Application Process Tips to Win a Career in the SES

SES Jobs Fast Track

The Senior Executive Service (SES) is coming into a time of transition. 65% of the federal government’s top executives are eligible for retirement and there’s a strong impetus for change – both in the structure of the government’s top leadership corps and more broadly in the way that government works. Those in SES government jobs will need transformational leadership in the coming years and there will be great opportunities for innovative leaders who embrace change.

SES Jobs Starting Position

The SES application process would appear to be the next natural career move for a government employee at the GS-14 or GS-15 career level, but there’s a sizable threshold to be crossed. Competition for SES jobs are steep and the application process is rigorous. Applicants must develop detailed Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) statements that demonstrate a range of management and leadership competencies. ECQs must be approved by an independent Qualifications Review Board (QRB) before a candidate can be certified as an SES member. Only certified applicants are considered for open positions, with ECQs and previous experience constituting the main criteria for interview selection.

You don’t just throw your name in the hat for an SES position. As with auto racing, starting position in the SES application process matters. Moving from GS to SES requires careful career planning – strategically adding skills, training, and experience that strengthen your competitive advantage and build your ECQs. It’s this kind of strategy that can put you on the fast track to an SES position. Let’s look at 3 strategic approaches you can use to accelerate your move to the SES.

3 Strategies to Winning SES Jobs

#1 Get the Practice

If you are a GS-14 or GS-15, you will be eligible to apply for SES jobs. Each position announcement lists the grade level qualifications and many are open for applicants at the GS-14 level. Grade does not necessarily demonstrate the leadership capabilities required for ECQ approval, though. You’ll need to focus on the positions you target and on your achievements.

At a minimum serve at least one year in a supervisory GS-14 or 15 position and build your leadership qualifications by taking on initiatives and producing results. Experience in multiple roles across agencies and departments is highly valued, so this may be a component of your strategy.  In addition, temporary service at the executive level in a detailed SES position can give you a competitive advantage.

#2 Get the SES jobs specific training

There are lots of opportunities for leadership training that will improve your skills and capabilities and build your resume. Here are some of the options:

  1. Center for Leadership Development Courses – Office of Personnel Management’s Center for Leadership Development offers leadership development courses and specific courses for potential SES candidates.
  2. Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows Program – Designed for public sector executives who want to sharpen their leadership skills, this intensive four week program teaches a strategic framework for problem solving. You’ll have the opportunity to meet peers from other agencies and international governments and the course makes a significant impression on QRB board reviewers.
  3. Agency-sponsored leadership courses. Most federal agencies and departments offer management and leadership development courses for emerging and senior leaders. The OPM provides a catalog of agency and departmental leadership development courses on their site.

#3 Supercharge – SES Candidate Development Programs (CDP)

SES candidate development programs provide an opportunity to gain the specific skills and experience required to build out ECQs and to receive “pre-approval” with QRB certification built in to the programs. CDPs were designed as a vehicle for succession planning and leadership development within the individual agencies, but applications are frequently open across agencies and departments. (Note: CareerPro Global frequently assists candidates with CDP applications).

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Typically, an agency CDP will last between one and two years and incorporate mentorships, developmental assignments, and classroom training that are designed to help participants build ECQs and prepare for certification. As an example, the Department of Homeland Security begins with a 360 degree assessment to identify ECQ gaps, then formulates a development plan to address the gaps. Classroom training is combined with a 120 day executive level assignment, mentorship, and other developmental activities.1

The SES certification that is included in the programs removes the requirement for QRB certification for future SES applications, but CDP completion doesn’t guarantee a permanent full-time position. You’ll still be in competition with other certified applicants for SES slots, so it’s important to also build your experience at the GS-15 level. It’s very advantageous to demonstrate technical capability and leadership in multiple environments, so high level supervisory positions across agencies and departments should also be a component of your strategy.

CareerPro Can Fine Tune Your SES Efforts

You may have all of the leadership skills, technical experience, and achievements needed to successfully qualify for the SES, but you’ll still have to run the laps. All of your materials and information will have to be submitted in the format expected by the federal government and according to agency requirements.

SES Jobs Checkered Flag

That’s why it’s worthwhile to consider working with CareerPro and our SES resume writers. We’ll help you put together targeted SES applications that focus on your expertise and qualifications, emphasizing accomplishments that support your ECQs. SES resume writers can compose or edit ECQs using the CCAR (challenge-context-action-results) format to demonstrate knowledge of the leadership and technical competencies required for the position. Finally, we’ll work with you to assemble the documents in the format required for the position.

Crossing the Finish Line – Get the Interview, Get the Position

CareerPro’s SES clients have a high success rate landing interviews using our best practices and our quality controlled preparation process. We hope you’ll read more about our services for SES applicants on this site and on our website that focuses exclusively on SES resumes and ECQ writing services.  The CareerPro team of master federal resume writers has developed over 3000 SES applications in recent years. Can we work with you next?

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1Department of Homeland Security, Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program,

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US Air Force, Air Mobility Command
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