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Advice for Acing the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Application

In a previous post, I summarized the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Class of 2013 PMF Assessment Prep Guide, excerpting key segments of their advice and embedding the document for your convenience. They’ve really put together an excellent resource there and I’m impressed overall with the work of the new group that’s leading the charge. Props to the PMF team.

While I am not eligible to apply (finished grad school many moons ago!), I wanted to have an even better sense of the experience of a potential PMF candidate so that I can give good advice in our PathtoPMF.com forums. As a result, I spent a couple hours yesterday walking through the PMF Application and Online Assessment. Below is what I learned.

Please Note: What I share here does not in any way reveal specifics about the content of the application and assessment – only logistical considerations so that you can plan accordingly. You’ll see why I am so diligent in stating this plainly based on my first recommendation.

1. What happens in the assessment stays in the assessment. Within the first couple pages, OPM asks an applicant to “certify that he or she will protect any information contained in these instruments or assessment data from release to any other party. This duty to safeguard the information contained in these documents is a continuing personal, ethical, and legal obligation that is not terminated or otherwise modified by change of jobs or employer.” A candidate must sign this Non-Disclosure agreement and risks disqualification if they discuss it in any form (orally; in writing; in any internet “chat room,” message board, or forum; or otherwise). As you can see, I am heeding that agreement carefully with this blog post and I would strongly recommend that all candidates honor it as well…even to the extent of not talking at all about it with their colleagues or friends.

2. Be sure you’re using the right browser. I started the application using Chrome and discovered that it was not supported by the system. The system prompted me, but OPM has also made it clear on pages 4-7 of the assessment prep guide which Operating Systems and Browsers are compatible (Hint: Internet Explorer 7/8 or Firefox 3.0 or later). I switched to the most recent version of Firefox and had no problems….but I’d hate to be coming down to the wire and realize that I needed to download the right browser to complete the application (another reason to not wait until a few hours before the deadline!).

3. Start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start). I could not complete the application all in one sitting, so I needed to stop and start a bit. I learned that every time I logged back in, it took me to the very beginning of the application – not to the place where I left off. It’s moderately annoying only because you are used to software like TurboTax which allows you to jump to the place where you left off. Just know that you will need to click through a few pages if you complete the process in stages. Don’t let it stress you out.

4. Read everything carefully. I know we live in a fast-paced world where we breeze through information – especially if that information is presented in dense paragraphs. Resist the temptation to skip over the instructions quickly and think you’ve got it. Take your time and understand what’s being asked of you. I would advise the same for each of the assessment portion (both video and questionnaire). If you watch a video or read a question and you feel like you missed something, re-watch or re-read it. The application and assessment are untimed, so there’s no need to rush.

5. Are you saved or not? While I was going through the video and questionnaire assessments, there was no place that I could hit “Save.” I worried that I might exit the module and lose my answers. What I found, however, was that every time I logged on and logged back in (which I did deliberately a few times to test this theory) it saved my work. If you’re worried about that for any reason, please see my bonus tip below. 🙂

6. When you’re done, you’re done. Once I completed the video portion of the assessment, it looks like I cannot access it again. You can start and stop and your responses will be saved. You can also navigate forward and backward when you are in the video and questionnaire portions, BUT when you are finished responding to all of the questions and hit submit, that’s it. No do overs. I have not finished the questionnaire, but my assumption is that it will follow the same pattern. I’ll post an update on that soon…

7. Deliberate on (but don’t distribute!) the essays. Over on PathtoPMF.com, one of the forum questions was, “Can anyone go ahead and upload the essay prompts here? I don’t have time to finish the other sections but I would like to starting thinking about the essays…” For the first part, please see #1 above. Don’t do it. Don’t share the essays or any other portion of the assessment with anyone. What you can do, however, is skip the online assessment and complete or contemplate the essay questions first, if you’d like. (11/10/12 UPDATE: According to a new video released yesterday, you must complete both components of the online assessment before completing the essay. The video says explicitly that you could be disqualified if you write the essays first.) What you can do – and what they recommend – is to grab the essay questions and write them in MS Word or similar, then copy and paste your answers into the module. In any case, sometimes our subconscious has a way of percolating and sparking creative answers if we have the material in the back of our minds. That might not be a bad idea to ruminate on the questions or work up a draft and sit with it a few days before submitting the application package.

BONUS: OPM tells you that it could take up to 3 hours to complete the entire application. They weren’t lying. I tried to do it between my other work projects and it definitely had me at 1.5 hours without finishing the questionnaire and essays. Take that time seriously. They also suggest that you do it all in one sitting. I’d second that notion as well. Block out 2-3 hours in a quiet place without interruptions so that you can focus. You’ll be glad you did it that way and I think you’ll end up with a stronger application.

Get more advice and ask questions in our PathtoPMF.com forums.

I would also invite you to RSVP for our online “Resume Tips for Prospective PMFs” event, happening next Tuesday, November 13 at 11a ET.

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Njoroge Kabugu

Are you suggesting that one can start the application today and then continue to work on it tomorrow. I am planning to take it and was wondering where it is possible to get the essay questions and work on them for a day then came back and post. So the 3 hr window is to submit do the multiple choice questions and post the essays?