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Jennifer Mills was thrilled the day she opened the PDF file and saw her name listed. She — along with 600 others from an original pool of 12,000 — had been named a finalist in the Presidential Management Fellows Program, an elite opportunity for those with graduate degrees to enter public service.
“The sheer quantity of being chosen in the top 5 percent in my country was overwhelming, but even more was the quality of individuals who were chosen with me,” Mills said.
Unfortunately for Mills, and many of her PMF Program class, the grim reality is that they may not have the chance to work in government. In just a few weeks — on April 8 — everyone who has not found a full-time paid government position with the PMF Program will lose their finalist status.
The sequester, last year’s government shutdown, hiring freezes and agency budget cuts have contributed to the lack of job openings for PMF finalists. Many apply for spots only to be told the job position is going unfilled or funding is no longer available. Since many PMF finalists apply in their final year of graduate school with the expectation of landing a job after graduation, many are unemployed or have given up and found work elsewhere.
“A lot of PMFs have been strung along through the process,” said Mills, who has stopped looking for employment through PMF and has recently accepted a job at an international development nonprofit. “It shouldn’t be called a ‘fellowship,’ but I guess ‘Presidential Management Opportunity’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.”Competitive Application Process
The PMF Program has a competitive application process, administered through the Office of Personnel Management. Graduate students — and recent advanced-degree graduates — apply in November, undergoing a three-hour screening test that whittles the application pool from 12,000 down to 1,600 semifinalists. The semifinalists undergo a five-hour oral assessment, which includes group exercises, in-person interviews, a mock news conference and essays. Finalists are announced in April. In previous years, PMF finalists have been invited to a job fair, where they could speak with agencies about employment. This year, in lieu of the in-person job fair, the process was conducted online through a virtual job fair, which one finalist described as “dreadful.”
The PMF Program has never had a 100 percent placement rate; the average has hovered around 60 percent since 2007. But that pales compared to the dismal placement rate for the 2013 class. As of late February, according to the PMF website, only 215 of the 668 finalists from the Class of 2013 had found appointments — about 32 percent. Some, like Mills, have given up.