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
The DFAT story
Up until WWII Australia’s foreign policy was largely determined by the British Foreign Office, though there were various governments 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, is 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.
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.
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 a 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.
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:
"DFAT has many strengths as a department – its greatest are its people. Talented people who are dedicated, work hard and are prepared to go the extra mile.
DFAT officers a policy program and a management/corporate program. Graduates work in Canberra and then become eligible for apply for an overseas posting.
Your career will advance the interests of Australia and Australians internationally.
Our ideal candidate
Has a variety of strengths, is an academic achiever, who has undertaken extra-curricular activities in whatever form that might be, paid work supporting yourself through university, involvement in community groups and events, volunteering in any capacity or any other interesting activities. We are in search of candidates that have a passion and genuine interest in international issues and understand the contribution Australia can make internationally.
What we do
The department provides foreign, trade and development policy advice to the Government. We work with other government agencies to ensure that Australia’s pursuit of its global, regional and bilateral interests is coordinated effectively. Who we are - We are a motivated and professional team with a wide variety of qualifications and backgrounds. We welcome graduates from all academic backgrounds. We value people with ideas, the ability to present them persuasively, and the drive and skill to see them implemented. We take pride in our reputation for acting with integrity and discretion.
DFAT is the lead agency managing Australia’s international presence. We manage a network of 95 overseas posts in five continents and we have more than 6,000 staff – located in Canberra, state and territory offices and overseas posts."