As you sit down to complete the online assessment, take a moment and make sure that you have the proper system and browser requirements. This is especially important for Mac users, who should complete the assessment using Internet Explorer.
To begin, applicants should select a career track, Traditional or STEM, and their qualifying discipline for that track. It is important to remember that you will only be able to choose ONE track.
The PMF online assessment has three sections:
- A video-based situational judgment assessment;
- A questionnaire designed to assess specific work styles and work-related characteristics required for success and fit in the PMF Program; and
- Three essay questions that are collected during the application process.
EACH SECTION IS UNTIMED AND YOU ARE FREE TO TAKE BREAKS IN BETWEEN SECTIONS. You do not have to complete the assessment in one sitting, except for the essay portion, which has to be completed all at once. As a result, we’d recommend that you read everything carefully. We live in a fast-paced world where we’re conditioned to breeze through information. Resist the temptation to skip over the instructions quickly and think you’ve got it. Take your time and understand what’s being asked of you. Since the application and assessment are untimed, there’s no need to rush.
WHILE IT IS UNTIMED, OPM TELLS YOU THAT IT COULD TAKE 1-2 HOURS TO COMPLETE THE ENTIRE APPLICATION. Take that time seriously. OPM also suggests that you do it all in one sitting. We’d second that notion as well. Block out 2-3 hours in a quiet place without interruptions so that you can focus. You’ll be glad you did it that way as you’ll end up with a stronger application.
IN TERMS OF YOUR ESSAYS, A GOOD IDEA IS TO COPY AND PASTE THEM THEM FROM A WORD PROCESSING SOFTWARE INTO THE ONLINE ASSESSMENT. This is smart for two reasons:
- The essays have a minimum and maximum length allotted. Track your progress using your word processing software.
- Save your essays! You will need a copy of your essays if you move on to the Semi-Finalist round because they will be used for interview questions during the in-person assessment.
SPEAKING OF SAVING, LAST YEAR’S MODULE HAD NO PLACE WHERE A PERSON COULD HIT “SAVE.” A nervous applicant might be worried that they could exit the module and lose their answers. What we found, however, was that every time you log off and log back in (which we did deliberately a few times to test this theory), it saved our work. If you’re worried about that for any reason, please see the bonus tip below.
WHEN YOU’RE DONE, YOU’RE DONE. Once you complete the video portion of the assessment and hit submit, you cannot access it again. Before hitting submit, you can start and stop, and your responses will be saved. You can also navigate forward and backward when you are in the video and questionnaire portions, BUT when you are finished responding to all of the questions and hit submit in a section, that’s it. No do overs.
While each of the above sections seems straightforward, the online assessment is most likely different from any other test you have taken. Some PMFs we surveyed about their experience were confused at the nature of the questions.
“I didn’t do any formal preparation for the online assessment. I was told by people who had experience with it that you shouldn’t try to overthink it – they said your best bet was just to answer honestly and go with your gut. All I did was make sure I set aside enough time and did it in a place I felt comfortable and could concentrate.”
– Pat Hodgens, PMF Class of 2013, Department of Labor
“Many of the questions were repeated in slightly different ways to see if you would answer consistently. It felt like I was getting everything “wrong” but realistically there was probably no wrong answer. Many had an obvious answer as well, if you are able to work well with others and perform well on the job, etc.”
– Elizabeth Fischer Laurie, PMF Class of 2011, General Services Administration
“The only thing you know for sure is that they are looking for leadership qualities. Just be honest. One of our online assessments was personality leadership. I’m not sure what it tested. We answered a lot of strange questions that you couldn’t prepare for – they weren’t knowledge-based so you just have to trust that you are a good candidate and answer those questions honestly.”
– Ashley Cassels, PMF Class of 2010, Small Business Administration
A lot of the questions were trying to determine the potential PMF’s personality. While there are no right/wrong answers, the PMF program usually tries to look for well-balanced, sociable, intelligent, flexible people with a strong work ethic and an enthusiasm for getting the job done, and being creative to do so if necessary.
