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Fellow PMF hopefuls, start your engines…

“Start your engines.” The phrase is on internal repeat this week as I dive headfirst into the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) application. While I’m not a huge NASCAR fan, the phrase seems appropriate, as it is certainly a long competition with the best of the best of graduate and professional level students who share the desire and drive to engage in public service at a high level. It is possible the “start your engines” phrase for challenging tasks ahead derives from my dad’s metaphorical threats during my undergraduate years at Clemson University. Often, he threatened to drive up in the middle of the night to remove all of the spark plugs from my car because I was not getting enough sleep. I think it was due to my class schedule in combination with one too many campus activities. “If the engine doesn’t fire on all cylinders, it doesn’t work.” Turns out he was quite right. Smart man, that dad of mine. Regardless of the car metaphors, the PMF process is the premier avenue into federal service for graduate and professional level students. The process starts with the Nomination and Application process.

Before I get into the process of becoming a PMF, it is important to know a bit of the history of the program and how it works today. The PMF program is a federal succession planning program that was instituted as the Presidential Management Intern program on August 25, 1977 with Executive Order 12008 by President Carter. In 2003, President Bush modernized the program and changed to the PMF title used today. The PMF program is a two year fellowship with any of the three branches of government (it was originally designed only for the Executive branch) to include at least one rotational assignment outside of a PMF office placement. PMF is a program designed to attract the best and the brightest leaders who are graduating in the current school year to federal service. The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers the PMF program and provides information on PMF at www.pmf.gov.

I first heard of the Presidential Management Fellows when I was pondering going back to school for a Masters degree. Currently, I am in my second and final year of a joint Master of Public Administration program through the University of South Carolina and the Graduate School of College of Charleston with a graduation date in May 2011. As my peers have noted in several PMF application blogs on this site, the process has changed this year. In previous years of the PMF (not the PMI iteration) success on a one-day logic, reasoning, and life experience computer based assessment was the key to becoming a PMF after you secured a nomination from your school. This year, due to a desire to upgrade the PMF program even further, current PMFs were assigned to “power packs” through the OPM to help hone the recruitment and assessment process to better reflect the goals of the program. The process for PMF Applicants for 2011 is as follows:
  1. Secure a nomination from your school’s nomination official (Dean, Program director, etc). As I understand it, there is only one nomination official at each institution. These nominations are competitive and the school usually holds some sort of screening process or selection process for a nomination. Such a process is based on: breadth and quality of accomplishments, capacity for leadership and a commitment to excellence in the leadership and management of public policies and programs (these three qualities are directly from www.pmf.gov, how to apply section).
  2. Apply to the PMF job vacancy posted on USAJobs.gov. You can complete the application without the nomination, however, it will do you no good. Applications are due no later than 11:59pm on October 15, 2010. Nominations are due no later than 11:59pm on October 31, 2010. If either of these documents are missing from your file in the Application Manager or not turned in by their respective due dates, you will not be given further consideration.
  3. Roughly 4 weeks after the Nomination deadline, we can expect to receive an email from OPM with instructions on taking on online assessment about life experiences. As far as I can tell this is to determine who has the experience and personality to serve within the PMF functions in the government.
  4. Success on the online assessment will earn an applicant an invitation to an in person, day long assessment at one of four sites around the country. They are in the cities of Atlanta, Washington (DC), San Francisco and Chicago. If history serves as a guide, this assessment will likely include a logic and reasoning component, a group observation component, and an individual presentation component.
  5. After the assessment the scores of all the applicants will be compared again, all preferences taken into account, and the “magic” cutoff line will be drawn. Finalists will be notified via a published list on the PMF website and via email.
In this case, being a finalist does not guarantee a PMF assignment. Finalist for PMF means you have passed the screening process successfully and can now interview with the agencies who wish to hire a PMF. OPM hosts a PMF specific job fair in March each year (dates subject to change). Once you have achieved finalist status, you have exactly one year to be hired as a PMF by an agency. Hopefully in early March of 2011 I will be writing another “start your engines” blog post about beginning the PMF job search. I’ll help chronicle the journey through the PMF process this year along with the many others who are doing so. Best of luck to all the applicants.

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Sean Hughes

What interests me most about PMF is the wide openness of the program in terms of direction. A finalist can conceivably have a real career conversation and interview with 10 agencies in the same day. You can compete for a spot in an office where you find the most interesting thing to you going on in government. Not that you couldn’t do any of these things without the PMF program, but it seems to be accelerated and more open. I understand this can cause some long time employees some grief as PMFs come into the office each year, and that’s understandable. It will be interesting to go through the process at the very least. One way or another I have my sights set on a federal job in the DC area. I decided on MPA for a variety of reasons. I was interested in government from my experiences with the local government in my previous private sector life. I wanted an advanced degree that would help me throughout my career in government and I didn’t (at the time, although I’m interested in it now) want to get a Master of Political Science and at the time it would’ve been tough to move out of the region for an Master of Public Policy (I would’ve moved to DC for it). So I did some research and decided that MPA would make a great foundation and help build on skills I’d acquired and honed in previous jobs and undergraduate studies. I’ve enjoyed the MPA program here, it’s been very dynamic and brings a lot of policy and political science into the curriculum.