So, anyone who’s interested in federal government careers and who is pursuing a graduate degree will eventually (hopefully) hear about the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF, formerly known as PMI). If you are pursing a master’s or PhD and will graduate from Sept. 1, 2010 through Aug. 31, 2011, you should be aware of this most prestigious of federal government fellowships.
I’ve administered most of the nomination process and shepherded grad students through the testing process for this program for 3 years now, though some of my colleagues at other MPA programs have done it going back to the 1970’s when the program started. I could go on and on about the program and its benefits (and the challenges of applying). Many of the people I know who work in federal government started as PMFs or PMIs. For now, I’ll keep my notes short. If you’re graduating within the timeframe mentioned, go visit the PMF website right now. Secondly, go talk to either your career services person at your grad school or else your Dean or the chair of your department. If you’re lucky, they will know all about the PMF program. If not, you will need to explain to them that OPM doesn’t have limits on how many students get nominated, as long as the graduate program has a competitive nomination process. Third, you will need to apply via USAJobs.gov starting on Oct. 1 and ending Oct. 15 (11:59pm Eastern Time).
When you apply online, use Internet Explorer, don’t use Macs but use PCs, use the newest version of Adobe Reader, check your application status via applicationmanager.gov and NOT USAjobs, and check your email spam folders often.
Once you apply, you will print out a nomination fax form and you will have to get your Dean or department chair to nominate you. Your Dean (or more likely, career services staff person like yours truly) will have the pleasure of faxing your form (and each additional applicant’s form, separately) to OPM.
After that, the fun begins! Assuming you’re nominated (and these days, about 85% of applicants are, so far as I can tell from the stats I can find), you get to take an unproctored online test. From 2006-2010, this type of test was the only real selection process. It covers logical reasoning (like the LSAT), a personality section (be consistent, be yourself, and try to be chipper–people with a lousy attitude seem to fail that part) and a writing section (in prior years, it was a very basic grammar test; this year there will be an actual essay question. I do not envy the poor folks at OPM who have to read 8,000+ essays in only a few weeks!).
The next part is different from the last few years: there will now be a next step in the selection process. If you pass the online test, you are considered a “semi-finalist” and will be invited to sit for an in-person assessment. This part will sound familiar to people who got the PMF in 2005 and years prior. There is an interview process including a presentation, a group exercise, and a writing exercise. The assessment sounds a lot like the Foreign Service Officer Oral Assessment (more on that in a future blog post). BIGGEST CHALLENGE: the in-person assessment will be offered in only 4 cities, Atlanta, Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco, and candidates must self-fund their travel to the assessment.
Personal comment: I’m glad they’re going back to an in-person assessment. Many of my students were highly critical of the written-only test. However, I really wish OPM would either have additional testing centers, or at least have teleconference interviews. In this day and age, when OPM is pushing telecommuting so much, and with travel so expensive–and especially with public universities like mine having their budgets gutted, so there is no funding for student travel–I feel my students will be at a disadvantage having to fly to San Francisco on their own dime. I’m hoping to find some nice alums to help my students couch-surf there… but still, it’s a lot to ask. And I know for a fact it will limit the diversity in the applicant pool.
Anyway, if you are a finalist after this next step, the real, actual fun begins–the PMF job fair! But more on that in future posts. Were you a PMF or PMI? If so, what was the assessment process like? Heather Krasna is the author of Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service, and the Director of Career Services at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.