The PMF Job Fair is where Finalists begin the process of finding their appointment. Typically, the job fair is held in Washington, DC, and includes dozens of agency representatives that are there for one reason: discovering someone like you. Many participants find their appointments during the job fair. Others use the fair to learn more about agencies to inform their decision-making process. Ultimately, the job fair is your best shot at meeting agency representatives and nailing down your appointment.
Should You Attend the Fair?
One question some finalists ask is: how important is it to attend the job fair? There are a couple considerations to think about:
- Are the agencies you are interested in going to be there? Some agencies only attend the job fair if they know they are going to be hiring a PMF. Others don’t attend the job fair. Call them and ask if they will be there.
- Are you interested in working in Washington DC, or do you want to work elsewhere? Most federal government agencies are headquartered in the Washington DC area and have regional offices located around the country. A few agencies are headquartered outside of DC and you should try to schedule an interview with them if you’re interested in a particular locality, but it’s always good to get face time with headquarters.
“I recommend going if you can afford it. It’s a really good place to get a sense of what agencies are out there and the breadth of agencies. I know my year HUD was taking a ton of finalists, so it’s very interesting to see what opportunities are there. It’s also nice to put faces with names. It gives you an opp to have in-person interviews without having to pass phone interviews first. So I would go in with probably like three different goals.
The first goal is to get a job, but you might want to have two other goals in case it doesn’t work out. The second goal is to get interview practice – I would suggest doing mock interviews beforehand. Third, use it as a chance to learn about agencies. I was not familiar with jobs in the federal government before the job fair. This was my first interview to see agencies. I asked a lot of questions in my interviews. I wanted to learn more about the agencies rather than get a job right away. I would go home and process what I learned, then look for more positions in those agencies later.”
- Kaleigh Emerson, PFM Class of 2010, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
We don’t go if we don’t have an opening to fill. If we’re there, we’re looking to hire and we’re looking for the best person. We’re usually very anxious to fill that position.
-Bev Godwin, PMF Class of 1982, General Services Administration
Here are some other reasons why finalists don’t want to miss the fair:
- The fair is an awesome opportunity to improve your interview skills. Interview after interview for several days straight really cranks up your game a notch or two, and it makes for fun story-telling down the line.
- Some interviewers will let you interview at their offices, which helps avoid the craziness and rush of the job fair. If you can, we recommend scheduling your flight so that you can be in DC, and available for interviews either the day before or the day after the fair.
- The fair is an excellent opportunity to meet people. Never again will that many PMFs from your cohort be in the same place at the same time and it will give you the chance to make some connections that could be useful down the road.
- Even if you’re not looking for a position in DC; even if you think you have something lined up already, the job fair is an unparalleled opportunity. You can get insights into agency culture, information on the day-to-day duties of various positions, and meet a whole lot of interesting people (both formally and at the many happy hours).
- You may find out about an agency or a job that you hadn’t previously considered, but ends up being a good fit. Many agencies also have PMFs working their booths, so it’s a good opportunity to talk to them and find out what it’s like to be a PMF in their office and agency.
- If you are hoping for a job in DC, it’s good to attend the job fair because there might be opportunities to tour facilities and meet employees. You never know – you might like an agency until you see where you’ll work…and you might just want to reconsider based on your future digs (or dive).
THE BOTTOM LINE: DON’T MISS IT!
You will be expected to cover all of your expenses for the job fair. Of course, your return on investment is landing that sweet GS-11 or GS-12 opportunity and getting your public sector career started off on the right foot – so spend the money to get there if you’re out of town. You won’t regret it.
Before the Fair: Do Your Homework
1. Research agencies that interest you.
Let’s face it: government’s big. Your options are immense. You will want to learn as much as you can about prospective agencies in advance so that you can speak knowledgeably to their representative at the fair.
“The applicant should do research up front to know which agencies they are interested in…and then be sure to go and talk to people at that booth, but also to be open that maybe they haven’t heard of. They likely don’t know every agency. You can go online and look up the government manual to learn about the mission of every government agency…there are some interesting small agencies or offices within agencies that do really cool things. So be open to other things and spend time talking to as many people as you can.”
- PMF Class of 1982, General Services Administration
2. Prioritize your top picks.
Once you’ve done your homework on your favorite agencies, it’s always a good practice to rank them in the order of where you most want to work – and don’t just think about your appointment, but where you might want to launch and spend your career.
3. Don’t wait for the fair to make contact.
If you are showing up to the job fair and expecting to set up an interview with the State Department, or one of the other big agencies, you will be too late. Ask your career advisor for contact information for past PMFs from your school who have a connection with that agency. Try to schedule your most sought after interviews ahead of time. Check the Projected Position System (PPS) website for PMF positions that may interest you. Email and/or call the designated point of contact (this is not always the PMF Agency Coordinator) for any PMF position for which you wish to interview as spots are limited.
4. Get your professional house in order.
Ask your Career Advisor or other trusted person to: review your resume (make sure your resume is free of grammatical and typographical errors). Practice interview questions with you. Look over supplemental materials that show your skills (policy memos you’ve written for school, outreach materials you’ve prepared for a previous job). Practice introducing yourself to recruiters (how can you tell your professional story in 1-2 sentences?) Make sure your resume tells a coherent story. Even if you’ve done a lot of different things, help recruiters find the thread. A couple introductory bullets at the top can make all the difference. Bring a condensed one page version of your resume.
5. Ask yourself some tough questions.
Review the floor plan and think about who you want to talk to most. What are the top things you’re looking for? What are you willing to compromise on?
6. Print out copies of your resume.
You will want to be able to hand these out to everyone from an agency you meet.
