Empire State Fellows Program: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What qualities is the Empire State Fellows Program looking for in applicants?

The Empire State Fellows Program is designed to attract talented professionals with demonstrated leadership potential who want to refocus their careers on public service. Applicants who are members of groups underrepresented in policy-making roles in New York State government, which include but are not limited to Black, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander persons; women; persons with disabilities; and gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, are particularly encouraged to apply. Applicants should have an advanced degree and at least five years of professional work experience. An applicant with only a Bachelors degree may be considered if he or she has substantial professional achievements.

Fellows may have a variety of educational and professional experience. For example, a computer scientist with experience working with a non-profit organization, a lawyer with experience at a large law firm, and an environmental scientist with experience working in agriculture, could all be strong candidates if they demonstrate superior academic and professional credentials and a strong interest in public service. Of course, applicants who have studied public administration, political science, or public policy would also be competitive. All competitive applicants will demonstrate a strong interest in a career in public policy, substantial accomplishments in a professional environment, and notable academic achievement.

The diversity of applicant qualifications reflects the needs of our state government, which seeks talented leadership for agencies as varied as the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Children and Family Services. Once Fellows are selected, their skills, interests and experiences will inform their assigned role in New York State government.

2. What are the eligibility requirements for the Empire State Fellows Program?

Individuals who are eligible to work for New York State without employer sponsorship, residing anywhere in the world, are eligible to serve as Empire Fellows, so long as they can work in Albany, New York throughout the two-year Fellowship. Individuals currently employed in the legislative or executive branches of the New York State government are not eligible to apply. Empire State Fellows must have a minimum of five (5) years of full time professional experience. The most competitive applicants will have an advanced university degree (master's degree, JD, PhD or equivalent); however, a Bachelor's degree in combination with other relevant experience may be accepted in lieu of an advanced degree.

3. Are there age restrictions for Empire State Fellows?

There is no age requirement for the program. However, the Empire State Fellows Program is designed to jump-start the policy-making careers of individuals who have demonstrated substantial accomplishments early in their professional careers.

4. Is a candidate’s political affiliation a consideration in selecting Empire State Fellows?

No. Empire State Fellows are selected on a non-partisan basis.

5. How do I apply for the Empire State Fellows Program?

The application for the 2020-2022 Empire State Fellows Class is now closed.

6. What is the best approach for handling recommendation letters?

  • Applicants are required to submit two recommendation letters from individuals they know well who can describe their background and achievements
  • At least one recommendation should come from an individual who has supervised you in a professional environment and can speak to your work experience and accomplishments
  • All recommendation letters should address the question of why the applicant would be a strong addition to the Empire State Fellows Program and how the applicant’s personal, educational and/or professional experience prepares him or her to confront the increasingly complex policy challenges facing the New York State government
  • Recommenders should be identified in the online application; once you submit your application, a link will be provided to you to share with your recommenders. They will use that link to submit their letter of recommendation electronically.

7. Who will Review Applications and Select Empire State Fellows?

All applications will be reviewed by the New York State Center for Recruitment and Public Service.
The Governor will convene a panel of judges to interview the most promising applicants, and select the best and the brightest applicants to participate in the Empire State Fellows Program.

8. What will the panel of judges look for when interviewing finalists for the Empire State Fellows Program?

The interview process provides an indispensable opportunity for the panel of judges to evaluate selected candidate’s potential contribution to New York State government. The panel will evaluate each finalist’s ability to think on their feet, analyze and solve problems, communicate effectively, and find creative solutions to complex policy problems. Finalists should expect the judges to follow up on specific questions that arose from their application, as well as ask questions about policy challenges in New York State, the finalist’s academic and professional experience, and how the Empire State Fellows Program fits into the finalist’s long term career goals. The interview process provides each finalist the opportunity to demonstrate their enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to public service.

9. What is the Empire State Fellows Educational Program?

The educational component of the Empire State Fellows Program will include a case method of policy analysis. Class sessions will provide Fellows with the background and context for a policy debate, either through a professor, a speaker, or a panel of presenters. Fellows will also engage in interactive exercises, like debates, mock interviews, speeches, mock legislative sessions, and other exercises that develop professional skills.

The educational component will open with a week-long session that introduces Fellows to New York State government. Some topics to be covered may include:

  • Constitutional and Legal Context of New York State Government
  • State Agency Operations and Interactions with Other Government Bodies
  • Budget Policy and Budget Process
  • State-Local Relationship
  • Major Influences on State Policymakers
  • Ethics

After completing the week-long seminar, Fellows will begin full-time work. Throughout the first year of the Empire State Fellows Program, Fellows will attend a two-hour class every other week on a weekday evening. In between class sessions, Fellows will dedicate between one and two hours per week to academic reading and exercises. The semi-monthly classes may cover topics including:

  • Education and Finance
  • The Social Safety Net
  • Income Inequality
  • Immigration and Outmigration
  • The Public Workforce
  • Labor-Management Negotiations
  • Energy and the Environment
  • Media Relations

10. What is the Empire State Fellows Professional Development Program?

Professional development activities will enhance Empire Fellows’ collaboration with state leaders. Each Empire Fellow is encouraged to develop a mentoring relationship with the member of the Cabinet or other high-level official to whom they are assigned. Fellows will also develop informal relationships with legislators, judges, and executive leaders through a networking breakfast series. At each breakfast, a speaker or panel of speakers will address government operations or a timely policy issue and engage Empire Fellows in discussion. In addition, Empire Fellows will have regular opportunities to meet with influential and diverse leaders already in state government. Empire Fellows will also meet with local officials when they travel to different regions of our state. These programs will allow Empire Fellows to access the wealth of knowledge held by present and former government leaders.

