• Pathways to Federal Government Jobs: What You Need to Know

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    May 23, 2012

    by Tom Phillips

    On May 11, 2012, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the final regulations governing the Pathways Programs.  

    The regulations are the result of an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in December 2010 to design programs that streamline the federal government hiring process and increase the number of students and recent graduates hired by the federal government.  

    (Editor’s note: NACE provided input to the regulations. Marilyn Mackes, executive director, provided testimony at public hearings, which was incorporated into the public record, and, with 2010-11 NACE President Tom Devlin, provided written recommendations regarding the program  to OPM Director John Berry.)

    In his executive order, the president cited the enthusiasm, talents, and unique perspectives of those groups, along with the disadvantages students face in the normal competitive federal hiring process and the imperative to build a work force representative of society as reasons for the creation of the Pathways Programs.  

    Agencies are expected to implement the regulations by July 10, 2012. 

    What can career services professionals expect from the implementation of these programs? Since students from a wide variety of educational backgrounds and programs will be able to benefit from these programs, career services professionals will find a relevant Pathways Program, whether they are working with high school students, undergraduates, graduate students, or alumni.  

    The Pathways Programs will consist of three different programs—the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program, and the Presidential Management Fellows Program.

    Following are details about the programs and “need-to-know” information about each for career services professionals:

    1. The Internship Program—The Internship Program will replace the Student Education Employment Program (SEEP) by consolidating the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) and the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP). SCEP and STEP are still in existence, and agencies have been encouraged to continue using these programs until the Internship Program officially replaces them.

    What you need to know about the Internship Program:

    • The Internship Program is for students in:
      • High schools,
      • Community colleges,
      • Four-year colleges,
      • Trade schools,
      • Career and technical education programs, and
      • Other qualifying educational institutions and programs. 
    • Opportunities are meant to be paid, and the pay scale will depend on the qualifications of the student.
    • The work is meant to be meaningful and developmental.
    • Upon successful completion of the Internship Program (640 hours), the intern may be converted, noncompetitively, to a permanent or one- to four-year term appointment position. This mirrors the way the private sector handles internship programs, i.e., as a recruiting tool and a “test run.” Six hundred and forty hours is a lot of hours, especially if a student is trying to complete it as a summer internship as it is the equivalent of 16 weeks of full-time work. The ability to get credit or waive up to 320 of those hours under certain conditions makes this program more manageable for a wide variety of students.
    • Your students will search for and apply for these positions through www.usajobs.gov. They should use the keywords “Internship Program” because any agency that advertises a position in this program will have to use these words, e.g., “Treasury Internship Program.” 

    1. The Recent Graduates Program—This program targets individuals who have recently graduated (within two years) from qualifying educational institutions or programs. Successful applicants will be placed in a two-year career development program and are eligible for conversion, noncompetitively, to a permanent or one- or four-year term appointment position after just one year. 

      The Recent Graduates Program will be administered at the agency level. In my opinion, this is the highlight of the Pathways Programs. Internship possibilities existed previously, as did the Presidential Management Fellows Program, but this program is new; it covers a wide variety of students and should really level the playing field for students trying to enter the federal work force. 

    What you need to know about the Recent Graduates Program:

    • The Recent Graduates Program is for those who, after December 27, 2010, received an:
      • Associate,
      • Bachelor’s,
      • Master’s,
      • Professional,
      • Doctorate,
      • Vocational or technical degree, or
      • Certificate.
    • The Recent Graduates Program caps starting salaries at the GS-9 level (unless the position is in a STEM field).
    • This is a two-year program, and a recent graduate is eligible for non-competitive conversion after successfully completing one year in the program.
    • Your alumni will search for and apply for these positions through www.usajobs.gov. They should use the keywords “Recent Graduates Program” because any agency that advertises a position in this program will have to use these words, e.g., “Treasury Recent Graduates Program.”

    1. The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program—This program is not new, but the new regulations make it more accessible to more candidates. The PMF program has been in existence since 2003 and was previously called “the PMI program.”  

    The PMF program is the federal government’s premier leadership program, preparing students who have an advanced degree for positions with the Senior Executive Service. PMF is a two-year program in which fellows are eligible to be converted, noncompetitively, to permanent positions after successful completion of the program. The regulations eliminated the school nomination process and allow for students within two years of graduation from an advanced degree program the opportunity to apply.

    What you need to know about the PMF Program: 

    • The PMF program is open only to students and recent graduates who have or are near completion of advanced degrees (Ph.D., J.D., and master’s).
    • This program is highly competitive. According to the PMF website, for the years 2010-12 between 10 and 14 percent of those who applied became finalists.
    • The PMF application process has multiple steps, including application, online assessment, in-person assessment, and a job fair. The entire process takes months to complete.
    • Fellows will enter the government at the GS-9, GS-11, or GS-12 level, and experience rapid promotion through this program.
    • Complete information on the PMF program can be found at www.pmf.gov.  

    Please note that there are many details about these three programs that are not covered above. To stay current on federal government hiring reform and provide students and recent alumni with the most up-to-date information on hiring programs, see the following references:


    Tom Phillips is the associate director of graduate career services at the University of Michigan, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He can be reached at Phillips.tom.d@gmail.com or tdphill@umich.edu.


Pathways to Federal Government Jobs: What You Need to Know