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My Career, My APS

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I'm thinking of joining the Australian Public Service

What is it like working in the Australian Public Service?

To get started on identifying possible careers in the Australian Public Service you can browse through these case studies to get ideas.

Case Study

My name is Rachel and I work in a department as a Loans Officer. I have a hearing impairment but am able to speak and to read lips as well as signing.

I’m part of a small team who work closely together on liaising with departmental staff and other libraries. We deal a lot with automated catalogue systems.

In my job I assist with locating various documents, books and journals and sourcing documents from other libraries through Interlibrary Loans. This is done largely from my desk using a computer. I also attend work meetings where we report on work progress in the team.

Some of the work is mundane and repetitious which is actually quite comforting because you go home knowing you did your job well.

Other times, especially when Parliament is sitting it’s all engines go and the team really gets into high gear. That’s satisfying too because you know you are contributing to how our country is run.

Examples of other careers in the Australian Public Service.

Click on each title to read the case studies.

Career Case Studies

Example of work done at APS 3 – 4 level

I'm Petra and I work in the ATO located in a Regional office. I am an auditor of Self-Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF). There are two SMSF teams in my office and I am employed in the Superannuation business line.

My substantive level is APS4 and I manage my own audit cases. I like the responsibility of having my own cases, making judgments about the appropriate compliance action to take and preparing case submissions for approval by the Assistant Commissioner.

All of my contact with fund trustees is currently by phone or letter. This kind of work best utilises my skills. I have excellent written and verbal communication skills and enjoy researching and applying legislation to the facts of the cases.

There are opportunities to go on field visits but so far my disability and the poor design of modern buildings has limited my access to many clients and I mostly work from my desk. However, my supervisor is supportive and involves me when there are no issues with access to client premises or we meet the client elsewhere.

Example of work done at APS 5 level

My name is Michael, and I am an APS Level 5, Assistant Credit Card Management/FIMS Administrator at the Australian Electoral Commission. I am a paraplegic, since an accident at the age of 9 in 1976, and I use a wheelchair.

In my job I really like the interaction with people, assisting them to use the financial system. Being the only permanent staff member at my organisation (Australia Wide) that has to use a mobility aid, I often am consulted on issues that affect people with disability. I am very interested in the electoral process and I believe that all roles at the AEC, whether corporate or election specific, play a significant part in the agency's ability to ensure the community is able to easily access the electoral process.

My aspirations for my continued employment at the Australian Electrical Commission would be to become involved in promoting the electoral process to people with disability, especially those with intellectual and/or psychiatric disabilities, a segment of our community that is under-represented.

This interest has been developed through own experience as a disabled person, my volunteer work in the community, and being involved in the UN conference on Electoral Rights for citizens with disability. I believe, given the opportunity and using my own experience, I could make a significant difference in promoting the cause to people with disability and their carers.

Example of work done at APS 6 level

My name is Tony and I work in the Department of Education, Employment and Workspace Relations in Sydney as an APS 6. I've suffered from anxiety for most of my adult life and have to really work hard at managing my mental health issues.

I've been in my current role, contract manager for Disability Employment Services, for about 10 years and I love the work. I especially enjoy being good at my job and knowing that I'm ensuring public money is spent effectively and efficiently on helping people with disabilities gain and sustain employment.

My job involves a lot of stakeholder management and relationship building – talking to people about how they are implementing our funded programs for maximum effect. I talk to people both on the phone and at face to face meetings.

One of the toughest parts of my job is to make presentations to groups of stakeholders and colleagues. I find it terrifying but I seem to get through it and it gives me great satisfaction to rise to this kind of challenge in my work.

Example of work done at EL1 – EL2 level

I'm Chris and I manage a personnel services section in a large Australian Public Service agency. I have about twenty staff distributed across three teams. I meet daily with my team leaders and weekly with all staff.

I was born without fully developed arms – this was the result of Thalidomide, a drug that damaged me in the womb. I use my feet like hands – at first a confronting sight for most people, but I've been around long enough now for staff to accept me.

My job requires a lot of quality control, staff management duties and of course the inevitable reporting and troubleshooting that personnel areas deal with every day, something I'm pretty good at. I'm a bit of a joker and my favourite saying is "I think well on my feet".

Example of different entry methods into the Australian Public Service
Non-ongoing

My name is Sonia and I am employed as an APS 5 with the Department of Health and Ageing. I have been working there for about four years.

I started my employment on a six week non-ongoing contract and at the time had been diagnosed with severe depression. I was open with my supervisor and colleagues about my disability and they were very understanding and supportive.

