Career Alternatives, Federal Government, Job Searches, Law Schools

Another Federal Government Opportunity: The Presidential Management Fellows Program

Presidential Management Fellows Program PMF Program.gifAs we mentioned yesterday, some jobs with the federal government — an excellent refuge from the economic storm — are disappearing even before the application period closes. So we’ll tell you about this next opportunity even before the application period opens (which is tomorrow).

A tipster tells us:

I’m a longtime reader of ATL and a big follower of all the useful info and entertaining gossip posted on the site.

I notice you recently posted about the DOJ Honors program. I was hoping you might consider writing about the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program.

[T]he PMF program is a hidden, relatively-unexploited gem for graduating law students, and it has not received proper attention by most of the law schools’ offices of career services. While the DOJ Honors program and the Bristow Fellowship got pretty good publicity at my school’s career services office, nobody knew much about the PMF program. I heard about it through a non-law-school source, and had to go to my university’s public policy school for more information….

[T]he PMF program is one of the absolute best avenues for graduating 3Ls that are: (a) interesting in working for the government; (b) interested in public service; (c) willing to accept a government salary with average tuition reimbursement opportunities; and/or (d) voluntarily or involuntarily not planning to work for biglaw after graduation. Fellows can apply for a position from a wide range of government agencies, including the DOJ, State Department, Department of Defense, USAID, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Department of Education, Federal Elections Commission, etc. These positions are generally not available for public application because of stringent government hiring restrictions (agency preference, civil service preference, veteran’s preference, etc.)

Sound promising? Read more, after the jump.

Our correspondent, “Happy PMF Attorney,” provided extensive detail about the program. Here it is.

Advantages of the Program

There are several major perks to the PMF program:

1) The work can be unbelievably fascinating, exciting, and intellectually stimulating.

2) You can get a job in a government agency that might not be available to non-PMF applicants.

3) While the program itself is only two years long, you are virtually guaranteed a permanent position after you graduate from the PMF program.

4) PMFs are entitled to do rotations, which are basically secondments to other positions. These positions can be in other offices in your same agency, a different agency, or sometimes even outside the federal government (I know PMFs that have worked at the World Bank and the Maryland Department of Education). Often these rotations provide for a job offer from the other office as well.

5) You are guaranteed rapid advancement through the GS (general schedule) pay scale.

6) There is significantly less emphasis on grades, and more on experiences and extracurriculars (I guess this could be a plus or minus, actually).

7) Can we say job security? Like, definitely.

Disadvantages of the Program

Here are the negatives:

1) You might start at a slightly lower salary than entry-level attorney positions. Most starting attorneys in the fed gov start at the GS-11 grade. PMFs usually start either at GS-9 or GS-11. But no PMF stays at GS-9 for more than a year before promotion.

2) Out of the many many PMF jobs out there, there are few actual attorney positions available. I think some PMF attorney positions are available in the Federal Elections Commission, the Social Security Administration, Homeland Security, and the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. That being said, many PMF attorneys hired in non-attorney positions take rotations in legal jobs, which can often lead to a permanent offer in a legal position later on. I know DOJ loves hiring PMFs on rotation to serve as Special Assistant US Attorneys in both the Civil and Criminal Divisions because it’s essentially free labor for them (PMF salaries are paid by their home office even while on rotation). These attorney positions generally require that you be admitted to the bar in at least one US jurisdiction.

3) Most (though not all) PMF positions are based in DC, which can be rough if you are determined to be somewhere else.

The Application Process

Here’s how the process works. Students apply in the fall of their 3L year. The application, which will be posted at, is only up for about a month, and will go up [tomorrow, i.e., Thursday, October 1]. If you do not apply during this brief window, you miss your chance (you cannot apply after graduating).

After filling out a brief application, students need to have their law school fax in a form stating that the school agrees to “nominate” them for the program. Historically, this can be a very competitive vetting process at public policy schools, but not usually at law schools outside of DC.

If the 3L gets nominated, they must then take a written exam at one of five or six locations scattered around the US. You can find out more about the test on the PMF website, but it’s significantly easier than the LSAT. Passers of the test become PMF Finalists, and are invited to a job fair in March or April, where most Finalists secure a position for the fall. All this information can be found on the PMF website (but perhaps not from your law school’s career services office).

[This year] the window for applications is only two weeks long (even shorter than last year!), and the deadline for schools nominating students is only just over two weeks after that. [T]he application process is generally fairly short relative to the DOJ Honors program, SEC entry-level program, and most of the other government online applications (I don’t think I took more than an hour max filling it out).

Applicants need to remember, though, to bring their nominating letter to the administrator at their law school responsible for the program (at mine it was the Dean of Public Service), stay on top of making sure they are considered, and that, if nominated, the letter is faxed to the government office by October 31. The Office of Personnel Management is pretty strict on this, so applicants should do appropriate due diligence in making sure their applications are complete in time.


[We asked Happy PMF Attorney for more details about the GS pay scale.]

The GS salary is supplemented based on locality. Since most PMF positions are in DC, I’ll give you the salaries for PMFs posted in DC. PMFs in New York, San Francisco, or Chicago might be paid a little bit more, while any rare positions in places like Anchorage or Des Moines are paid a bit less.

PMFs usually start either as a GS-9 or a GS-11. In 2009, GS-9 ranges from $50,408 to $65,531. Where it falls in that range depends on the generosity of the hiring office. Sometimes a friendly reminder of what biglaw is paying first-year associates can help on this front. Second-year PMFs are at a minimum at GS-11, which ranges from $60,989 to $79,280. Most PMFs convert to GS-12 after their second year (ranging from $73,100 to $95,026). Many PMFs can be non-competitively promoted up to GS-13 ($86,927 to $113,007) after their third year. From there, successful post-PMF careers may continue up to GS-15 ($120,830 to $153,200) or beyond to the Senior Executive Service (SES). Almost all federal government jobs are capped at $200,000 (most Cabinet members make less than this), but few lawyers join the federal government for the bucks. More specifics on the salary scales can be found at

Keep in mind also that many government agencies have programs in place to modestly assist in repaying student loans.


We thank Happy PMF Attorney for this wealth of information. To any of you who decide to apply to the program, good luck!

Presidential Management Fellows Program [Office of Personnel Management]

(hidden for your protection)

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