Ten tips to gain the most from a graduate program

When you win a place in an APS graduate program you need to think ahead to when you have finished the program and have to secure a position within the agency. In some agencies places are automatic. In others you will have to complete with others to secure a place. Taking a strategic approach to your year on a graduate program will set you up to make a strong case for winning a position.

Here’s ten tips on how you can take a strategic approach to your first year in the public service.

  1. In many cases you will be given three rotations during the year. That means you will spend a few months in different parts of the agency learning what that area does and working with different groups of people. Learn as much as you can about the agency, its divisions, branches, programs and projects so you can identify what most interests you and is likely to give you useful experience.
  2. Find out how the rotations are arranged. Is it done by lucky dip, can you choose or are you chosen? If you can choose, make an informed decision. Talk to the manager and find out what work they have planned, what skills you will gain, what training you will receive, who you will be working with. You want to make sure you have a manager who has real work and will take a serious interest in your development while you are there.
  3. Take every learning opportunity seriously. If you have training sessions to attend, absorb as much as you can. Participate actively and gain as much knowledge and new skills as you can.
  4. Learn to reflect. Graduate programs may give you the opportunity to use tools that tell you something about your personal style. This tool might be a communication style tool or a psychometric tool like Myers Briggs. Resist being dismissive of what these tools tell you. Reflect on what they tell you about yourself and what impact you may have on others. Interview panels may be interested to know what you have learned about yourself during the program.
  5. Identify the key skills you need to develop. Be aware of gaps in your skill set. Read the selection criteria related to the level of job you want to apply for. During your rotations try to build these skills.
  6. Make notes throughout the year of what you learn, experiences you have. How did you handle these situations? What results did you produce? What did you learn? When it comes to applying for a job you will need to support your case with examples of how you have used your interpersonal, project management, problem solving, communication skills amongst the many that could be covered in selection criteria. If you don’t keep a log of this information you will struggle to remember key details at the end of the year.
  7. Go above and beyond what is the minimum expectation. Attend additional seminars. Volunteer to take on extra work. Contribute to the life of the agency through social and sporting events.
  8. Get to know people. Build relationships with managers. If given the opportunity, meet executive staff. They have invested heavily in your selection and training so they want to know you are a good return on investment.
  9. Understand what level of job you will pitch for at the end of the program. You need to learn about work level standards and what is expected of different levels. This will influence the skills you build and what you gain from your rotations.
  10. Choose work that stretches you. Sticking with what is familiar won’t add to your knowledge or skill set.

Be an active participator in the program by talking to managers about what you need as well as what you can contribute. Be assertive without being demanding. If you take a strategic approach to your year in a graduate program you will much more to offer when it comes to applying for a job.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.