Senior Executive Service (SES) FAQ

About SES

Learn everything you need to know about SES from the following frequently asked questions:

The SES insignia is a keystone, the stone at the center of an arch that holds all the other stones in place. The keystone symbolizes the crucial role SES plays as the coordinator between the government leaders who set the political agenda and the employees who carry it out.

The vertical lines in the center of the keystone form a column representing the way SES members are united into a leadership corps. There is no unique symbolism associated with the number of lines included, though the number of center lines has changed over time with different iterations of the insignia.

There are several key differences between SES, SL, and ST positions. SES positions are classified as above GS-15. They also involve one or more criteria specified in 5 U.S.C. 3132, such as directing an organization and monitoring progress toward goals. To officially become a member of the SES, an individual must present ECQs to OPM’s Qualifications Review Board for their approval.

SL (Senior Level) positions are also classified as above GS-15, but the work does not meet the 5 U.S.C. 3132 criteria as SES work does. These positions may be in Excepted or Competitive Service. ECQs are not required to obtain an SL position.

Like SES and SL positions, ST (Scientific and Professional) positions are ranked above GS-15. However, they require a focus on high-level research and development, and they operate under 5 U.S.C. 3104. They are also always in Competitive Service. As with SL positions, ST positions do not require ECQs.

You can find information about Presidential Rank awards and performance awards in the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Fact Book and Federal Workforce Statistics.

The Application and Selection Process

First, go to the USAJobs website to check for SES vacancies and download information about the ones that interest you. The vacancy announcements will include the SES position description along with application instructions.

To apply to those SES positions, you must submit your federal resume per the instructions specified in the vacancy announcement. The announcement will include any additional documents or forms required by the hiring agency. Because requirements vary, it’s crucial to follow all instructions outlined in the specific vacancy announcement to which you are applying.

If the hiring agency selects your application, they will submit your Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) to the Qualifications Review Board (QRB). Each selectee must be certified by the QRB before they can be officially appointed to an SES position.

You can learn more about ECQs and the application process from the SES Applications section of our website. We also have ECQ examples that you can use for inspiration as your write your statement.

No. You should address Federal Competencies over the course of your entire ECQ narrative. As long as your narrative as a whole demonstrates a mastery of the Federal Competencies, you do not need to address each Competency individually.

No. You are evaluated on each ECQ, not the individual Competencies.

No. OPM determined key characteristics are not essential to the application process.

No. The OPM does not give opinions or suggestions on ECQs. It would be a conflict of interest to do so, as the OPM administers the QRB. A pre-review would also give an applicant an unfair advantage over other candidates.

There are three types of QRB cases:

  1. Criterion A: These cases are based on executive experience. Candidates must show that they have experience and competence in all five ECQs.
  2. Criterion B: These cases require participation in an OPM-approved SES Candidate Development Program (CDP). Candidates who successfully complete a CDP are eligible for noncompetitive placement in the SES, though placement is not guaranteed.
  3. Criterion C: These cases specify that the candidate has unique qualities likely to make them successful in the SES. Candidates must show that they are qualified for the position and have the potential to attain full competence in all five ECQs quickly. The candidate’s job application package submitted for QRB approval must include the agency’s assessment of what makes the candidate uniquely qualified. It must also include an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that outlines the necessary ECQ enhancements.

No. Under 5 U.S.C. 2108(3), “preference eligible” does not include applicants for or members of the SES.

Compensation and Benefits

The Executive Schedule basic rates of pay effective January 2023 are as follows:

Level I: $235,600

Level II: $212,100

Level III: $195,000

Level IV: $183,500

Level V: $172,100

The OPM defines “acting” as the type of situation in which one SES official may stand in for another. For example, a Deputy has the responsibility and authority to perform an SES-level Director’s duties in that Director’s absence.

This acting capacity is meant to cover short-term absences. If the length of the acting assignment extends the timeline outlined in 5 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 317.903., then the provisions of that code — including competition requirements — apply.

OPM regulations on serving as a detail for an SES position are also outlined in 5 CFR 317.903. The provision specifies a detail as the temporary assignment of a non-SES member is to an SES position. Under a detail, the non-SES member continues to receive their regular pay and benefits. For example, a GS-15 detailed to an SES position will continue to be paid the GS-15 salary rate for their position of record.

Under paragraph (b) of 5 CFR 317.903, agencies are required to use competitive procedures for details longer than 240 days. If the detailed non-SES member is supervising SES members as part of the assignment, the agencies must receive approval from OPM to extend the detail longer than 240 days.

No. Credit hours are a type of premium pay. Under 5 CFR 610.408, SES members are not eligible for premium pay.

No. Compensatory time is a type of premium pay. SES members are not eligible for premium pay, per 5 CFR 610.408.

Career SES members may be entitled to have their moving expenses paid for upon retirement, per the “last move home” provision in 5 USC 5724(a)(3). If a career SES member was geographically moved when eligible for optional retirement, within five years of optional requirement, or eligible for discontinued service retirement, they qualify for “last move home” compensation. Members who are non-career or serving on a limited-term or emergency basis are not eligible.

The General Services Administration determines how much the retiring career SES member is paid for moving expenses. You can receive additional information on “last move home” from your agency’s Human Resources office.

Executive Growth

You can prepare for SES membership by enrolling in an SES Candidate Development Program (CDP). These competitive programs help develop qualifications for employees with strong executive potential. You do not need to participate in an SES CDP to be appointed to an SES position.

You can find out more about SES CDPs on the OPM website.


Yes. Administered by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Hatch Act restricts political activity by employees of the executive branch, District of Columbia government officials, and state and local employees who work with federally funded programs. You can find out more information by visiting the OSC’s website.

SES members are allowed to join federal labor unions. However, a labor union cannot represent an SES member in a grievance. The contract provisions of labor unions also do not apply to the SES.

You can find out your agency’s established SES protocol by contacting the agency’s Human Resources office.

Yes. The Senior Executive Association (SEA) is an organization that represents Senior Executive Service members’ interests. You can visit their website for a wide range of valuable information. Whether you’re looking for resources on legal assistance or you want to check out member forums to learn about other SES members’ experiences, the SEA website has all the information you need. You can also find out how to obtain member items such as the SES lapel pin and flag.

Additional Resources

To learn more about SES resumes, ECQs, and job application packages, you can explore our website to find samples, tips, and general information. Check out our pages on:


Get Help With Your SES Job Application Package

If you’re preparing an SES job application package, you can give your package a competitive edge when you use our accredited SES resume writing services. Our team consists of extensively vetted and trained writers who are experts in SES applications. They can help you gather the right information, develop your resume and ECQs, and revise your materials to give you the best chance of passing the QRB review and securing your dream job.

When you partner with us, you can count on our writers to use best practices to create a package that meets federal guidelines, adheres to job-specific application instructions, and develops compelling ECQ narratives to highlight your experience and capabilities. With our almost four decades of SES resume writing expertise, proven track record of successful job application packages, and 99.6% customer satisfaction rate, you can rest assured that our services are worth the investment.

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How to Apply

You can apply for our services by emailing your resume to us along with the SES vacancy announcement you’re interested in. An executive Career Coach will reach out to you within 24 hours of receiving your application. During an initial phone call, you will discuss the details of the process, including a timeline, costs, and a plan for moving forward. This consultation is free, and it allows us to determine how we can help you become one of the next SES leaders.

If you have any questions, you can call us directly at 800-471-9201 or complete our online contact form.

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