Overall, the most solid advice we can give you for the online assessment is: be yourself, don’t overthink questions, and make an effort to move efficiently to get through all the questions.
“I did not do a whole lot of prep for [the online assessment]. We did receive a little practice guide that had a couple questions. I went through that multiple times. A former PMF suggested going through the LSAT practice book, so I did read through that. It was helpful to get me in that logical frame of mind. [My advice is to] just go sit in a library for an afternoon and read through the LSAT practice book to get the gist of how you’re supposed to be thinking on the logic portion of the assessment.”
– Kaleigh Emerson, PMF Class of 2010, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Advice from a Career Counselor:
“What the PMF is looking for is collaborative team-builders. What they are not looking for are alpha personalities. I have seen some outstanding candidates who I knew were strong personalities get knocked out in the first round.
They are thoughtful, self-effacing people, total team players, fiercely committed to public service, patriots, and that is really what you need to be to be a PMF. You can’t make yourself into a personality that you’re not and if you think you’re a strong alpha personality, take the test and see what happens.”
Want more tips about the entire PMF Process? Download the full version of the guide here!
The guide shares advice with applicants based on interviews with current and past PMFs, career advisors, and federal agency program coordinators.
2016 PMF Application: OPEN THREAD
(Archived – 2015 PMF Application Open Thread
Archived – 2014 PMF Application Open Thread)
By Guest Author Miriam Kochman
When I first applied for the Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF), I scoured the internet for application tips, researched government agencies, and tried to talk to people I knew who had pursued careers in public service. Having been fortunate to receive the fellowship in 2015, I can say that I learned a lot along the way. While the PMF application process may seem mysterious and complex, it is definitely worth it in the end.
The PMF program is a two-year government leadership development program for early career professionals with a recent graduate degree in any field. Many people apply for the fellowship during the final year of a graduate program, but applicant eligibility has been extended up to two years after the final year of a master’s or PhD program (Note: Some PMFs have law degrees or other types of degrees. Go to pmf.gov for the complete eligibility rules). PMFs work for a government agency for two years, either in Washington, DC or elsewhere, and have access to training opportunities as well as the ability to pursue a “developmental assignment”. What this means is that PMFs are expected to take on a new job for 4-6 months in order to develop skills outside of their standard professional responsibilities – essentially, PMFs temporarily leave their fellowship positions to pursue any other job of interest, and then return to their original positions after that time. It’s a rare opportunity to explore several different types of work within a two-year timeframe. Many, but not all, PMFs complete a developmental assignment within the federal government, and many PMFs choose to continue their careers in public service after completing their fellowships.
The PMF application is available for a short period of time every year, and it’s best to check pmf.gov early if you are interested in applying. (The application will become available in the fall of 2016.) There are several stages to the application process and it could take up to a year to complete. Every year approximately 500-600 people become PMF Finalists and have the opportunity to pursue a fellowship. The application process has three stages:
STAGE ONE: The first stage involves submitting a transcript, and resume, taking an online assessment, and writing essays. The PMF website provides guidance on information to be included in a resume, with the option to use USAJobs to build a federal-style resume if desired. You are not applying for a specific job at this stage, and a federal resume format is not required, but the information on the PMF website is helpful nonetheless. Next, you will need to take an online “Situational Judgment” assessment; the assessment is applicable to anyone in any field, and there is no way to prepare for it. Lastly, you will be prompted to respond to several essay questions. (It is possible to save your essays and return to them later if needed.)
After the application period has ended and applications have been reviewed, applicants receive email notifications regarding their status. There is no information on the exact criteria for passing the first stage. Applicants who are not selected may reapply in the following year if they are still within two years of completing graduate school.
