positions, you won’t be pigeon-holed into a specific role, and future employers will be attracted to the diverse skill-set you will develop.
Graduate roles in the state governments work a bit differently – rather than applying to a specific department, most states offer generalist graduate programs where you rotate through a number of different government departments. Just like the federal government programs, you will develop professional skills that are widely applicable.
State government graduate programs are ideal if you are unsure of which department you want to work for as you will do multiple rotations that will give you the opportunity to work on projects in different areas. For example, in the NSW Government Graduate Program, graduates do six-month rotations across three different departments.
Some of the main state government graduate programs include:
The Western Australian government doesn’t offer a generalist graduate employment program, however, there are graduate roles available in various departments. To hear a bit more about some of these programs, head over to our website gradaustralia.com.au where you can find stories from graduates who were once in your position.
If policy work isn’t your thing, or you aren’t looking for a generalist graduate program and would rather do something where you can hone some more specific skills, then the public service still has a lot to offer. If you have a background in business, or PR, or marketing, or any other field that requires specific skills, and you want to use those skills in your job without having to work in the often cutthroat environment of the private sector, then a job in government might provide the answer.
As we’ve mentioned, the government has experienced a cultural shift in recent years towards a best practice model that is similar to how many businesses function. Cost-effectiveness, efficiency and consistency are all key values when it comes to the management and functioning of departments and agencies.
To be a business, one must think like a business. Government departments employ people in a range of roles that are commonplace in the private sector to help them operate efficiently, promote their work, and ensure they are keeping up with technological and societal changes. This means that in any given department, you will see roles in finance, marketing, public relations, media, strategy, human resources and administration, among others.
Recruitment for these kinds of roles is less structured than for the graduate positions – there won’t be any yearly graduate intakes for them – and you may find that you have to express your interest directly to specific departments, or wait until you see a specific opening advertised online.
If unpredictability is more your speed, then you might want to forego the more traditional paths we’ve shown you above and become a political staffer.
As a political staffer, you work for a member of parliament (MP) and your day will be very dependent on theirs – some days might be intense and action-packed, while others might be slow and quiet. A political staffer is generally a Jack of all trades, however, if you work for an MP in a larger electorate who is provided with more staff you will likely get a more defined role.
Your job is essentially to make the MP’s work run as smoothly as possible, and the kinds of tasks you will do can vary greatly from day to day, ranging from speech writing to event coordination to office admin.
To read more about what a day in the life of a political staffer is really like, check out Adam Pulford’s detailed description on our website of the different things you might be tasked with.
If you’re interested in starting your career in the public service, you should be on the lookout for government graduate programs. These structured programs usually accept a consistent number of grads from year to year, with some departments even increasing the amount of grads they take on. For example, according to an HR representative at their graduate program information night last year, the number of places for the NSW Government Graduate Program increased to approximately 200 in 2018 – up from roughly 150 places in 2017. There are lots of opportunities for talented grads, particularly if you’re willing to move interstate.
At the federal level, the number of roles offered by each department varies greatly depending on size and funding, which changes from year to year. However, given the sheer volume of departments and agencies that have yearly intakes of graduates, there are plenty of programs to choose from.
Competition for these roles is quite high, however, grades are not the only factor considered (you won’t find many strict grade cut-offs when applying for roles in the public service). Government departments also like to hire graduates from a range of different backgrounds, which means that an economics graduate is likely to be just as competitive as a law graduate!
The average entry-level package for graduate roles is $65,000 and the average industry hours are 37.5 per week, making this one of the best-value industries at an average of $37 an hour. Roles in the public sector also usually include generous superannuation contributions.
As for the other roles we outlined in Part One, the job market outlook is shaped a little differently. It is much easier to track the job market of structured graduate programs that have yearly intakes and clear placement targets.
If you are looking for a more specific role as part of a department’s business-like operations, then you are going to be much more reliant on openings becoming available as previous staff depart. Unlike businesses, government departments rarely expand or restructure.
The key here is to keep an eye on job listings on government websites, just like you would if you were looking for a specific kind of role in the private sector. The good news is that because there are so many government departments and agencies, and because public servants often make internal transitions to new roles, you usually don’t have to wait too long before finding a number of these opportunities.
Political staffer roles are a different story entirely. The intake of staff for any given MP will fluctuate dramatically depending on when elections take place. The biggest opportunity to get a role as a political staffer will be immediately before and after an election.
Before elections, MPs will need as much help as they can get in planning, organising and implementing their campaign, and will often hire new staff for this purpose. Following elections will be the period with the largest turnover in political staffer roles due to changes in government.
These roles will often go to those who have affiliations with the party for which they are to work. Nepotism is real, particularly in a field where political allies are important. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t become a political staffer without knowing people in the right places.
If you have your heart set on becoming a political staffer, your best bet is to get involved with the party for which you want to work as early as you can (volunteering to help out with local political events is a good start). Your next step will be to cold call or email all of the MPs you would like to work for when you are ready to commit to the job. These are some of the more difficult roles to find due to the ad hoc nature of recruitment for them, but they can also be very rewarding if you have an interest in politics.
Ready for the next step? Here are the key skills you’ll need to land a graduate job in the government sector.