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Intro to the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) application process

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.

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Nichole Henley

Nice promo for the program. I used to run the PMF program for the DON from a HQ perspective. I’ve been involved in managing the DON’s PMFs and attending the job fair and much more. I personally don’t have a master’s degree but hope to get it soon and apply for the program. I see the folks in the program and where they go afterwards–sky’s the limit!

Heather Krasna, MS

As for odds, only about 10% of applicants become finalists.
In a future post, I’ll talk about all the other good federal fellowships, like EPA’s career intern program; Homeland Security Honors program; Energy’s Nonproliferation Fellowship, GAO’s career entry program and FCIPs in general. People should always be aware that PMF, while most visible, is NOT the only way into federal service.

Kevin Carter

I just started my PMF at OPM a month ago. Feel free to contact me for a recent PMF’ers perspective. It’s not the only way into Federal service, BUT it is a great way.

You come in with the reputation of all the PMFs that preceded you. That’s a huge responsibility to live up to, but also very empowering.

Terrence (Terry) Hill PHR

Great post Heather! I used to be the PMF coordinator for DHS. I can tell you that I admired and respected each and every candidate! Below is this year’s schedule from the OPM PMF website.

I understand that OPM plans to launch a new PMF website soon and is bringing back the interviews. I highly recommend this program to all graduate students. I also know that OPM has plans to double the number of PMFs hired each year, but that is really up to agencies.

I believe the 1 out of every 10 nominees is eventually accepted as a finalist. Something like 700-800 finalists each year from a pool of about 7,000-8,000 nominations.

Friday, October 1, 2010
– Application for the PMF Class of 2011 opens via a vacancy announcement on USAJOBS or as a link under the “How to Apply\PMF Application” section of this website
– First day Nomination Officials may fax nominations

Friday, October 15, 2010
– Application for the PMF Class of 2011 closes

Sunday, October 31, 2010
– Deadline for Nomination Officials to fax nominations
– Deadline for applicants to submit supporting documentation for any claims for veterans’ preference and/or Indian preference

Mid-November 2010
– Applicants officially notified of eligibility and nomination status
– Nominees notified of online assessment

Mid-December 2010
– Nominees notified of semi-finalist status via email

January/February 2011
– Assessments conducted nationwide for semi-finalists

Late February/Early March 2011
– Semi-finalists notified of finalist status via email

Mid-March/Early April 2011
– PMF Class of 2011 Finalists Job Fair (Washington, DC, metro area)