11. What is the Empire State Fellows Program schedule and selection timeline?

The application for the 2020-2022 Empire State Fellows Class is now closed.

12. How are Empire Fellows assigned to state agencies and can I pick the department or agency to which I am assigned?

Upon reviewing applicant skills and agency needs, the panel of judges will recommend that each fellow be appointed to work closely with a particular policy-maker within the New York State executive branch. If the applicant accepts the recommended placement, the Governor will appoint the applicant as an Empire State Fellow serving in that role. Although agency needs will ultimately determine fellow placement, the panel of judges will duly consider each applicant’s preferences, experience, and skills in determining how they could best serve our state.

13. What is expected of an Empire Fellow during the Fellowship program?

Being an Empire State Fellow is an honor, a privilege, and a full-time commitment. Fellows will work full-time in the executive branch of the New York State government. Fellows may be assigned to positions in executive branch agencies like the Department of Civil Service, the Department of Health, or the Department of Taxation and Finance. Alternatively, Fellows may be assigned to roles in the Governor or Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

In addition to full-time work, Fellows will engage in educational and professional development activities. The educational component of the Fellows program will require four hours of class time per month outside of normal business hours. Fellows will also be required to complete educational assignments in between class sessions, which will require four to eight hours of preparation per month.

Fellows will participate in networking breakfasts held approximately once per month from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Fellows will also have the opportunity to meet with influential and diverse state leaders, and to travel to other areas of the state to meet with local government officials.

In general, Fellows are expected to fully engage with their colleagues, supervisors, and peers and to make the most of their first two years in Albany. Fellows must not only comply with the Public Officers Law and the obligations of their office, they must also comport themselves in a manner befitting a member of the administration of the State of New York at all times.

14. Are Empire Fellows provided compensation and benefits during the Fellowship?

Yes. Empire State Fellows are full-time, exempt, New York State employees. Fellows will receive an annual salary of $72,765, plus a generous benefits package.

15. Does the Empire State Fellows Program provide housing during the Fellowship?

No. Fellows are responsible for their housing arrangements.

16. How is the Empire State Fellows Program different from other professional development programs?

The Empire State Fellows Program is unique in that it provides a viable way for talented professionals to play a policy-making role in New York State over the long term. Although the Empire State Fellows Program lasts two years, exceptional Fellows will continue to serve New York State after that time. Other short-term Fellowship programs do not create comparable opportunities to develop a career in government service.

The Empire State Fellows Program is also unique in that it is designed to attract mid-career professionals, not recent graduates. To do this, the Empire State Fellows Program not only offers a competitive compensation and benefits package, it also jump-starts fellow careers in public service by immediately appointing them to positions in which they will collaborate with key policy-makers. Empire Fellows will work closely with agency heads, commissioners, deputy-commissioners and the Governor’s staff on the most pressing policy issues of our times.

In addition, the Empire State Fellows Program engages Fellows in a unique educational program based on the case method of analysis. By analyzing policy questions from various angles and engaging in debate, Fellows will not only delve into the intricacies of particular public policies, they will also develop the speaking, writing and debating skills necessary to be effective policy-makers.

The case method of policy analysis used in the educational component of the Empire State Fellows Program is possible because of the small size of each class of Empire Fellows. The small class size makes the Empire State Fellows Program more competitive, while ensuring that it attracts the best and brightest applicants to New York State government. Meanwhile, the small size of the Fellowship class provides Fellows with unique opportunities to interact with high-level policy makers. Fellows may even enjoy direct interaction with the Governor and his staff.

The non-partisan nature of the Empire State Fellows Program is also unique. By focusing on academic and professional achievements, the Empire State Fellows Program takes the politics out of the appointment process. The Empire State Fellows Program will ensure that the best and the brightest new policy-makers dedicate themselves to serving New York.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Empire State Fellows Program creates a vehicle to bring policy-makers from underrepresented groups into New York State government. By formalizing that process, the Empire State Fellows Program will not only ensure that Governor Cuomo’s administration is the most diverse that New York has ever seen, it will also reconnect diverse communities to our government for decades to come.

17. Are applicants required to undergo a security and background investigation?

All accepted Empire State Fellows must submit to a prospective employee background investigation conducted by the New York State Police and the NYS Center for Recruitment and Public Service. All Fellows' appointment and continued employment in the Fellowship is contingent upon this background investigation.

18. Can an Empire Fellow remain in their placement after the Fellowship?

The role of Empire Fellow lasts only two years. However, upon completion of the two-year Fellowship, senior administration officials will evaluate each Empire State Fellow’s performance with the expectation that successful Fellows will continue to serve in New York State government.

19. If selected, can I continue to participate in organizations in which I currently serve -- such as corporate and government boards, or on state or local councils?

Board service will be allowed so long as it does not present a conflict of interest or otherwise conflict with the Public Officers Law. Such service should be cleared with the Office of General Counsel of the state agency to which each fellow is assigned.

20. Where can I direct additional questions?
If you have additional questions, please email us at [email protected].

Thank you for your interest in the Empire State Fellows Program.