A Senior Executive Service (SES) application comprises a highly involved process with various elements. Generally speaking, a SES application package consists of an executive resume, the five Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) and several Technical Qualifications (TQs). We’ve also seen positions without TQs or with up to six or seven TQs. Further, we’ve seen the full spectrum of formatting and length restrictions that various federal agencies decide to impose on applicants’ ECQs, TQs and resumes.
At the end of the day, when writing an executive resume, you need to make sure you address the specific requirements in the job announcement. Having guidance when writing your resume is essential and can help your application stand out from the rest, possibly giving you the edge you need.
5 Tips for Developing an Effective SES Resume
Leveraging experience from helping more than 5,000 people do this, our team at CareerProPlus has five fundamental tips for developing an effective SES application package. If you follow these, then you are positioning yourself for success.
1. Limit Your Resume to Five Pages
Here’s the deal. A few years ago, we were still developing eight-, 10- and yes, even 12-page comprehensive resume presentations for SES clients. After all, these are often folks with decades of experience. We’ve seen a definite trend toward shorter, five-page SES resumes throughout the past three years or so, concurrent with federal hiring practices.
2. Tailor Your Resume for Each Position
People often ask if they need to write a different SES resume for every position for which they apply. Well, the answer is yes… and no. To a certain extent, your work history is what it is, in terms of start dates, major duties and overall chronology. And if you are applying for very similar jobs, you might very well be able to use the same resume with some content tweaking.
However, many of you have a diverse set of skills, experience and assignments. As a result, you may qualify for SES positions with varying requirements. In those cases, we encourage you to “tweak” your resume to ensure you showcase your relevant experience. Don’t leave it up to them to assume. Make it very clear that you have the exact or very similar experiences to the ones they outline in the job announcement.
3. Use the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) Format
Key achievements form the backbone of your resume, yet many people struggle to fully capture their skills and experience in this section. Instead of using boring job descriptions, find dynamic ways of conveying your qualifications. The CCAR layout is a perfect way to format your accomplishments. You’ll be familiar with it from composing your ECQs or TQs, and it reminds you to contextualize and quantify your achievements.
Quantifying your descriptions — using figures to demonstrate the scope of your responsibilities and accomplishments — acts as an anchor for your review board, making it easier to justify why you’re the best candidate for the job.
4. Ensure Your Resume, ECQs and TQs Complement Each Other
We recommend that you complete the resume last. Not only should you tailor your five-page resume as mentioned in points one and two above, but you should include the fantastic accomplishments you described in the narratives in your resume, as well. A good way to do that is to review your ECQs and TQs and rewrite some of the key actions and results into bullet points, again using a CCAR format, so that whenever possible, the bullets have a problem, action and results.
5. Ask for Meaningful Feedback
From small typos to larger discrepancies in formatting and content, we all know how easy it is to miss our own mistakes. In addition to your own careful proofreading, ask someone who can offer you meaningful feedback to look over your materials. You’ll want someone to assess your resume and other application materials objectively, including picking up on instances of misplacing commas and using incorrect subject-verb agreement.
Maybe you have been at the GS-15 level for a while now, and you feel that you can demonstrate the ECQs in both your resume and in a longer narrative format. Still, it is a good idea to get candid feedback from colleagues or members of the SES, attend an SES career development program (which looks nice on your resume!) or even seek assistance from a professional SES resume writer or career coach.
How to Format Your SES Resume
General Schedule (GS)-level employees serve under SES employees. If you have a GS-15 resume or hope to enter into an SES position from another sector, you’ll need to learn the specific formatting requirements for SES resumes. So, what sets an SES resume apart from a GS-14 or GS-15 resume?
An SES resume format is different from those of other positions and industries — it requires a certain level of specificity. While having a unique resume in other sectors, particularly creative roles, might give you an edge in landing the job, SES positions are looking for someone with attention to detail — and that means following directions to the minute level. Missing any part of the application, including preferences for resume formatting, might mean your application won’t get the attention it deserves.
Some of the various SES-specific application formats you might encounter include:
Agency-specific SES applications.
Traditional ECQs, TQs and MTQs.
Five-page SES ECQ all-inclusive resumes.
USAJobs Resume applications.
USAJobs is a platform where you can search and find SES vacancies. The resume format USAJobs requires is highly specific. As most government agencies will require applicants to use this platform for their job postings, becoming familiar with the platform’s requirements is a good idea. In the beginning stages of your application preparation, knowing exactly what information you need to collect will mean your writing process can be much easier. Since there’s a huge variety in formatting across agencies and platforms, check out some federal resume examples.
If the job announcement doesn’t specify a length, font size or margins, email the HR representative and ask. You don’t want to end up in the rejection pile because you failed to follow the agency’s formatting and application procedures.
