By Steve Kelman

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Students going into government

Occasionally I describe myself as a front line soldier in the battle to attract young people into government. I recently got a long e-mail from a student of mine from last year who is about to graduate. (Harvard graduation is on Thursday -- workers are busy polishing up public spaces at the Kennedy School, and our central meeting area is bedecked with flags from all the countries our students come from.) The student had seen one of my FCW columns on attracting young people into government on the Kennedy School Web site, and wanted to write me about a bunch of discouraging experiences.

This student -- one of the most-talented I have had in almost 30 years of teaching -- was selected for a Presidential Management Fellowship, and wants to work in government (in the national security area), but did not receive a PMF job offer in that area.

The student mainly wrote to me to reflect on the job selection process.

At one agency, "They gave me a 45-minute phone interview and on the basis of that and resumes, they chose a fellow who will be in their office for 2 years! I was told that I made the final 3 but just missed the cut. I can't help but think that if I had had the chance to sit down with them in person, show them some of my work, and have a greater set of interactions that I might have gotten the job. Or at least I would have felt like their decision was well-informed."

The student continued: "I compare all of this to my interview process with McKinsey, and it was like night and day. McKinsey had a first round written test and some practice cases, which I passed. Then I went to a second round interview, which lasted about 5 hours and included cases and traditional interviews. I passed that and they flew me to DC for a third round, which involved another 5 hours of cases and personal interviews. Out of all the people who get second round interviews, I would imagine that about 5% ever receive offers. I didn't end up getting an offer, but I felt like they had plenty of opportunity to evaluate me and get to know me, and ultimately I just didn't make the cut. The federal hiring processes have been totally different."

The e-mail concluded: "I just wanted to give you an idea of where I am at and to say that your fight to get the best people into government is an important one, because they are losing people left and right."

Frankly, I can't believe the government is losing this student.

Anybody in national security want to contact me about this? I have a really great employee for you. You need to talk, though, for more than 45 minutes!

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jun 04, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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