Writing an Effective SES Resume

Writing your Senior Executive Service resume will probably be the trickiest one you have ever written. Here are practical tips that may help you in securing one of the most elite and competitive jobs in the country.

No matter how many resumes you’ve prepared during the course of your career, your Senior Executive Service (SES) resume will be the trickiest–but perhaps the most important. This resume is unlike any other because SES jobs are some of the most elite and competitive in the country.

Your resume must combine the outstanding qualifications needed to secure an executive job with the unique qualifications needed to obtain a government job. Those doing the hiring are looking for proven leaders who can interact successfully with the loftiest members of the federal government. And your first step into that world is a great resume.

Forget what you learned in college

About resumes, that is. You were probably advised to keep bullet points to one or two lines and to limit your resume to one page in length (more on that below). But you need to remember that you’re in line for an executive position at the federal level, so the rules that apply to an entry-level accountant don’t apply to you. You’ve probably been out of college for more decades than you care to think about, so your “education” section should be near the end. Your resume needs to be focused on the hard-core, get-it-done examples that will win you this next lucrative gig. And if you use bullet points, make them as long as necessary to adequately illustrate the people, places, and circumstances that have made up your career and prepared you for this next challenge.

Go long

It’s normal–even expected–that your SES resume will be three pages long. Being qualified for an SES position means that you will have extensive experience, and your resume needs to outline that experience. That takes up some space! But if you’re looking at a resume that’s more than four pages, you need to consider a different way to get your points across. If you simply can’t condense any copy without losing impact, attach a separate list of your projects after your resume. A long resume is fine–a document that rivals War and Peace is not.

Name names

By this point in your career, you’ve undoubtedly worked for some bigwig companies, so don’t be afraid to provide details. Give a brief overview of the company (what they do, what they’re worth, number of employees, etc.). Even if it’s a household name corporation like McDonald’s or Reebok, most people don’t know the numbers associated with them. Being vague will make the hiring manager wonder if you’re hiding something, so don’t generalize.

Give a before-and-after

It’s also important for you to describe the challenges and expectations you’ve met at each new level of your career. If you came into your current position with the expectation that you’d dig an auto company out of $220 million in debt–and you did–that needs to be fully explained. Describe where the company was when you arrived, what steps you took to achieve success, and what the company looked like when you left.

Illustrate results with stories

Securing the right candidate for a top-level government job is a huge investment of time and money, so the people doing the hiring are willing to read through resumes carefully. Take the time to sketch out story examples of how you achieved bottom-line results in your past or current position. Just make sure your stories aren’t fairy tales. Lying to the government (even “stretching the truth”) isn’t a good idea.

Be precise

Give them a yardstick to measure your success, rather than just numbers. If the company achieved $800 million in revenues while you were president, tell them why that’s so great. Compare it to the year before you arrived, when revenues were at $400 million.

Highlight success through growth

It’s imperative that you effectively describe your forward-thinking capabilities, and that means showing how you’ve innovated in the past. SES positions are all about leading change, so help them understand that you’re a candidate who can successfully evolve and adapt to changing circumstances–and guide others to do the same.

Show them the big picture

The devil may be in the details, but a top-level government executive has to have the big picture in mind at all times. Point out how you’ve developed strategic visions in the past–in as many different environments as possible. A federal position means dealing with diverse people in diverse environments, so showing how you’ve handled strategic thinking in unique situations is a one-way street to a job offer.

Don’t forget your ECQs

Make sure to include the Executive Core Qualifications as an addendum to your resume and cover letter. You may also be required to submit Technical Qualifications, Managerial Technical Qualifications, or Professional Technical Qualifications. Don’t miss out on a job that’s perfect for you simply because you didn’t research all of the mandatory paperwork.

About the Author

Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and regular contributor to KSADoctor.com, a professional federal resume service and repository of sample KSA statements.