By Diane Hudson Burns
Wise Advice when Applying for SES Positions
It is always a great day when a client sends me a note and says they were offered a Senior Executive Service (SES) position. It is the culmination of many years of hard work, the development of leadership competencies, and the preparation of a solid SES application package with Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) and Technical Qualification (TQ) statements that meet the criteria of the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Qualifications Review Board (QRB).
Recently I spoke with two people whose SES/ECQ resume packages were approved by the Qualifications Review Board, each accepting SES positions; and one person who was selected for a Senior Leader (SL) position. Each offered their wise advice for applying for executive-level positions.
Plan Early and Enlist Help
All three agreed on two points: plan early to develop the SES resume and ECQs – and work with a professional coach or writer to help complete the package if needed. Arthur Scott, Assistant Auditor General for Acquisition, Development, Research and Logistics, Naval Audit Service (SES), said, “Unless you are an A+ writer, you may need someone else to help you organize your leadership stories and pull the package together.” As a member of the QRB panel for reviewing SES resume packages, Scott stated that it was very evident when an ECQ package missed the mark.
Jane Thompson (name fictionalized), SES, said, “In prepping an SES application, think very broadly about your career and experiences in finding instructive examples of the various ECQs.” She also advises enlisting help in the development of the ECQ stories; a third-party can provide a different way to think about each ECQ and how to address it.
Map The ECQ Leadership Competencies Early In Your Career
There are 28 leadership competencies that fall under the ECQs (Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, and Building Coalitions). These 28 leadership competencies must be identified across an applicant’s work experience, and focused on the most recent five to 10 years of experience. Scott suggested that you map your career early to focus on all the leadership competencies. He further suggested that federal employees should seek out an SES mentor to help shape your career path to SES, and identify detail assignments, volunteer opportunities, or new jobs assignments with new subject areas to cover all the major leadership areas, to build on the portfolio of leadership competencies, and compare to the ECQs.
Using the leadership competencies identified in The New SES Application, employees at any stage of their careers (from GS-5 to 15), can begin to check-mark off the competencies based on their work assignments. “Don’t wait until the last minute to look for opportunities to manage resources or manage a special project”, Scott said. All special projects and detail assignments are potential stories for the ECQs.
“In terms of career planning, my advice would be to seek to vary your experience, taking on new and challenging assignments whenever the opportunity arises. If you seek positions only catering to your strengths, your existing muscles get stronger, but the rest atrophies,” stated John Smith (name fictionalized), SL. He further commented that at the times he felt the most uncomfortable in his career, resulted in the most growth. The challenging assignments taught him patience, empathy, and helped him mature into a better manager and leader. He encourages future leaders to challenge themselves. Jones hopes to bring his best to his agency and the government, as he teaches the next generation of leaders.
Map Your ECQ Strengths
To help identify the right detail, volunteer, or new position assignments, Scott suggests (and so does the author) to map your strengths and weaknesses against the ECQs. If you know you are an expert in one ECQ, for example, Leading People; then seek out detail assignments that will help build skill sets in Business Acumen. Scott reached the SES as a career goal after attaining his GS-14 position. At that time, he said, it seemed to become reality. If he had put more thought into it, he would have planned sooner in his career and properly mapped his assignments earlier.
For career progression, Thompson suggests, along your career path, to look for ways to be helpful to your boss and your colleagues; they then will keep you in mind for other projects large and small that will help you along the way. Your goal is to develop a favorable reputation. For Thompson, attaining an SES position has allowed her to synthesize a number of different skills that she has picked up throughout her career, and now she is using them all in one job.
By planning your career focused on climbing the Leadership Journey to gain the 28 leadership competencies required of OPM to be certified for an SES position, begin early in your career to plan assignments that will provide ever greater opportunities to learn and showcase leadership skills. Future articles will discuss the development of ECQs essays, the application process, the different types of SES applications, and the structured interview.
Join Diane Hudson Burns in a free 30-minute webinar, 7 Tips for Writing the SES Application & Executive Core Qualification Statements, to learn more about the SES resume / ECQ application development process.
Diane Hudson Burns is a multi-credentialed career coach, executive resume writer and editor, specializing in posturing federal and non-federal employees to enter the federal government’s Senior Executive Service (SES). She is co-author of “The New SES Application,” the first-ever book written about the Five-page SES Federal Resume, as well as the traditional 10-page ECQ format. See our SES / ECQ training, writing, and coaching services.