I progressively gained extensions for my contract and after nearly twelve months won a permanent appointment with the department.

The appointment meant the world to me as I am a sole parent with four children. Last year I became ill and the treatment affected both my long and short-term memory. I commenced a return to work program starting two days per week, gradually returning to full time employment.

My workplace supported me through this difficult time, including seeking out different work hours and practices for me to try at every step of the way.

Internship

My name is Joseph. When I was in university during my last semester, I received an email from the program manager for the Australian Taxation Office internship program. I submitted my resume, got shortlisted and obtained an interview. The interview was a big challenge to me at that time, because I was worried about how I would answer the interviewers' questions.

My listening skills are not good because of my hearing impairment, so that was the main reason for my concern. However, I tried my best during the interview and I was quite pleased to be told that I passed the interview and got my job. It was the first time in my life that I have been successful in an interview.

My advice would be don't be afraid to trust yourself – you can make it happen and you'll find the Australian Public Service is a very supportive workplace.

Graduate Program

My name is Jimmy and I work as a policy officer in the Department of Education, Employment and Workspace Relations. I'm vision impaired and use MAGIC reader and other technologies to help me do my job.

I have a double degree in Arts /Business from Monash University. I applied for a few graduate jobs and won one at DEEWR nearly 4 years ago. I've since worked in a range of sections with three rotations in my graduate year.

To become a graduate I had to go through an assessment centre and an interview. At interview I needed to explain how I would undertake some aspects of the work. This was good because it really made me think about how I could be as competent as people who have no disability.

I really like my current job in policy and programs and hope to be promoted within the section.

Example of different movement methods into the Australian Public Service
Transfer at level

I'm Maggie an Assistant Section Manager Policy, Research and Analysis. I’ve been in the role for about a year now and I really enjoy managing staff and external stakeholders, influencing policy development, and taking on responsibility. I currently act as section manager every Friday.

I have mobility problems related to my disability that makes it hard for me to be out of the office and to travel for my job.

I gained my job via a transfer at level using my colleague network. The job I was in previously had reached its natural end for me, so I used my contacts to help me identify suitable positions at level.  If you are in a job you don’t enjoy anymore, I recommend trying a transfer at level; it’s opened up a whole new set of opportunities and experiences for me.

Promotion and assistance of mentors

My name is Richard and I have continuously worked in the various iterations of the Immigration Department at its Belconnen National Office, since 1988. Most of the time during those twenty-three years I have worked in an HR area - pay team, industrial relations, training and I am now an APS 4 in recruitment.  I have Asperger’s Syndrome which means I am extremely introverted and it’s difficult for me to apply for promotion. All three of my promotions (to APS2, APS3 and APS4) have only been possible thanks to the mentoring and assistance of the three relevant supervisors.

I also have episodic Bi-Polar Disorder, triggered by excessive work stress, which means that I used to have to take significant time off work. But in recent years the Immigration Department has taken care to apply "round peg in round hole" to me, so I have no longer needed hospitalisation in a psychiatric ward for the past four years.

On balance, telling people about my Asperger’s Syndrome and Bi-Polar during my Immigration career has had more gains than losses. Thanks to my frankness, the Immigration Department know exactly the best type of work to give me, which not only assists with my Bi-Polar, but also makes me very productive thanks to my Aspie characteristic of attention to detail.

Different pathways into your preferred career
Study and skill development

My name is John. I had polio at age two, and walked with the aid of crutches and calipers on my legs. I obtained a BA and worked for 15 years in State Government. In the late 1980s after getting qualifications in national park management, I won an Australian Public Service position in Kakadu National Park.

I knew I did not have the physical fitness to be a ranger, but I could do other jobs, and after starting out as an Administrative Officer for the Park I transferred to a role as Project Officer in park planning and recreation management. The workplace was supportive, providing me with an adapted car to carry out my duties.

After five and a half years in Kakadu, I transferred to Canberra. Following an accident in 1998 I was confined to a wheelchair, but support from the workplace, and reasonable adjustment such as provision of a wheelchair lift, allowed me to continue my career. I work as the Director of Workforce Development in the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. I love my job.

Sought higher level work

I worked at an Army base for many years as a clerical support person, but when my husband was transferred to Canberra I was transferred into a job assisting in process audits.

I became interested in audit and sought regular feedback as well as taking on jobs above my level. There was no problem because we were very short staffed so my boss was happy to give me anything I could do or was willing to learn.

I also volunteered for task force work and other intra-departmental working groups where I met plenty of other people in the field. Over this time my epilepsy, which I control with medication, gave me no problems, despite working full time. Today I am an APS 6 leading a team in a finance area.

