Applying for SES in 2013

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By on January 28, 2013 in Current Events, Leadership with 6 Comments

By Diane Hudson Burns

In 2011 a Partnership for Public Service / McKinsey and Company survey was conducted that indicated about 7,700 senior executives were in the Senior Executive Service (SES) corps.  The survey revealed that the average SES member spent 17 years in federal service before joining SES; and 35% were eligible to retire in 2011; 53% eligible to retire by 2014; and 64% eligible to retire in 2016.

With more than 60% of SES members eligible to retire in the next three years, this is an opportune time to both prepare your SES application portfolio (a traditional executive level SES resume with Executive Core Qualification Statements (ECQ) and Technical Qualifications (TQ)), a five-page SES resume (for agencies that only accept the five-page resume-based SES application), and an executive cover letter; and plan your work assignments to focus on targeting positions that will allow growth in required leadership competencies that encompass each ECQ.

The Congress created the SES in 1978, a cadre of senior executives to hold the government’s top managerial and policy positions above the General Schedule (GS) grade 15 with a goal to bring managerial excellence to government agencies. In 1997, the ECQs, which embody the leadership skills needed to succeed in the SES, were developed after extensive research on the leadership attributes of successful executives in both the public and private sectors. The ECQs were revalidated and reissued with only minimal modifications in 2006.


If you desire to attain an SES position (or a Senior Leader (SL); Senior Officer (SO); Candidate Development Program (CDP) or other senior-level federal position – that may use ECQ-equivalent essays/narratives as part of the application process) as part of your career plan and succession goals in the federal government, now is the time to start preparing to apply to the SES.


There are two main components to preparing to apply for SES positions: 1) map your career goals and attain assignments that include all the Executive Core Qualifications (Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions) required to apply and be certified by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for an SES position; and 2) draft a well-written, and well-defined SES resume suite of documents with Executive Core Qualification statements/essays, written in OPM’s required format (CCAR/Challenge, Context, Action, Result).

Plan Your Leadership Journey Now for the Pinnacle of Public Servant-hood Jobs

If targeting an SES position is on your career development plan, focus on identifying detail assignments that offer skills and leadership/management assignments to complement the 28 ECQ leadership competencies. Keep a log and work on developing your accomplishments/ projects/ assignments into CCAR stories (Challenge, Context, Action, Result).

Work with a mentor or coach to identify any weaknesses in the ECQs and focus on building those competencies and leveraging detail assignments to fill gaps, while also further identifying and refining your strengths.

Application Package

If you are ready to apply for an SES position in 2013, begin now to prepare your SES resume application materials; it can take several weeks to write the documents in the proper format (about 20 pages for the traditional SES/ECQ application). Once you have written the base documents (resume and ECQs); then begin identifying target jobs and drafting the TQs.

As you develop the SES resume and ECQs you will create a “Library” of compelling leadership stories that can be used for multiple applications, based on the TQs and other required qualifications.

“My advice for someone applying for a senior position like an SES [or SL] is to begin with an assessment of past work in terms of what problems you faced and what you did about them,” suggested John Smith (name fictionalized), SL-equivalent. Then, there needs to be a review of the target job vacancy, construction of a list of key attributes and qualifications, and a reworking of experience in the best format possible.

Ask a colleague, mentor, writer, or coach to review your stories and ensure they are in the proper format to meet OPM’s requirements, and well edited.


Join Diane Hudson Burns in a free 30-minute webinar, 7 Tips for Writing the SES Application & Executive Core Qualification Statementsto 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.

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