Fed Start

For many minority nurses, completing a graduate degree is just the first step in planning their future career advancement. You may be considering a career in teaching or a higher-level position with your current employer. But don’t overlook career options in government service.

In the aftermath of 9/11, public health concerns about the bird flu epidemic and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the need for health care professionals with strong clinical backgrounds, innovative ideas and concern for the lasting effects of public policy decisions has never been more important in the management ranks of government. It is important for nurses of color to realize that their skills and experience can be used to develop federal health policy and strategy, just like they can be used to help patients.

Paid government internship programs are a little-known but highly effective option for getting into government on a fast track to senior management positions. The most prestigious of these federal internships is the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, which is administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

For nearly 30 years, the Presidential Management Fellows Program and its predecessor, the Presidential Management Internship Program, have been used as a recruiting tool to attract, hire and develop graduate students earning master’s, professional and doctoral degrees in all disciplines into high-paying, rewarding careers in the federal government. The program is perfect for master’s or doctoral students who have recently completed their degree or will complete their degree in the next 12 months.

The PMF Program provides Fellows with an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in their graduate study by working on paid two-year internship assignments. These internships could involve national security affairs, health administration, nursing, public health, public policy, program management and many other areas that support the government.

Federal agencies that hire Presidential Management Fellows include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Veterans Affairs and numerous others. After completing their two-year assignments, Fellows are offered permanent jobs at their agency or have the option to explore a permanent position at any other agency that participates in the program.

During their internships, Fellows are paid starting salaries based on their work experience and education level. Salaries can range from $38,000 (GS-9 level) to $71,000 (GS-12 level). In addition, many of the agencies offer benefits such as student loan repayment up to $60,000 ($10,000 a year) and financial support for earning an additional degree at the doctoral level.

Another benefit of the program is that Presidential Management Fellows receive guaranteed promotions over the two years of their internship. While the vast majority of PMF intern assignments are based in Washington, D.C., there are many opportunities for selected Fellows to work in other locations across the United States.

As members of the baby boomer generation continue to hit retirement age, a growing number of senior-level leadership positions will open up in government. At some federal agencies, 60% of the senior leadership is eligible to retire in the next three to five years. As these management positions open, former Presidential Management Fellows will be logical choices to fill them.

The Application Process

The application period for the Presidential Management Fellows Program is September to early October of each year. Specific deadlines are announced in the “How to Apply” section of the PMF Web site, www.pmf.opm.gov. As of this writing, the start date for applying to the PMF Class of 2008 is expected to be on or around September 1, 2007, with the closing deadline still to be announced.

There are several key things an applicant must know before preparing to apply for the program. First and foremost, the resume that one might use for a corporate job is different from the resume used for a federal government job–or in this case, a federal internship. In the corporate world, the maximum length for a resume is two to three pages. A federal resume should be much longer and more detailed, much like a curriculum vitae (CV) one would use in applying for an academic position. A federal resume should include such items as a job objective, professional awards, names of graduate courses completed and years of management experience.

If you have never applied for a federal job or prepared a federal resume before, an excellent resource is a book titled Government Job Applications and Federal Resumes: Federal Resumes, KSAs, Forms 171 and 612, and Postal Applications by Anne McKinney. This book, which should be easily available at your local bookstore or online, is a valuable tool that will help you learn the resume writing techniques and other skills that are critical for applying to the Presidential Management Fellows Program.

Options Abound: Other Federal Internship Programs Worth Exploring Emerging Leaders Program (ELP)
Department of Health and Human Services
NIH Management Intern Program
National Institutes of Health
http://internships.info.nih.gov/pimenu.html USAID Fellows Program
U.S. Agency for International Development

The first stage of the PMF application process involves filling out an online application. A key requirement is that you must identify a core faculty member or graduate advisor who will fill out an online nomination form to nominate you for the PMF program. When filling out your application, you must include the email address of the person you have asked to nominate you. Be sure to choose someone who can respond quickly with an endorsement once the Office of Personnel Management emails him or her to request the nomination.

Your online application will also require you to attach your federal resume and answer three questions relating to situations where you have demonstrated skills in teamwork, leadership and customer service. It is important to answer these questions in detail and provide an example of an actual work or academic situation that was complex, unique and challenging.

After your application has been submitted, the second stage of the selection process involves coming to Washington, D.C. for an assessment interview. You will be expected to wear professional business attire at the interview. This stage includes a formal interview process where candidates are asked to respond to three separate employee or organizational case studies–one in writing, one verbally and one in a group environment. The goal is to assess the candidate’s problem-solving, writing and public speaking skills as well as his or her ability to be a leader, follower and team player.

The Final Round

Candidates who qualify for the third stage are considered finalists and are invited to attend a government job fair, again in Washington. Being a finalist does not guarantee you will get a job. If you are selected as a finalist, you will receive a notification email that includes a list of the names, email addresses and phone numbers of all the agency representatives who will be interviewing candidates at the job fair. It is important to email them a resume and a cover letter requesting a PMF job interview, even before the job fair. Once you become a finalist, your goal is to get multiple PMF job offers to choose from.

Different government agencies have different levels of funding, which means some agencies have more flexibility than others in offering higher starting salaries, payment for relocation, student loan repayment and financial assistance for doctoral study. When you interview with an agency, be sure to ask about the availability of those benefits.

Once you are offered a PMF internship opportunity, there is one final hurdle to clear: the background and clearance process. Review your credit report in advance and make every effort to resolve any outstanding debts that could negatively impact your chances of getting an internship job offer. All government agencies will check a candidate’s credit with TransUnion and run a police record background check with the FBI. Charge-offs, credit accounts more than 90 days delinquent and unpaid judgments of more than $3,500 on a candidate’s credit report could stop him or her from passing the clearance process, which would make the candidate ineligible to participate in the PMF Program.

To learn more about opportunities available through the Presidential Management Fellows Program, visit www.pmf.opm.gov.