Senior Executive Service Candidates Should Be Poised to Apply

By Diane Hudson Burns, CFJST, CPCC, co-author, The New SES Application

Opportunities Galore

In 2011 a Partnership for Public Service / McKinsey and Company survey was conducted that indicated about 7,700 senior executives were in the SES corps. The survey revealed that the average SES member spent 17 years in federal service before joining the 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 are eligible to retire in the next three years, this is an opportune time to start the planning and work to prepare to apply for the Senior Executive Service, a process which requires much more time and advanced groundwork than other federal job applications.

Preparation

If you desire to attain an SES position (or a Senior Leader (SL); Senior Officer (SO); Candidate Development Program (CDP) or other high-level government position with an excepted agency using ECQ-equivalent essays 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.

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 required to apply and be certified by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for a SES position; and 2) draft your SES application portfolio, which would include a traditional executive level SES resume with ECQs and Technical Qualifications (TQs), a five-page SES resume (for agencies that only accept the five-page resume-based SES application), and an executive cover letter.

Develop the Written Materials (SES Resume, ECQs, TQs)

I had the privilege of speaking to two people whose SES/ECQ resume packages were approved by the Qualifications Review Board (QRB), each accepting SES positions, and one person who was selected for an SL position; all offering their wise advice for applying for executive-level positions.

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.

“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), General Engineer (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.

Jane Thompson (name fictionalized), a member of the Senior Executive Service, 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

ECQs and Leadership CompetenciesThere are 28 leadership competencies that fall under the ECQs (see graphic on the right). These 28 leadership competencies must be identified across an applicant’s work experience, and focused in the recent 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 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 list in the box, employees at any stage of their careers (GS-5/7/9/11/12/13/14/15), 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 Smith. 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. Smith hopes 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.

Plan in 2013 for the Pinnacle of Public Servant-hood Jobs

If you are encouraged to target an SES position in your career management plan, focus on indentifying detail assignments that offer skills and leadership/management assignments to complement the 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.

If you are ready to apply for an SES position in 2013, begin preparing 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 for which you desire to apply and begin drafting the TQs.

Over time, you will develop a “Library” of leadership stories that can be used for multiple applications, based on the TQs and other qualifications.

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

Best wishes for career success!

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About the Writer

ses_coverDiane is offering a free webinar series “7 Tips for Writing the SES Application & Executive Core Qualification Statements.” More info and registration »

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. Diane is an experienced trainer in Senior Executive Service, ECQ/TQ, KSA and Federal Resume Writing topics for SES Leadership Development program candidates. Agency instruction experience includes Commander’s Leadership Development Program at the Naval Ship Yard, Air Force Headquarters, US Army Missile Command, Defense Acquisition University (Fellows), EPA, and PTO. Diane is an instructor for military employment readiness specialists and retiring military; as well as train-the-trainer at career industry conferences internationally on outplacement and career search topics.