Many veterans finish their military service and think that working for the federal government is the logical next step in their careers. They apply to positions on USAJOBS and then, in spite of their awesome veterans' preference and the advantage that provides them when applying for government jobs, not a single position invites them to the interview! Does this sound familiar?
This can be very frustrating, but there are other ways into the government. Consider the Presidential Management Fellowship (PFM) program. The PMF program is a wonderful entry point into the government, and veterans' preference definitely helps veterans make it through the PMF application process. Not only will veterans' preference give you a good chance of being accepted as a PMF candidate (or "Finalist"), some of the major government agencies will have a hard time turning you away once you are accepted as a Finalist. Furthermore, having the network of veterans at your disposal can help in the transition stage from Finalist to Fellow.
What is it?
The PMF program aims to discover and train the next government leaders. It is more than three decades old and was signed into existence by Executive Order. The program has a two-year commitment to Federal Government service, often involving rotations either across multiple government agencies or different offices within an agency. Being accepted into the program also means additional training, a cadre of other PMFs in your network, and other advantages as laid out on the Office of Personal Management website.
How do I apply?
The catch is that the program requires an advanced degree (e.g., Masters, Ph.D., J.D.). While the program is quite competitive, as already stated, if you are a veteran your chances of being accepted are quite good. You apply while still in graduate school, and the application process involves submitting via USAJOBS, taking an online assessment, completing essays, and submitting various other paperwork. If you make it past this first round you will be a Semi-Finalist, which means you will be interviewed to see if you will advance to the Finalist stage. Those of you that become Finalists will be eligible for appointment with a participating government agency, at which time you interview with the agencies to be accepted into one of their PMF programs. When you land a job with a government agency, you officially become a Fellow. This last stage can be accomplished through the job fair, or through various back channels (simply meaning special positions have been created for PMFs in the past).
What did you just say?
In case you did not follow all of that, the point is that you apply, do the paperwork and an interview, and then hope that your resume, awesome personality, and veterans' preference are enough to break down that door (the one that opportunity is knocking at). It is that simple!
If you have not enrolled in graduate school, or if you would consider working toward a second degree, enroll in a program and set your sites on the PMF program. You have the GI Bill, after all, so use it. You may be able to land a position with the government without going this route, but the PMF program is one more way in and a very prestigious one at that.
You sold me, but what are the downsides?
Many of us veterans leave the military with a chip on our shoulders. We served our country and put our lives on the line. After all that, we often do not feel we should have to start over or take entry-level jobs. However, sometimes you have to be willing to start over, especially when transferring careers. A defense related agency such as the Department of the Navy or Defense Intelligence Agency may consider taking you as a GS-11, but a lot of agencies hire Fellows as GS-9s. Familiarize yourself with the government pay structure, so you know what you are getting into. Even though you have a plethora of experience, you will be hired at the same level as others who have simply attended graduate school and never worked a day in their lives.
Is it fair? Who cares, if you have a job and it is as prestigious as being a Fellow in the PMF program. Plus, the fact that you are a veteran means you probably have the discipline necessary to excel at the job and move up the chain faster than your peers, so consider the long run. For now, do what you can to start off on that career path of your dreams.
Find out more by visiting the PMF website: www.pmf.gov