Want to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow? Here’s How — and Why

Are you into big data, crowdsourcing, or other areas of digital strategy? The White House is looking to tap you – it just launched open applications for the third round of its Presidential Innovation Fellows program (PIF).

As one of the folks in the first class of PIFs, I wanted to share my experience with the program – and some (hopefully) helpful tips on how to put your best foot forward when applying.

My thoughts:

Apply. You won’t regret it.

It’s the people. Seriously. You’re going to meet some of the smartest, nicest, coolest people of your entire life. The White House provided serious air cover, and so many people (both inside the White House, and outside) took us DC newbies under their wings and helped us learn the town and the ways of government. And everyone involved did everything in their power to set us up for success.

Don’t underestimate the power of prepping for this. As I said in a White House blog post and video spot, I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting it. But I did, and I’ve shared my prep process below.

Was it worth it? Yes. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. These other 17 fellows from Round 1 are like family now, and yes, when I heard US CTO Todd Park on NPR last year talking about the fellowship, my heart burst with pride and tears sprung to my eyes. This is the real deal.

So I’ve (hopefully) convinced you the program is worth it. Now, how can you get in?

3 Tips for Applying

  1. Be genuine. Don’t try to be who you think they want. (If you get the gig, you’ll have to keep that ruse up for 6 months!) Be you.
  2. Know why you’re applying. While some of it is certainly about the work you’ve done, you really need to have a good answer when they ask, “Why do you want to be a PIF?” For me, it was the opportunity to give back at a national level and serve my country.
  3. Assemble your “Avengers. Once you’ve decided to go for it, get a small team of people you trust to help you. I called a recruiter friend, who reviewed the announcement and description to figure out what questions they were most likely to ask me. She then did a full 1-hour mock interview with me three days before my first interview. An editor friend provided input on my resume and essay. I chatted with a buddy who owns a well-known NGO about which skills of mine would jive with what they’re trying to accomplish with the fellowship. My best friend served as my compass, keeping me focused and serving as my head cheerleader.

Being a PIF was incredible – there’s nothing quite like it out there. It was so rewarding to serve my country, knowing you’re helping people at a national level while aiming to save lives, fuel job creation, and save taxpayer money.

About the author: Kara leads brand and innovation experiences for the Intuit PR team. US CTO Todd Park called her one of the “the baddest of the badass innovators,” and her 2nd grade teacher wrote on her report card: “Kara likes to talk. A lot.” She’s still trying to figure out if there’s a connection between the two. (When she’s not searching for great blue cheese.) Twitter: @CaliforniaKara.

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Shannon M Brown

So what happens at the end of the fellowship? Do you need to find another job? I’m assuming if selected we would leave our current job and then need to find another one after the fellowship ends. Thanks!

Tom van der Veen

Any thoughts for those of us who couldn’t afford a sabbatical? A program such as this seems great. I wish there was something similar for folks who could not leave there current post or position.

Shannon M Brown

I work for the federal government now, and I know I couldn’t take a sabbatical. There’s a possibility of bringing on a rehired annuitant. Would probably need to talk to your supervisor. best of luck!

Thomas Anthony Jones

Can you verify all of your accolades? I’ve searched all over and couldn’t find anything on you other than what you spread out there. How can you say you served your country when men and women who actually died for our country are the real people who served? Can I say I served my country if I was a janitor at the White House?