Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Fellowships can aid job search

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My June 25 column described a sample of fellowship programs for feds. By participating in such programs, you may enhance your success at your home agency. For example, participating in a fellowship program that would place you on a congressional staff would likely teach you about how Congress generates laws and agency budgets; political considerations affecting agency programs; opinions and misconceptions about your agency held by lawmakers and their staffs; and the prominent personalities on Capitol Hill.

A congressional fellowship would also likely provide you with contacts among congressional staff — many of whom wield potentially pivotal power and may influence congressional actions affecting your agency.

If you serve as a legislative liaison for an agency, the knowledge and contacts you would gain through a congressional fellowship may help you design and implement strategies that would improve your agency’s relationship with Congress. Alternatively, if you are in a technical position, participating in a congressional fellowship program may provide you with credentials to segue into a congressional liaison position.

Many agency leadership positions involve testifying before Congress and working to build support on Capitol Hill for agency programs. So if you are aiming for an agency leadership position, experienced gained through a congressional fellowship may increase your ability to fulfill those types of high-pressure responsibilities successfully.

Fellowships may also help you:

Earn credentials to qualify for the Senior Executive Service. Some fellowships are designed to give fellows experience in the five executive core qualifications (ECQs) required for SES entry.

ECQ-based fellowships may augment or sometimes substitute for ECQ experience gained through agency candidate development programs, the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Candidate Development Program or work experience.

Organizations that run ECQ-based fellowships include the Harvard Kennedy School, American Council of Technology Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), Brookings Institution and Partnership for Public Service.

Make a career switch. Some fellowship programs qualify feds to work in new fields. For example, the Sustainability in Procurement Fellows Program trains fellows to serve as governmentwide sustainability leaders. But applicants of all backgrounds — even those without experience or education in sustainability, environment or procurement — are invited to apply.

Switch sectors. Some fellow-ships, such as those sponsored by ACT-IAC, feature activities designed to improve the ability of fellows to collaborate. Such programs may give fellows contacts and credentials to switch sectors.

Generate networking contacts. Many fellowships feature frequent networking activities and maintain large alumni groups that engage fellows in varied activities long after their fellowships end. Such programs thereby offer current and former fellows opportunities to generate contacts who may serve as trusted sources of troubleshooting advice, insider information about other organizations, job leads and social activities.

It’s never too late to participate in a fellowship. I know a federal communications expert who became a congressional fellow a couple of years before she retired from her agency position. When she retired, she used political connections from her fellowship to land a job on a political campaign.

Most federal fellowships are highly competitive, and applicants must frequently submit multiple applications before they are accepted. If your fellowship application is rejected, seek feedback on it from managers and program alumni, and improve your application accordingly. Also, participate in non-fellowship activities sponsored by your target fellowship organization.

Note that many fellowships involve tuition or other fees usually covered by the fellow’s home agency. Sometimes, such fees are negotiable or can be paid via installment plans. If your agency can’t cover the fees for a fellowship you think would boost your career, consider covering the fees yourself as an investment in your future.

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