STAGE TWO: Applicants who pass the first stage are invited to an in-person PMF assessment. There is no call-in option and you are on your own in terms of any travel or accommodations that may be needed. The in-person assessment is long and intense. Candidates are evaluated in groups, so at least you will have the chance to meet others who are also mystified about the process! The day consists of a Group Exercise, Behavioral Interview, and a Written Exercise. Be sure to check the online PMF Assessment Preparation Guide, published by pmf.gov, for more information. No background knowledge is required, and there really isn’t anything you can do to prepare. If you enjoyed your graduate-level work, you will likely find the in-person assessment to be interesting and challenging (if a bit nerve-wracking).
The three best pieces of advice I can give are to review your application materials early, follow the instructions carefully, and be prepared to work with others that you likely have never met before.
STAGE THREE: If you make it this far, congratulations! Applicants who pass the interview stage become PMF Finalists. PMF Finalists are accepted into the program and have the ability to pursue a fellowship. However, the hard part isn’t over yet. Once you become a PMF Finalist, you need to take the initiative to apply for federal positions, and the mystery of the PMF process continues. PMF Finalists have one year from the date of their notifications to find a position; at the one-year mark, the PMF status disappears and applicants who have not found a job lose the ability to pursue the fellowship.
How does a PMF finalist find a job? There are two main ways
- PMF Finalists find jobs through a special website that is administered by the federal government. It is only possible to access this site if you are a PMF, and you can expect to receive more information if you become a finalist. The website is helpful and it is more straightforward than USAJobs.com, the standard government jobs website.
- PMF Finalists find jobs by reaching out directly to government agencies. This may seem more difficult, but I highly recommend giving it a shot if you have your heart set on a particular type of job or agency. The bad news is that it can take time to get in touch with the right person or to gather the information that you need. The good news is that many government agencies in Washington, DC are familiar with the PMF program, and many federal employees are willing to meet with prospective PMFs. In some cases, you may find out that a government agency is in the process of posting PMF positions; in other cases, you may be able to work with the agency in order to create a position that fits your professional interests. It never hurts to ask!
You may be thinking, this all sounds well and good, but I have no idea how to contact a government agency, and/or I live far from Washington, DC. Don’t let either of those situations dissuade you. Start doing research online. For example, if you think you want to work for the State Department, check out their website and learn about the different offices there. You will need to be specific about the type of job that you are looking for, and a little up-front research goes a long way. See if you can find a contact for the office you are interested in, and start sending out emails. It may also be helpful to contact people on LinkedIn – in fact, if you type “Presidential Management Fellow” into LinkedIn, you may find a current fellow who would be willing to talk to you. Don’t be shy about setting up phone calls just to ask some questions, and, if you are in the city where the agency is located, set up in-person meetings. Keep your initial emails relatively brief, and be prepared to explain the fellowship program in case the person that you contact is unfamiliar with it. Be proactive, friendly, and don’t forget to send thank you notes to people who meet with you.
At this point in the process, you will likely have connected with other finalists, and there will be Facebook groups, online forums, and other methods of staying in touch. Current and previous PMFs are frequently willing to help answer questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
OBTAINING A PMF POSITION: With some luck, you will talk to lots of people and eventually receive an offer for a PMF position that you are excited about. Congratulations! Just a few words of advice as you start picturing your new government job: The government hiring process is very different from private sector hiring processes, and it may take a lot longer than you expect. As it is the government, there will be paperwork. A lot of paperwork. There also might be a significant lag time between the day that the government agency expresses interest in you and the day that you start your job. This could take a month, or it could take several months. Many government agencies send out “tentative offers” before the actual offers are processed. Unless you prefer to have a gap in between your current job and the fellowship, I recommend not leaving your current job until you have received the official offer and have an assigned start date. Once you have this information, you are ready to launch your career in public service!
Miriam Kochman is a Presidential Management Fellow with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water. Prior to becoming a PMF, Miriam worked in the financial consulting industry, and previously served as a program evaluator for engineering and STEM education projects. Miriam also spent a year teaching English in Kunming, China, and a year studying Mandarin in Kunming as a 2010 Chinese Government Scholar. Miriam holds an MA in Economics and Energy, Resources and Environment from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and a BA in Linguistics and Psychology from Brandeis University.
© Victoria Johnson 2016, all rights reserved.