Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Maximize your time as a Presidential Management Fellow

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Tips for current or aspiring Presidential Management Fellows and the managers and associates who advise them:

  • Before applying to the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, consider its advantages and disadvantages versus other federal fellowship programs or entry-level positions.

The PMF program offers prestige, training, networking, mentoring and substantive experience. But so do many other federal internship and fellowship programs and entry-level jobs. Many such positions have simpler and faster application procedures than the PMF’s. And some entry-level jobs pay better.

  • If you apply to be a PMF, keep pursuing other career options. Only about one in 10 applicants are accepted into the program.
  • Even if you’re selected as a PMF finalist, you will still have to find a job in an agency and then rotations. When you’re hunting for jobs or required rotations, beware that some managers are more knowledgeable than others about the benefits of hiring PMFs and about the program’s requirements. And some agencies devote more resources than others to helping PMFs satisfy program requirements.

For example, a Bureau of Land Management PMF told me her managers assured her they “want me to fall in love with BLM during my fellowship’’ and “consider it part of their jobs to help me succeed.” Unfortunately, some agencies are not so invested in their Fellows. What’s more, the BLM Fellow warns that some managers may accept Fellows for rotations, in part, to gain “free labor.”

So when you research jobs and fellowships, ask current and former Fellows about your target organization’s attitudes toward Fellows. And in interviews with hiring managers, ask them about: their understanding of the program; previous experiences with Fellows; willingness to allow Fellows to devote time to required PMF activities; the agency’s infrastructure for cultivating Fellows; the impacts of budget cuts on this infrastructure; and the potential for landing promotions and post-fellowship positions.

Also, be prepared to sell the program and explain to hiring managers the benefits to them of hiring Fellows, as explained on the PMF website, www.PMF.gov.

  • When you’re seeking a PMF job or rotation, the BLM Fellow advises: “Be genuine, confident and upfront about your interests. I found it OK to show hiring managers that I already had some direction, but to also acknowledge that I don’t know exactly where and how exactly I want to get there. Part of the appeal for managers is to show you a career path and get you excited about it.

“Explain to managers what you offer, while staying humble and expressing your eagerness to learn from other professionals. Be careful not to seem overly confident or cocky, or you’ll risk alienating hiring managers by reinforcing the unfortunate stereotype of PMFers as ‘people who act like know-it-alls.’ ”

  • Land rotations that will complement — not merely duplicate — experiences offered by your main PMF job.
  • Network. “Go down the hall and introduce yourself to PMF alumni,” the BLM Fellow advised. Through such networking, she received helpful advice on finding and selecting rotation and training opportunities, and on documenting her successes, as required for graduating from the program.

Your LinkedIn profile should open strong

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Open your LinkedIn profile with a bang by instantly conveying your professional stature and by concisely packing as much information as possible into your header and your summary.

Your header is the title following your name. It shouldn’t necessarily match your job title, particularly if your title has only a ho-hum ring or does not capture your stature or areas of accomplishment.

Consider spicing up your header by calling yourself an “expert in X.” Do you recoil at the thought of calling yourself “an expert” even though you’re a seasoned professional? If so, you’re not alone, if my experience is any indication: When I lead seminars on career advancement skills, I invariably meet many true experts in their fields who — out of misplaced modesty — had never considered themselves as such until I convinced them otherwise.

Here’s my “expert” rule: If you’re the go-to person for a skill or topic and have years of experience in it, you’re an expert in it. All the more so if you have taught or published in your field.

Still not convinced you’re an expert? Then consider including in your header an alternative impressive phrase, such as “with extensive expertise in X.”

You might also spice up your header by citing skills you possess that are not covered by your job title. For example, I know a professional whose job title is “illustrator.” But because she also produces videos on her job and would like to move into a video production job, she added “video producer” to her LinkedIn header in addition to “illustrator.”

Another option: Define your position, your unique approach and what makes you stand out from the pack. For example, “chief financial officer who closed my agency’s books in record time.”

Also, feel free to cite your current employer in your title.

Your summary is the section following your header. Consider beginning it with a verve-filled conversational statement that defines your specialty or rare combination of skills, or describes how your approach distinguishes you from the pack.

For example:

• Journalism suits me to a “T” because I am inveterately curious. I love asking questions, and sleuthing out answers.

• Golda Meir said, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” Her philosophy has guided each alternative dispute resolution negotiating session I have led between employees and managers during the last 10 years.

• I am a multitasking maniac. I manage a 10-person press office that is a veritable news release factory; airs weekly webcasts routinely picked up by The Washington Post and The New York Times; produces daily updates to a website that receives 500,000 hits monthly; and serves as my agency’s crisis management center.

• I created a cure for meeting overload! As a conference planner and facilitator at X since 2006, I have been running productive, engaging conferences that render disorganized, pointless and endless events obsolete.

Also include in your summary a “greatest hits” career overview in a concise paragraph or bulleted list of three to five of your most relevant achievements. Determine how to phrase those achievements by asking yourself, “If I were to meet a pivotal contact, which of my achievements would impress him most, and how could I prove to him that these achievements were important?”