By Guest Author Miriam Kochman
When I first applied for the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF), I scoured the internet for application tips, researched government agencies, and tried to talk to people I knew who had pursued careers in public service. Having been fortunate to receive the fellowship in 2015, I can say that I learned a lot along the way. While the PMF application process may seem mysterious and complex, it is definitely worth it in the end.
The PMF program is a two-year government leadership development program for early career professionals with a recent graduate degree in any field. Many people apply for the fellowship during the final year of a graduate program, but applicant eligibility has been extended up to two years after the final year of a master’s or PhD program (Note: Some PMFs have law degrees or other types of degrees. Go to pmf.gov for the complete eligibility rules). PMFs work for a government agency for two years, either in Washington, DC or elsewhere, and have access to training opportunities as well as the ability to pursue a “developmental assignment”. What this means is that PMFs are expected to take on a new job for 4-6 months in order to develop skills outside of their standard professional responsibilities – essentially, PMFs temporarily leave their fellowship positions to pursue any other job of interest, and then return to their original positions after that time. It’s a rare opportunity to explore several different types of work within a two-year timeframe. Many, but not all, PMFs complete a developmental assignment within the federal government, and many PMFs choose to continue their careers in public service after completing their fellowships.
The PMF application is available for a short period of time every year, and it’s best to check pmf.gov early if you are interested in applying. (The application will become available in the fall of 2016.) There are several stages to the application process and it could take up to a year to complete. Every year approximately 500-600 people become PMF Finalists and have the opportunity to pursue a fellowship. The application process has three stages:
STAGE ONE: The first stage involves submitting a transcript, and resume, taking an online assessment, and writing essays. The PMF website provides guidance on information to be included in a resume, with the option to use USAJobs to build a federal-style resume if desired. You are not applying for a specific job at this stage, and a federal resume format is not required, but the information on the PMF website is helpful nonetheless. Next, you will need to take an online “Situational Judgment” assessment; the assessment is applicable to anyone in any field, and there is no way to prepare for it. Lastly, you will be prompted to respond to several essay questions. (It is possible to save your essays and return to them later if needed.)
After the application period has ended and applications have been reviewed, applicants receive email notifications regarding their status. There is no information on the exact criteria for passing the first stage. Applicants who are not selected may reapply in the following year if they are still within two years of completing graduate school.
STAGE TWO: Applicants who pass the first stage are invited to an in-person PMF assessment. There is no call-in option and you are on your own in terms of any travel or accommodations that may be needed. The in-person assessment is long and intense. Candidates are evaluated in groups, so at least you will have the chance to meet others who are also mystified about the process! The day consists of a Group Exercise, Behavioral Interview, and a Written Exercise. Be sure to check the online PMF Assessment Preparation Guide, published by pmf.gov, for more information. No background knowledge is required, and there really isn’t anything you can do to prepare. If you enjoyed your graduate-level work, you will likely find the in-person assessment to be interesting and challenging (if a bit nerve-wracking).
The three best pieces of advice I can give are to review your application materials early, follow the instructions carefully, and be prepared to work with others that you likely have never met before.
STAGE THREE: If you make it this far, congratulations! Applicants who pass the interview stage become PMF Finalists. PMF Finalists are accepted into the program and have the ability to pursue a fellowship. However, the hard part isn’t over yet. Once you become a PMF Finalist, you need to take the initiative to apply for federal positions, and the mystery of the PMF process continues. PMF Finalists have one year from the date of their notifications to find a position; at the one-year mark, the PMF status disappears and applicants who have not found a job lose the ability to pursue the fellowship.
How does a PMF finalist find a job? There are two main ways
- PMF Finalists find jobs through a special website that is administered by the federal government. It is only possible to access this site if you are a PMF, and you can expect to receive more information if you become a finalist. The website is helpful and it is more straightforward than USAJobs.com, the standard government jobs website.
- PMF Finalists find jobs by reaching out directly to government agencies. This may seem more difficult, but I highly recommend giving it a shot if you have your heart set on a particular type of job or agency. The bad news is that it can take time to get in touch with the right person or to gather the information that you need. The good news is that many government agencies in Washington, DC are familiar with the PMF program, and many federal employees are willing to meet with prospective PMFs. In some cases, you may find out that a government agency is in the process of posting PMF positions; in other cases, you may be able to work with the agency in order to create a position that fits your professional interests. It never hurts to ask!
You may be thinking, this all sounds well and good, but I have no idea how to contact a government agency, and/or I live far from Washington, DC. Don’t let either of those situations dissuade you. Start doing research online. For example, if you think you want to work for the State Department, check out their website and learn about the different offices there. You will need to be specific about the type of job that you are looking for, and a little up-front research goes a long way. See if you can find a contact for the office you are interested in, and start sending out emails. It may also be helpful to contact people on LinkedIn – in fact, if you type “Presidential Management Fellow” into LinkedIn, you may find a current fellow who would be willing to talk to you. Don’t be shy about setting up phone calls just to ask some questions, and, if you are in the city where the agency is located, set up in-person meetings. Keep your initial emails relatively brief, and be prepared to explain the fellowship program in case the person that you contact is unfamiliar with it. Be proactive, friendly, and don’t forget to send thank you notes to people who meet with you.
At this point in the process, you will likely have connected with other finalists, and there will be Facebook groups, online forums, and other methods of staying in touch. Current and previous PMFs are frequently willing to help answer questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
OBTAINING A PMF POSITION: With some luck, you will talk to lots of people and eventually receive an offer for a PMF position that you are excited about. Congratulations! Just a few words of advice as you start picturing your new government job: The government hiring process is very different from private sector hiring processes, and it may take a lot longer than you expect. As it is the government, there will be paperwork. A lot of paperwork. There also might be a significant lag time between the day that the government agency expresses interest in you and the day that you start your job. This could take a month, or it could take several months. Many government agencies send out “tentative offers” before the actual offers are processed. Unless you prefer to have a gap in between your current job and the fellowship, I recommend not leaving your current job until you have received the official offer and have an assigned start date. Once you have this information, you are ready to launch your career in public service!
Miriam Kochman is a Presidential Management Fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water. Prior to becoming a PMF, Miriam worked in the financial consulting industry, and previously served as a program evaluator for engineering and STEM education projects. Miriam also spent a year teaching English in Kunming, China, and a year studying Mandarin in Kunming as a 2010 Chinese Government Scholar. Miriam holds an MA in Economics and Energy, Resources and Environment from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a BA in Linguistics and Psychology from Brandeis University.
© Victoria Johnson 2016, all rights reserved.