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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

  • #1 in Government & public services
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

About Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

  • Government & Public Service
  • Law
  • Recruitment & HR

What it does: Promotes and protects Australia’s interests around the world  
Staff stats: Around 6000, either in Canberra or spread across the globe
The good bits: Overseas postings, nation-shaping work, representing Australia overseas
The not so good bits: Bureaucracy, a rigid hierarchy, a lack of autonomy
Hiring grads with degrees in: Teaching, Education & Human Welfare; Engineering, Maths, IT & Computer Sciences; Finance, Accounting, Economics & Business Administration; Health & Medical Sciences; Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences; Law & Legal Studies; Property & Built Environment; Sciences. 

The DFAT story

Up until WWII Australia’s foreign policy was largely determined by the British Foreign Office, though there were various government departments concerned with trade and promoting Australian exports. The Department of Foreign Affairs emerged from the Department of External Affairs in 1970. In 1987 it was merged with the Department of Trade to form the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).  In 2013, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) was absorbed into DFAT, along with responsibility for Australia’s overseas aid policy and programs.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade and Investment are responsible for DFAT. A Department Secretary, assisted by five Deputy Secretaries, are responsible for its day-to-day operations.

DFAT does many things but all relate to its six key goals: enhancing Australia’s security; aiding the growth of Australia’s economy; assisting Australians living or travelling overseas; strengthening global co-operation in ways that advance Australian interests; fostering public understanding of Australia’s foreign and trade policy while projecting a positive image of Australia throughout the world and managing Australia’s embassies.  DFAT works closely with other government agencies, both from within and outside the broader foreign affairs and trade portfolio.  DFAT is the lead agency managing Australia’s international presence.

The culture

DFAT is committed to inclusion and “building a workforce that reflects the diversity of the Australian community”. It does not discriminate on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race or religion. It actively encourages Indigenous Australians, people with a disability and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds to pursue a career with DFAT.   

Given the nature of its mission, diversity is more than just a PR box to tick for DFAT. It requires staff who have a deep understanding of and respect for other nations and the capacity to operate respectfully in a range of cultural environments.

Social contribution

DFAT and the wider APS don’t engage in the kind of philanthropy or community engagement private businesses often do. That said, DFAT staff do make a vital contribution by endeavouring to make Australia stronger, safer and more prosperous. Not to mention fostering stability and economic growth across the globe and administering aid policy and programs.   

The recruitment process

DFAT has two Canberra-based streams for graduates: policy or corporate management. Both run for two years and combine work placements with formal training modules. The policy grad program is open to those from all disciplines and will prepare you for a career as a generalist policy officer. The corporate management stream requires a degree in commerce, accounting, HR or ICT. It involves using your skill set in, say, financial management to help the department meet its objectives.

Whichever stream you’re interested in, you’ll need excellent communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills. You’ll also need to be results orientated and resilient.

There’s a year-long recruitment process. It involves a written application, online cogitative and psychometric testing, one-way video interviews, group exercises and one-on-one interviews. You’ll also be required to get a security clearance. This will involve supplying extensive personal information and travelling to Canberra at your own expense for an interview. You can find out more on the careers page of the DFAT website.    


Those in the grad program start on an Australian Public Service Level 3.2 salary, which is around $65,000. There are none of the perks common in the private sector. There are all the benefits found in the public sector, including access to lots of different types of leave, a generous super scheme and flexible work hours. You can also apply for leave and financial assistance to pursue further study once you’ve completed the grad program.

Career prospects

You’ll need to spend two years completing the grad program then another few years in Canberra before scoring your first overseas posting. . You can request a preferred location – taking into account the various locations, the different roles and your own personal circumstances.  Postings typically last three years. As with most public service jobs, you’ll have to rise through the rankings/pay grades in an orderly manner. There’s more job security than the private sector but also less opportunity to advance quickly.

The vibe of the place

Be prepared to navigate a hierarchical and bureaucratic organisation. That noted, you should find your fellow DFAT staff collegial, courteous and fun to be around. You can expect to do a lot of socialising with colleagues, especially if you’ve left friends and family behind to move to Canberra.

Overall satisfaction rating among grad employees: 3.9 stars


From the employer:

Our two-year graduate programs will kick start your career in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). In 2020, DFAT will offer two graduate programs based in Canberra: policy and management.

DFAT is looking for candidates who are curious about the world and interested in taking up a challenge. You will have a strong record of academic achievement with at least a credit average as well as extra-curricular interests. You may have work experience, paid or unpaid, from any background, but you will have a genuine interest in Australia’s foreign, development and trade policy interests, including in the international and domestic policy contexts.

Corporate Management
DFAT is seeking outstanding graduates who want a diverse career in corporate management and are interested in contributing to the management of DFAT’s corporate enabling services and service delivery. You will have a strong record of academic achievement with at least a credit average in disciplines with corporate management skillsets such as project management, communications, finance and human resource management. You may have work experience, paid or unpaid, from any background, but you must have a genuine interest in corporate management. You will be a forward thinker and have
sound judgement with the ability to problem solve and be a logical decision-maker.
More information will be available in the relevant position descriptions when applications open.

During the course of these programs, you will undertake a tailored learning package delivered through the Diplomatic Academy. You will develop a broad knowledge and understanding of the Government’s foreign, trade and aid policy priorities and the department’s financial and corporate context. You will also complete four work placements, giving you
first hand experience of the department’s diverse range of priorities, including:


  • Bilateral economic and political relations
  • International trade negotiations, investment and economic analysis
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • International development and aid program management
  • International security
  • Public diplomacy
  • Commercial, administrative and international law
  • Multilateral and global issues
  • Consular and passport services​

Corporate Management

  • Financial and asset management
  • Media
  • Human Resources
  • Procurement & Contract Management
  • Records Management
  • Overseas Property Management
  • Consular and passport services
  • ICT & Cyber Security​

After you have successfully completed the program, you will be promoted to an ongoing APS 4 position in Canberra. You will also be eligible to apply for positions in one of our overseas posts, although you can expect to work in Canberra for at least a couple of years building your knowledge and expertise before being ready to take up a position overseas.

Graduate Review