The night before:
7. Rest up.
You will have a hectic few days and for those coming to DC from outside the area, you’ll likely be jet-lagged and in unfamiliar settings.
8. Make yourself comfortable.
Pack snacks water, coffee, whatever you’ll need. Buy or bring clothing that is both professional and comfortable (you will be on your feet all day). Get a bag that looks good, but can hold a lot of stuff comfortably. Figure out the Metro system and do not rely on cabs as they are very slow! DC’s subway system: wmata
Tips from former PMFs
- Set up some interviews ahead of time with preferred agencies.
- Stay the whole time if you can.
- Get a place to sleep that’s close to the convention center so you don’t have much travel time.
- Make sure you have internet access.
- Have plenty of updated resumes and business cards.
- A few writing samples are good but you don’t need as many of those.
- Talk to everyone, you never know what agency may have a niche for you.
- Be ready to follow up with thank you notes for all interviews (ask for business cards to have contact info). Email is OK for these.
- Prepare concise bullets of your experience that is pertinent to the positions.
- Contact agencies that haven’t posted on the Projected Positions System (PPS).
- It’s difficult to authentically and enthusiastically explain your qualifications for the eighth time in two days. So, schedule the important interviews first, and do everything you can to schedule interviews before the job fair, particularly if you’re local.
- Bring a water bottle and snacks; plenty of pens, notebook pages, resumes, business cards, letters of recommendation, and writing samples.
At The Fair:
- Consider the size of the agency, its mission, and the experience you hope to gain. At smaller agencies you may have the opportunity to make more immediate impact and receive leadership opportunities, but you may not have as many resources (training, technology, fellow PMFs) available to you. At larger agencies you may have all the resources you need but you may not get the immediate leadership opportunities.
- The morning of the first day you will hand out a million resumes – bring plenty! (There is a Kinkos if you need to print more, but the lines will be long). Talk to folks about the agencies and openings. Later in the day your cell phone will start ringing with agencies trying to interview you that evening or the following day. If you can push the interview to the day after the job fair and offer to meet at their offices, it may be helpful (to both them and you), but go ahead and schedule it during the job fair if you can’t.
- Look at the PMF website and contact offices that have posted jobs that may interest you. Many PMFs do this and have interviews already set up before they walk into the job fair. This way you can interview with those offices, and check out other offices at the job fair, all at the same time.
- Try very hard to keep the first 60-90 minutes in the morning of the second interview day open. This time is the time to hit agencies that you definitely want to talk to, but don’t have time to get to on day one (there will be a few).
- For those finalists who don’t have a sure sense of the agencies they want to pursue, the Job Fair is a good opportunity to see who is there and what kinds of positions are available. Some agencies only attend the job fair when they have a specific role or job that they need filled. If you are going in with an open mind as to where you want to work or what kind of work you will be doing, you may find opportunities at the job fair that you won’t know about if you don’t attend.
“I had a short list of agencies in my mind, but I did keep an open mind and I ended up at an agency I had never heard of until I walked past the booth at the job fair. I had never heard of it, but I really liked the vibe that they had.”
- Steve Morris, PMF Class of 2009, Small Business Administration
Again, we would urge you to figure out which agencies you’re most interested in well in advance of the fair. Contact those agencies and try to set up interviews before, during, or after the event itself. If an agency doesn’t have information about past PMFs, do some research yourself and look up current contacts within the agency and be in touch with them.
After the Job Fair: Managing Job Offers
Managing the job fair is tricky, but the real work comes in managing the job offers. We recommend that you not accept the first job offer unless you have taken some time to do some due diligence about the job first. Probably the biggest mistake people make is to get really excited about getting a job offer and then accept it right away.
It’s pretty important to do a lot of research about the position, agency, etc. Many people accept offers without meeting their new direct supervisor – unsurprisingly, a lot of them are unhappy in their positions now. This seems obvious, but a lot of PMFs get caught up in the excitement of the fair and getting job offers, and neglect to make sure what the work environment is really going to be like. Here are some more helpful tips.
- Don’t be surprised if you get job offers during the job fair. Don’t immediately accept if it isn’t your first choice. Some agencies will take longer to make job offers and you don’t want to accept prematurely and then have to backtrack when something you like better comes along.
- Don’t feel like you have to accept then and there. Some folks feel pressure to take jobs on the spot, before having a chance to talk to their families or hear other offers from other agencies. Think about it like this – if a person is asking you to make a life-changing decision in 5 minutes, what will they be like to work for?
- Ask for some time to consider the offer and be considerate of the agency’s time. If you are offered a job on Day One but you have more interviews scheduled on Day Two, the offering agency would understand if you requested an additional day to respond.
- Offer deadlines can sometimes be extended, but it is up to the agency. Generally speaking, most offers are awarded at the job fair or soon thereafter so there is no benefit in holding out for additional offers if you already have received multiple offers.
- Give them a time frame and stick to it. Be respectful of their desire to acquire as close to their top choice as possible, and if you know immediately or sooner than agreed upon that you do not intend to accept, let them know as soon as possible.
- …but if you really wanted that one from the outset, go for it! If you receive an offer (ask for the offer in writing!) from an agency you are genuinely interested in working for, and you are impressed by their PMF Program and the type of work you will be doing there as a fellow, accept the offer. Then inform all of the other agencies you have accepted another offer so that those opportunities can be made to other finalists.
- Don’t be shy, call if you want to learn the results.If you haven’t heard from the organization that is your first choice, then call the POC and ask if you have made their final list.
- Get a sense of security (clearances, that is):If you’re offered a position that requires a security clearance that you don’t have yet, understand that you may have to wait a year or more! Definitely get another job in the meantime, so you can afford to eat while you wait; however, you will have up to one year from being selected to secure an appointment.
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