Before the pandemic rocked the country, Australia was facing a very different but equally challenging threat.
The Black Summer bushfires dominated the country's minds and headlines for months after leaving a trail of destruction and wiping out scores of native species.
Caitlin Francis had just moved to Canberra to start a graduate program with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment but it was still at the forefront of her new colleagues' minds.
"A lot of people in the department had talked about how they'd had [a] really disrupted Christmas and summer, and that the office had smoke infiltrated and the alarms going off all the time," Ms Francis said.
"Everyone seemed a little bit unsettled because of that."
Soon the traumatic events of the devastating bushfires would give way to a new kind of disaster - the disruption of country's regular way of life due to COVID-19's arrival.
"We'd only been here a month before, then we went into lockdown and then I was seconded over to Services Australia," Ms Francis said.
"When COVID started picking up speed, our work didn't stop but it started to slow down a little bit.
"I'd only just gotten used to the kind of work that we would be doing here at the department, and in a policy team, and then to go do service delivery, and essentially a new job in a few days, was very interesting."
As the months rolled on, the 2021 graduate program applications opened and Shinae Taylor decided to try her hand at it.
She said she was worried about whether an interstate move was even possible but it all paid off once she received the role, which she started in February 2021.
"During my interview with DESE, [I remember] asking those kinds of questions in the end, so you know, 'What will happen next year if ... there's a lot of cases? Would the program still go ahead'?" Ms Taylor said.
"There was a lot of uncertainty, in general, I just think because you had to be careful not to make ... concrete plans in 2021, just because you don't want to be disappointed."
But the move was stressful initially, she said.
A major outbreak in Sydney's northern beaches over the Christmas and New Year period, which quickly spread to other regions, threatened to uproot her plans.
Luckily restrictions, including the imposed quarantine period, were lifted the day she landed in the territory.
"When I left Sydney, you had to wear masks on public transport and shopping centres," Ms Taylor said.
"So moving to Canberra where those same restrictions weren't in place, it was such a relief, actually."
The work done by public service graduates was typically fast-paced and varied but that was taken to the next level in 2020.
Ms Francis said she had been exposed to the work of the public service previously but it still surprised her how varied it could be.
"I knew that it was much more varied than it often is portrayed [in] television shows, or by the popular stereotypes that people have [of] the public service," Ms Francis said.
"There's so many different areas, and [public servants] work on so many different tiny bits of work. One of the things people would ask is, 'What's your average day'?
"It was so hard to answer, because every day we did something completely different ... that's one of the things that does surprise me."
While Ms Francis had to adapt to the new normal, Ms Taylor was starting off with it.
She encouraged other graduates uncertain about the future to take the plunge anyway.
"Don't be afraid to look at opportunities that are literally out of your area but also out of your comfort zone," Ms Taylor said.
"Don't give up and try not to take rejection personally."
- Applications for the DESE 2022 graduate program will open in mid-2021. Register your interest on the department's website.