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What will a career in the ATO will look like after the grad program? We asked some former grads to share their stories.

Last updated 19 July 2020

You might be wondering what a career in the ATO will look like after the ATO grad program. We asked some of our former grads to share their stories and show you just how far you can go with us.

Fiona Dillon

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Deputy Chief Tax Counsel Fiona Dillon commenced her ATO career as a grad in 1999. Having worked in tax (predominantly in the ATO) for over 20 years, it’s obvious Fiona is a fan – and it all started with the grad program. So what would Fiona say to those thinking about applying?

‘Don’t hesitate,’ she says. ‘It is a solid basis for your career, and working in the ATO is exceptionally rewarding – it can take you places you never expect. I spent nearly two years in Paris working for the ATO as Australia’s delegate in numerous international tax meetings and as lead of the Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration.’ Talk about an awesome opportunity!

Having always been interested in law, Fiona even got some ATO work experience during year 10. ‘I enjoyed the work experience at the ATO more than that at the law firm,’ she says. ‘I guess that stayed with me.’

During her last year of studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Law with Honours, she took a tax subject which sparked her interest in tax law. ‘My teacher would use very interesting examples to illustrate key tax concepts that made tax seem fascinating. It was an easy choice to try to get into the ATO.’

When she joined the ATO through the grad program, Fiona was part of a South Australian cohort of 11. Two other grads from that cohort, Hoa Wood and Emma Rosenzweig, are still at the ATO today as Deputy Chief Tax Counsel and Deputy Commissioner, respectively.

Fiona says a real stand-out from the grad program was her rotation through general enquiries. ‘It was my first time talking to real taxpayers, and the first time that the sheer size of the ATO dawned on me,’ she says. ‘While our call handling is far more effective now with different lines for different things and contact centre staff who are skilled in the relevant topics, my time in general enquiries was a steep learning curve – and a valuable one.’

Ben Kelly

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Chief Risk Officer & Chief Internal Auditor, Ben Kelly completed the grad program in 1995 and now has well over two decades of experience in the organisation.

Ben came into the grad program with a law degree and is the last grad standing from his 12-person cohort, having spent 25 years with the ATO.

The first question we asked Ben was: what did the grad program look like back then?

‘The program was a little bit different, and you can still trace the elements of the current grad program to comparable things in the program back then,’ Ben said.

One component of the grad program that has stayed current is the contact centre rotation. ‘During tax time, all of us grads went over to the Canberra Branch Office in the enquiries area, which involved serving customers at the shopfront counter,’ he says.

‘It was a little bit scary as you weren’t sure what the enquiry would be, or what sort of mood the customer would be in. If you could reply that their tax return was in the mail, you got a very, very happy customer!’

When asked about how he heard about the grad program, he lets out a ‘Ha!’ with a pause of silence, ‘I actually never put the ATO down as a preference.’

Ben’s primary preference was with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) as he had a passion for Indigenous law.

He was offered an interview with ATSIC, but in the interim the Tax Office contacted him. His mum recommended going ahead with the ATO interview just for practice – however as you can gather, the interview went well, and Ben received an ATO job offer he couldn’t refuse!

Ben’s advice to someone applying for the grad program is ‘do it and keep an open mind. Even if you are enjoying a role, or a particular rotation, don’t think it is the be all and end all. You will always be surprised, particularly as time goes on, how adaptable your skills and capabilities are. They aren’t just suited for a narrow range of jobs; it is far more rewarding to be able to apply them in a number of different ways, rather than being a one-trick pony.’

The grad program is a fantastic opportunity for potential participants to do work that makes a real difference, is meaningful, diverse and challenging.


Aislinn Walwyn

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Aislinn Walwyn, Assistant Commissioner Integrated Compliance, talks about how her grad experience taught her not to be ‘hamstrung by your rank, take on challenges, regular changes in roles and business lines are not to be feared.’

Before applying for the grad program, Aislinn worked in a large law firm overseas as well as in construction litigation in Sydney. Although she didn’t have a tax background, she applied for the 2001 intake. She was accepted and hasn’t looked back since.

We asked Aislinn to take us back to what the grad program looked like in 2001. ‘While grads still did formal training in a classroom setting, the method of delivery was quite different,’ she says. ‘The office was largely paper-based and we didn’t have nearly as many digital channels as we do today. I worked on prototypes for electronic scanning as well as document and evidence management.’

Although a lot has changed in 19 years, Aislinn still believes in the ATO grad program. To anyone applying, she says: ‘Working in the ATO is professionally and personally rewarding – having a purpose of contributing to the public good. It’s also intellectually stimulating and varied, as tax is a facet of all human endeavours with plenty of opportunities for grads from different disciplines and backgrounds.’