ECQ Writing 101

Executive Core Qualifications (ECQS) can be challenging to write. We’ve shared lots of best practices to help you be more successful when writing your ECQs. But people struggle with not only writing their ECQs, but also choosing the right stories to write about. Usually, this is not due to a lack of experience.

Here’s the issue: We are in a constantly changing workplace (and world), aren’t we? So tell me, what do you, as a GS-15, or senior military officer, or corporate executive applying for an SES position, do that doesn’t have to do with Leading Change, Leading People, Creating Results, Managing Money/Resources/Technology, and Building Strong Interagency Relationships?

Let me ask the question and make the point another way: Don’t they all just bleed together? If that’s true, then you can just write up essays that fit generally into those categories, and you’re good to go, right?


It’s not a good idea to write your ECQs and then see where they might best fit. This approach leaves out one of the most important factors for selecting which examples to use in which ECQ. Let’s say you think of an example that you want to use for Results Driven. It should be great because you created some awesome results. But if you tell the story through your own lens, instead of the lens OPM provides, then your chances of being approved go down dramatically.

And what is this “lens” I speak of?

It’s the competencies. OPM has selected 28 competencies that they use as an “assessment framework” to “grade” your essays with either pass or fail.

How do I know this? Because one of the main things the OPM review boards will look for is the individual’s possession of and ability to leverage the various competencies. So how else are you going to show them without using stories that weave the competencies in?

So, after you pick an example, but before you write a word of your essay, look at the competencies for that particular ECQ and ask yourself, “Can I tell my story through that lens?”

In other words, will I naturally be able to address most—if not all—of these competencies in this example? If not, if it just feels like trying to put a square peg into a round hole, then the example (story) you want to use might just be a better fit for another ECQ.

The only way to find out is to check the competencies (the “lens”) for that other ECQ, and compare them to your story. This won’t be an exact science, of course, but if you use the competencies as a guide to select examples before you write them, you can choose the right kinds of professional stories and potentially save yourself a lot of time rewriting (and heartache!).

Good luck, and as always, if you’d like professional assistance in developing your SES application materials, please contact us online at 1-800-471-9201

We also offer a self-paced, online ECQ Mastery course. This is tactical training, combined with professional editorial feedback to help improve your ECQs. Check it out and sign up today!

In support of you –

The CareerPro Global Team

“CareerPro Global is top-notch. They gave me insights into the SES qualification process that I couldn’t have obtained on my own, even from surfing the web. And they helped me craft Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) that were approved by OPM quickly and on the first try. ECQs call for a type of writing that I think few people’s careers prepare them for. The person I worked with at CareerPro was a master at it. I can’t praise his skill and professionalism highly enough. I recommend CareerPro unequivocally.”

– Testimonial from Real CareerPro Customer, K.L.

Learn More About ECQs & KSAs

About the author:

Previous ArticleThe Times Are Changing, From In-Person To Video Job Interviews Next ArticleHuge Potential Opportunity to Work for President-Elect Biden’s Administration