Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

How to become a Presidential Management Fellow

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The Presidential Management Fellows program will continue to operate, despite budget cutbacks, because agencies must continue to grow new leaders and conduct succession planning, Angela Bailey, the Office of Personnel Management’s associate director of employee services, said in an interview.

So if you’re qualified to join the PMF program, apply. Don’t bypass the program on the wrongful assumption that it will be a casualty of cutbacks.

Although attorneys and policy wonks are, as always, welcome to apply, technical specialists  — in health and in information technology fields such as cybersecurity and software engineering — are in particularly high demand.

The PMF application begins with an online questionnaire. High scorers become semifinalists. Each semifinalist is invited to an in-person assessment that may be completed at various locations nationwide.

This assessment includes several components, including a behavioral interview, a group exercise and a timed essay-writing exercise.

Survivors of the in-person assessment become finalists who are eligible for PMF positions — many of which are filled at an annual job fair in Washington. Usually, about 60 percent to 67 percent of finalists find PMF jobs.

How to maximize your chances of succeeding in the PMF application process:

Study the websites of the PMF program (www.pmf.gov) and the Presidential Management Alumni Group (www.pmag.org). Also, use personal and online networking channels to connect with program alumni and discuss their experiences with them. Reflect your resulting programmatic knowledge and your desire and ability to contribute to the program in the written and in-person components of your application.

Follow application instructions to the letter. Many applicants wipe out by failing to do so.

Seize opportunities to explain why you want to work in the public sector, and your relevant experience.

Emphasize your leadership credentials, such as experience in student government, and positions in teaching, training or tutoring. This is important because the PMF program is aimed at cultivating a cadre of government leaders.

Also, prove that you’re well-rounded, that you have had a breadth of paid or unpaid experiences, and that you would skillfully maneuver through working environments that are multigenerational and have differing office cultures.

Prove that you’re a good leader during your in-person assessment. Participate in all exercises; ask questions when appropriate; show that you work well in teams; and demonstrate adaptability, good communication skills, collegiality and calmness.

For example, if your in-person assessment includes a mock news conference with aggressive questioning, maintain grace under fire; don’t get flustered, riled or knocked off your game; and explain the issues at hand in a clear, straightforward manner.

Stay on your toes throughout your in-person assessment, even during lunch. “Character is defined when no one is looking,” Bailey said.

Respond to written and in-person situational and problem-solving questions by honestly explaining what you think the best way to handle the challenge at hand would be, instead of by trying to guess the “right” answer, because such questions often don’t have a “right” answer, Bailey said. Rather, such questions are designed to draw out your thinking processes, logic and judgment.

Answer all questions included in background checks completely and honestly. You are more likely to jeopardize your acceptance into the PMF program by lying on your application than by disclosing potentially thorny aspects of your background, which won’t necessarily be deal-breakers if you can thoughtfully explain them.

Agencies hire PMFs at the GS-9 through GS-12 levels or their equivalents. So salary offers for PMF jobs vary depending on the hiring agency, the opening, and the applicant’s qualifications and negotiating success. So shop around and negotiate.

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