Want to Join the SES? Here is How to Get Started

Are you thinking about applying for the elite SES ranks or for an SES Career Development Program within the next five years?  If the answer is yes, then now is the time to start planning! Like in show business, in government there are no “overnight successes.” Instead there can be many unnoticed years of dedicated hard work as you head toward future leadership roles. This concept was illustrated in Rudolph Giuliani’s bestseller Leadership, in which the former New York Mayor states that he didn’t simply become a great leader on 9/11. Instead he purposefully took on challenges throughout his entire career.

Which employees can start planning to apply for SES?

Federal employees eligible to apply for the government’s SES-track Career Development Programs (CPDs) come from the manager and senior technical levels: GS-14 and 15. Others with a five-year plan of their own could begin around GS-12/13.

The best advice to all potential SES applicants is to start writing the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) right away.

The Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) are OPM’s tool for assessing whether you have demonstrated the levels of leadership necessary to join the SES to be accepted into an SES Career Development Program.

If you start writing your ECQs now, you can also use this as an important self-assessment tool. “This way, you can begin to look at what’s missing according to the Office of Personnel Management’s required 28 leadership competencies,” advised Diane Hudson Burns, co-author, The New SES Application.

The practical reason for this self-assessment is that you’re going to have to prove your SES worthiness with specified types of real-life examples. If you are lacking some of the real-life examples, then you need to fill in the gaps over the next several years by seeking career opportunities to help you achieve your goal. This exercise will literally help you plan your climb.

The ECQs are your Past Performance.

ECQs are broken into 5 separate leadership competencies (see the list below). You need to write two examples for each of the ECQs from your past work experience which show that you already demonstrate a particular leadership competency. If you have managed a program, changed an organization, lead staff through difficult times, worked through a changing budget, or developed a new partnership, then you have some excellent accomplishments to start writing your ECQs. Consider these ECQ descriptions and questions to help you prepare to write your ECQs:

  • ECQ #1 – Leading Change: This competency is about leading change, not just implementing change. It demonstrates creativity and strategic thinking. Ask yourself, “When did I lead change? Why was change needed? What was my role in the change?” Remember, this is not about what your department did, but what you did to lead change.
  • ECQ #2 – Leading People: The second ECQ centers on the ability to lead people toward meeting the organization’s vision. Your example might address conflict management, leveraging diversity, or implementing career development. Ask yourself, “Who did I lead? What was going on with them? What were the challenges of their jobs?”
  • ECQ #3 – Results Driven: The third ECQ relates to action, staying on task, following up, and being driven by the desired results. Top leaders are very results driven, like Giuliani was as New York’s mayor.
  • ECQ #4 – Business Acumen: To tackle this qualification, you need three “hats” – leading finances, human capital, and technology. This can be the toughest ECQ. Government people tend to think about programs and policies, rather than business. But think of contracts, procurements and budgets for finance, restructuring, recruitment and training for people, and security, IT security and automation for technology.
  • ECQ #5 – Building Coalitions: The fifth ECQ is about partnering, political savvy, influencing and negotiating. Ask yourself, “How well do I partner with other organizations to achieve goals? How well do I communicate with them? How well do I work with others?”

Writing your ECQs is like writing your own executive leadership book about what you have accomplished. It’s an important exercise that can result in increased confidence in your achievements and an impressive resume. The ECQs are also important talking points for your next behavior-based interview.  For instance: What is your best accomplishment for 2011? Write it down and share it with your best friend or co-worker!

– Kathryn Troutman and Diane Hudson Burn’s book The New SES Application is the latest publication from the award-winning Federal Career Publishers.

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