The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Steph Gendron: SPP 2023 Presidential Management Fellow

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SPP is pleased to announce that Stephanie (Steph) Gendron (MPPA 2023) has been selected as a 2023 Presidential Management Fellow (PMF). PMF is a very prestigious and selective federal government two-year employment rotation, training, and leadership development program. Steph recently began her work as a PMF and shares her experience applying to the program and now starting it in the interview below.

Marcie: Tell me about your new position and what being a PMF means to you.
Steph: My new position is Social Scientist for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). I am part of a team of researchers that conduct research on IRS programs and procedures. I use research methodology to design studies that test the effectiveness of IRS tax collection practices. Our work aims to identify practices that help the IRS improve its tax collection rate and customer experience. To me, being a PMF means being a self-starter. The onus is on you to complete all the requirements of the program. The ability to admit that you cannot do everything on your own and know it’s okay to ask for help is crucial to taking the initiative to get work done. While being a PMF demands leadership, it also demands that you use that leadership to bring together a diverse group of people from all different backgrounds and disciplines to do great public service.

Marcie: What was the PMF application process like? Do you have any advice for interested students and recent graduates?
Steph: I have not experienced an application process remotely similar to the PMF application process. Before the application opened, I attended info sessions and read up on the program. As part of the application, I completed an online assessment that measured my competencies in traits like oral communication, reasoning, and interpersonal skills. After the assessment, I completed an anonymous phone interview before being announced as a PMF finalist. As a finalist, I applied to dozens of appointment opportunities (their term for what equates to a job) until I landed at the IRS. Applying to PMF appointment opportunities is less rigorous than applying for jobs in the traditional job market because you have already been vetted as a high-quality candidate through the PMF application process. For interested students, I recommend getting an internship somewhere in the federal government, if you can, before applying to be a PMF. It certainly isn’t a requirement to have previously worked for the federal government to get into the PMF program. Still, anecdotally, I have observed that they value prior federal service highly. Previous work experience, in general, is also helpful because the appointment opportunities are not entry-level positions. If you don’t have much prior work experience, you can apply to the program up to two years after you graduate from SPP and take some time post-graduation to get more work experience. When doing the online assessment in phase one of the application process, I recommend you internalize the competencies they are looking for and answer your questions in alignment with those competencies. In the application and the interview, they are looking for your reasoning and how you work through problems. So, it’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers immediately but show how you would work through a situation where you didn’t have all the answers. My last piece of advice is to utilize the resources UMass provides you. I worked extremely closely with Marcie all year to navigate this process. I also attended more ProSem electives than what was required to pass the class during my time at SPP. For example, even if I felt comfortable with my interview skills, I would still attend a mock interview Marcie would host for ProSem I or II to get the extra practice. I also utilized UMass resources outside of SPP, like the Writing Center in the library for resume help, the SBS career advising center, and the Graduate School’s Office of Professional Development workshops.

Marcie: What are you most excited about for your time as a PMF?
Steph: I am most excited about my 4–6-month long rotation required to complete the PMF program. To graduate from the two-year PMF program, you must complete a 4–6-month rotation at a different federal agency or within the same agency but in a different department. At this point, I don’t know where my rotation will be because I am just starting with the IRS, and the IRS doesn’t have a defined PMF experience because they haven’t been able to host a PMF in roughly ten years due to a hiring freeze imposed by Congress. However, I am still excited to adventure beyond my typical role and explore either a different federal agency or a different position because it will give me a new perspective to view my usual role.

Marcie: Why did you study public policy? What skills from SPP do you think will serve you well as a PMF?
Steph: I studied public policy because I was sick of feeling powerless when seeing all the woes people face in this country. I wanted to equip myself with the tools to not only identify the problems but solve them. SPP equipped me with many methodological skills to serve me well as a PMF. When writing cover letters and interviewing for jobs, I used examples from projects I did in SPP’s core classes or methods- based electives like Program & Policy Evaluation, Using the Past to Create Effective Policy, Statistics, and Research Methods. I understand that these methods-heavy classes are not everybody’s bread and butter. Still, the skills you learn in those courses are crucial for the PMF program due to the nature of PMF being an interdisciplinary program for all types of Masters and Ph.D. programs. Most graduate-level programs in this country teach research methodology; therefore, the Office of Personnel Management expects you to have those skills mastered, and they host jobs that require those skills to succeed.

Marcie: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Steph: The PMF application process is long, so be patient. I started my PMF application journey in August of last year and just started my job this month (July 2023). Take time to read up on the program and be patient in between application steps; the federal government moves slowly. For anybody thinking about applying to the PMF program, I encourage you to do it, even if you don’t feel confident about your odds. Honestly, I never thought I would get into this program, but I told myself, ‘Hey, you can’t get in if you don’t apply.’ I am certainly willing to meet with interested students to talk through any questions they may have about PMF.

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