However, as they say in the marketing world, “content is king,” and the same thing applies to SES resumes. Just as the SES represents a higher level of excellence in government and leadership, your resume should reflect a higher level of professionalism, achievement and abilities.
SES Resume Best Practices
While paying close attention to the requirements of the vacancy or vacancies you’re applying to is crucial, there are certain best practices you can apply to practically any SES application.
Avoid using the word “I” in your resume. Instead, drop the “I” and use an implied first-person point of view. Begin sentences with active verbs, such as “developed,” “directed,” “led” and “oversaw,” among many others. Using active verbs implies action, which is precisely what you want your reviewers to see when they read your resume. They’re looking for someone they can envision in the role, so helping their imagination along will only benefit you.
Focus your work history on the past decade or so, and then summarize any earlier positions by listing the start and end years, job titles, organizations and perhaps a brief explanation of your scope of responsibility. Even if you have extensive experience beyond the past 10 years, the review board really wants to know about your most recent positions and experiences. The interview, however, is a great time to potentially discuss your relevant experience beyond the past 10 years.
Often, the application will request you put your most recent experience first and work back chronologically. However, with varying requirements from different agencies, pay close attention to the vacancy announcement.
Be sure that the stories you use throughout your ECQs and TQs do not repeat themselves. For example, the story you use for Leading Change cannot be repurposed to use in another ECQ or in a TQ. Can you overlap a bit in terms of using the same position, timeframe or even program? Sure, but make sure each story stands on its own and shows a unique aspect of your leadership. The ECQs are narrative, so they’re a great opportunity to reflect on qualitative and quantitative accomplishments. Your resume, in contrast, benefits most from quantifying your accomplishments.
Even as recently as five years ago, an SES resume could easily be eight, 10 or 12 pages long. Nowadays, more and more federal agencies are moving toward concise resumes. For example, the Department of the Air Force limits SES resumes to four pages. Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is leading the way in using a five-page format that must also address ECQs and TQs.
Applications often require personal information, such as your legal name, address, email address, and day/evening phone numbers. However, religious and political affiliations, family status, country club memberships and hobbies have no place on an executive SES resume. Even if you work with a values-based organization, keep everything in your resume professional.
Emphasize relevant and qualified accomplishments. Your resume should be accomplishment-driven, and those accomplishments should be relevant to the position to which you are applying. To ensure relevance, use the Challenge-Context-Action-Result format when writing your accomplishments. Every bullet or sentence has the potential to include some or all of these components, and the most important ones are actions and quantified accomplishments.
CareerProPlus Can Make Your Resume Stand Out
If you’re interested in applying — or have already begun the application process — for an SES position, the experts at CareerProPlus are ready to help you. Our process involves three stages of development:
As world class writers and the best SES writing team globally, we all send ALL of our work through our staff proofreaders and copy editors. With extensive research skills and an incredible eye for detail, our writers are able to craft effective and competitive SES resumes. They are award-winning and certified to craft federal resumes for various government agencies.
Hiring managers for SES vacancies may receive hundreds of SES application packages. Typically, they only interview a few of the top applicants. Your resume is the first thing the review board will see, so your best strategy is to ensure it’s comprehensive, compelling and convincing all at the same time. Working with CareerProPlus, you’ll build a resume that accurately displays your accomplishments and qualifications for the SES position you want.
Barbara Adams is the President and CEO of CareerPro Global, Inc. (CPG). She has been on the leading edge of SES application package development for decades. Committed to providing world-class service, she has also built an SES writing team that has assisted more than 5,000 SES candidates with high levels of success. She is the co-author of the new book, Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service: How to Find SES Jobs, Determine Your Qualifications and Develop Your SES Application.
The SES application process can be daunting, but CareerProPlus has decades of experience in compiling application packages. If you’d like assistance with your SES resume, contact us online today.
Lee Kelley serves on the company’s executive staff as Chief Learning Officer, while also overseeing operations of a 14-member (and growing) writing team. With 25+ years of diverse professional experience, he is a highly sought-after executive writer and coach who has personally coached nearly 1,000 military, federal, and private-sector clients from numerous government and private agencies, as well as all branches of the military. He has also developed numerous federal, senior executive, and military transition resumes, as well as over 4,000 Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) and Technical Qualification (TQ) essays.
He has co-authored numerous books, including:
Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service
Roadmap to Federal Jobs
The Key: A Modern Tale of Sef Discovery
Inside Marine One
Roadmap to Job-Winning Military to Civilian Resumes
And Authored 3 books:
Look to the Warriors
The Authorized Biography of Brigadier General Richard E. Fisher