From local government bodies, like the City of Sydney Council, to federal employers like the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the government sector encompasses a range of organisations with unique requirements, objectives, and hiring practices. While some, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Training, deal with broad areas of policy, others, like the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, focus on more specific issues and challenges.
Already, this makes for a complex environment in which to prepare, as a graduate, for a job interview. Compounding this already daunting prospect, is the competitive nature of many graduate programs within the public service. For example, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading receives some 2,000 applications a year for about 35 positions, while the appealing perks at organisations like the Australian Bureau of Statistics attract highly qualified candidates from across the country.
The good news is that graduates who aspire to careers within the public service can draw upon a range of helpful resources. Many agencies have produced their own literature to guide candidates through the recruitment process—we’ve provided a short list of such guides below. Candidates can also, of course, benefit from the advice of successful past candidates, such as GradAustralia’s industry insiders. Drawing on information from both of these sources, we’ve compiled a list of 25 questions that will help you prepare for your own graduate job interview in the public service.
NB: Given the range of positions within the public sector, it’s impossible to identify exact questions that graduates should expect within their own job interviews. As such, the following examples are indicative only of the type of question you may be asked. Wherever possible, you should consider how they might be tailored to reflect the priorities of your prospective employer.
“The interview process was over two days, the first day was an introduction to the organisation and tour, the second was assessments and interviews. It's a really smart way to do it because the first day gets you all hyped about working at the organisation and you really put your best enthusiastic foot forward in the interview the next day.”
Entry level, Sydney, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
“They mainly asked technical questions, as well as why I wanted to join the organisation.”
Graduate, Canberra, Australian Bureau of Statistics
“Explore AEMO's website and read some of our publications relevant to your area of specialty. Have an understanding of the power system and economic market behind it—know the lingo.”
Graduate, Sydney, Australian Energy Market Operator
“Read through the organisation website (both ACCC and AER) and learn about what they do. Learn about what the priority areas are for that year and peruse news items (either on the website or Google) that relate to those priority areas. Think about how the work of the organisation relates to whatever study background you have (i.e. economics, finance, law). Prepare practice answers and practice saying them aloud.”
Midlevel, Melbourne, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
“Read up on the values of the organisation. The values are the metric by which candidates are measured.”
Graduate, Canberra, Australian National Audit Office
“Research the agency’s role and purpose, its strategic plan and what schemes we administer. Think about what skills you have and how they can contribute to the agency’s strategic direction.”
Graduate, Canberra, Clean Energy Regulator
“Invest a significant amount of time and effort in crafting responses to the selection criteria. The selection committee refer 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, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading
“Pick policy issues where you are likely to know more than the interviewer (i.e. nothing particularly topical or high profile). Spend the time knowing these issues well and be prepared to justify your responses.”
Midlevel, Canberra, Department of Treasury
“Reference how your extracurricular experiences and life outside of university have developed your skill set - there's a fair chance the best examples of what you can offer your future employer occurred outside the four walls of the classroom.”
Midlevel, Perth, Western Australia Department of Health