Used networks

I'd always wanted to work in program development but spent the last three years in contract management roles. I don't ever feel like my hearing impairment is a disability as most contract management can be done from the desk with email.

I was bored and had mentioned it to my supervisor. He suggested I speak to the Branch's program development area – he would give me a good reference and contact there, so that gave me confidence.

Even though I have a hearing impairment I am quite a good talker in a one on one situation – my lip reading and hearing aids are a big help.

I made contact and found out about what was required in the job. A few months later I was invited to act in a vacant position at my level. I applied when the job became vacant and was transferred.

Used career advisor websites

After 6 years there, I felt like it was time to move on from my job in the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service where I worked assisting with rehabilitation cases. So I started to use the DEEWR "myfuture.gov.au" website to help me look for other career avenues.

The site has all sorts of tools you can use to determine your career interests and it has a lot of information about occupations.

I realised after completing a search of jobs that I was interested in law, so I took advantage of the Department's study leave and began studying a degree, much of which was through distance learning. It took me seven years part time, but I am now working in the Attorney General's Department on family law issues.

I have spina bifida and am confined to a wheelchair, but this has little impact on my work, which I love.

Promotion

My name is Elena and I am almost profoundly deaf. I currently work as a legal advisor in AusAID. I completed my articles with the Australian Government Solicitor. A move to Attorney-General's Department saw me promoted through to executive levels, developing new legislation and providing legal policy advice.

I was nervous about the challenges of starting work, but email created a big cultural change and I use available technologies and scribes. Fundamentally it is about educating my work colleagues to be more inclusive and aware.

A career highlight was working on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, briefing Australia's delegation and overseeing processes leading to Australia's signature of the treaty.

At AusAID I've helped develop its first ever Disability Inclusive Development Strategy. I will never forget meeting people with disability in Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Laos, Thailand and East Timor. As a result I no longer take for granted the education I've had, and the opportunities I've had to participate in the Australian Government and contribute to its policy development.

Getting feedback on readiness for promotion
Stella

I work as senior graphic designer in a major Australian Public Service agency. I'm hearing impaired to the point that even with my hearing aids it is difficult to hear, especially in environments with a lot of background noise like office equipment.

I've been in this job for about two years and would never have taken the risk of being interviewed if I hadn't spoken to my former boss in the Department of Defence, where I was acting in a senior graphic designer role.

I asked him straight out if he thought I was ready for promotion and he was very honest, pointing out my strengths and areas I could develop. We developed a plan to improve my skills and knowledge through more varied and difficult work and with feedback and assistance from my supervisor.

Now I have a really great job that I will stay in for years – my advice – don't be afraid to ask for specific feedback, be willing to hear the good and the bad, and work on the areas you are not strong in.

Taylah

I'm an APS 5 in my second year providing secretariat services to a senior working group on plant imports.

I was promoted from another department where I performed similar duties as part of my executive assistant work at a lower salary level. I felt like the only time I got feedback was when I did something wrong. I mentioned this to a colleague in the disability network group I attend (I'm a below knee double amputee and get around on crutches and a wheelchair).

At the time she suggested I make a formal appointment in my boss's diary to get feedback because my boss was used to having his diary filled by me. I prepared some specific questions I wanted answered and prepared myself for the worst. He told me a lot of good things and some things I could do differently so I acted on them and was eventually able to get my new job.

My personal situation has changed
Tony

I work as a project officer in Department of Health and Ageing. My disability came nine years into my Australian Public Service career path. I described the incident as a stroke of bad luck.

The doctors, nurses and assorted specialists at Royal Hobart Hospital described it as massive stroke. I had slurred speech, was forgetting words, my reasoning often missing and fatigue like I've never felt before.

After the stroke my colleagues at DoHA were unswerving in their support and in developing a rehabilitation plan. The plan was continually revised and discussed with appropriate medical advice, checks, tests and my workload adjusted accordingly.

Now almost 20 months after the "stroke of bad luck" most things (physical and mental) are fine and my department colleagues are still overflowing with support.

I am an APS 6 in Treasury

I was a tiler for about fifteen years until a back injury put me permanently out of my profession. I admit I wasted a lot of time after my injury, mainly with being depressed and angry about not being able to work.

A meeting with a former schoolmate changed things for me – he suggested I study and get a degree. I was able to get some government assistance and went full time to university where I completed a BA majoring in Economics. I applied for and was accepted into the Department of Finance's Graduate Scheme, as my back injury was medically acceptable for clerical work, just not for physical labour like tiling.

Today I am an APS 6 in Treasury, assisting in decisions affecting the national economy. Who would ever have thought it?

Frank

I work in the Department of Defence as a finance officer. About two years ago my wife, who is ten years older than me, began to show signs of dementia.

Her illness progressed rapidly to the point where she now needs constant care. With government assistance and my wage, I can pay a nurse for three days a week, but have to take on the carer role for the remaining four days.

My Department has been supportive in agreeing to allow me to work part time (three days at work a week) and to do the equivalent of a further day's work from home. This has kept me alive financially and has really made a difference to our quality of life. I am very grateful for the assistance and support I've received.

Educating others about disability
My co-workers didn't understand

Initially my co-workers didn't understand much about my disability. Once we knew each other better, I had an informal discussion, with the support of my manager, about how I became hearing impaired, the problems I faced and other information about my disability. This led my colleagues to be more understanding.

There are many different levels of hearing impairment. I feel that most people are not aware of this. There is a common assumption in society that people with hearing impairment cannot hear and subsequently, cannot communicate well or even "think".

My manager is a very good observer and has experience with hearing impairment because there is a person who has the same disability in my workplace. For example, she understood that people with hearing impairment disability require written communication if spoken communication doesn't work out. My advice is that once informed, people can and do adjust to your disability.

Carol

I work for the Australian Taxation Office in Brisbane. I have a bionic ear and a speech processor but can't use a telephone headset.

I originally studied fine arts – but it is difficult to find a job in that area even in a place as big as Brisbane. I first joined the public service in the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Brisbane after completing a business course to be a data processor. Later I got a job in the Australian Taxation Office in a range of areas dealing with clients.

I enjoy working in the public service. In my job in data acquisition I have to find out things. I ring people and write correspondence seeking information.

Sometimes I really have to be clear with people about what I'm capable of. A number of times they have tried to place me in a call centre, but I have difficulty taking calls even though I can make calls. I guess people don't understand why one is more difficult than the other. It has taken some convincing to not put me in these areas and sometimes I find it difficult to be assertive about it.

Reasonable adjustment and use of assistive technologies
Mike

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to always have laryngitis you are imagining my life.

I have a condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia, a dysfunction of the larynx. Usually my voice is fine in the morning but fades during the day, especially those days when I need to talk a lot.

My current manager is aware of the difficulties I often experience in being able to speak in a strong and clear voice. It often sounds very strangled and requires people to listen closely, so we have worked on some hand signals; for example, when I need to make a point at a meeting, I will use the "T" sign so people know I need quiet to be heard. I also try to limit my talking to short bursts.

We've developed simple and effective ways to deal with my disability in the workplace. Like many disabilities, the workplace changes necessary to accommodate it have been minor.

People don't realise I have a hearing impairment

While I was at university, my aid was a note taker who took notes for lectures and tutorials. At university, I am not able to hear well except when talking with a single individual. In the Australian Taxation Office, I require less aid as I can communicate well face to face.

I am one of the hearing impaired people who can talk well, but that sometimes means that people don't realise I have a hearing impairment.

So sometimes, I ask people I am talking with to write down their conversation if I cannot understand. It is not common in social situations though because it is not always very practical.

As for using telephones, I cannot use them. I require a TTY aid, a special type of telephone that is similar to SMS text, and it converts whatever the speaker says into writing.

Staying positive/getting knock backs
Antonia

I'm Antonia and my leg has been amputated from the hip. I use a wheelchair in the office.

Before winning my job in the Australian Public Service I'd been actively seeking work for several years. Although I'd used that time to improve my skills, my disability posed a problem with prospective employers. I wouldn't mention it until gaining a face–to–face interview as I found when I did disclose information I would not get interviewed.

I had knock back after knock back – very disheartening. Then I signed up with Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service Australia. With their encouragement I began to apply for jobs in the Australian Public Service. After a number of unsuccessful interviews, I was invited to apply for a non-ongoing role in an agency.

I jumped at the opportunity and have since moved on from my original role and won an ongoing position in May; and loving it.

Michelle

My name is Michelle and I conduct client risk reviews on large businesses. I like the complexity of my job. There is always something new to learn. I use crutches to walk as I have a mobility impairment.

I find that I do face challenges being less mobile than others. It mainly impacts on me when I want to attend courses that are held at external venues that don't have proper facilities for people with disabilities. My supervisor will often call the organisers and set them straight on their need to offer accessible courses. When the team organises social events outside the office they always check if the venues are accessible so I won't feel excluded.

I sometimes need to ask others to help me with carrying files, so I've had to learn to be assertive and not to let myself feel that I am a burden. This can be hard sometimes but everyone is very helpful.