SES (Senior Executive Service) Resumes

Standard Resumes vs. SES Resumes

Most people in the workforce are familiar with the standard private-sector resume format — no more than one to two concise pages detailing the past few years of your work experience, education and skills. Often, a short cover letter accompanies the resume detailing the applicant’s skills and experience in a more narrative form. Formats vary widely, and many standard resume writing services recommend changing the layout and design so your resume stands out. The same approach is not the case for SES resumes.

SES resumes do vary significantly, and federal agencies require applicants to follow the posted guidelines on their resume format and documentation. Creative license is not rewarded and will hurt an applicant’s chances. Besides fulfilling the agency-specific process, these requirements also demonstrate an applicant’s attention to detail. Closely reading the description and successfully adapting to the resume and document requirements demonstrates the essential attention to detail SES positions call for.

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Preparing Your SES Resume

Before beginning your SES application, one essential step is to read the position announcement closely. Make a note of the resume requirements specific to that agency and job posting and write down questions if you have any. Never assume you know what to include, as requirements can differ even between jobs at the same agency.

The second step involves reviewing the duties and qualifications. Assess your own skills, experiences and education to determine if your qualifications match the position. Reflect on whether and how you can demonstrate competency in these areas through your previous work experience and achievements. If you cannot easily relate your recent experience to the requirements, the position might not be a great fit.

Once you’ve closely studied the announcement and determined your competency, your next step is to compile the information from your last ten years of employment. While you may already have an updated resume, continue to brainstorm and gather everything you can that speaks to your accomplishments and competencies. Additionally, it’s helpful to review sample SES resumes to ensure you include all the necessary information and format it correctly.

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SES Resume Format and Requirements

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the formatting requirements of your resume. Missing this key component might mean your application gets overlooked, no matter how great a fit you are for the position. This is where federal resume writing services are essential, as they are trained in the precise nature of all federal requirements.

You’ll encounter a few different resume formats through the various SES announcements, including:

This resume format is often much longer than private-sector resumes, which generally don’t exceed two pages. This format can have resumes between four and six pages long and includes a separate document outlining the Executive Core Qualifications for the position.

Some federal departments are instituting five-page resume format requirements. For these, you will also submit the traditional ECQs written using the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) method. The ECQs can be up to ten pages, and must address the 28 executive core competencies.

This package can include a cover letter with a four-page resume or, in lieu of a cover letter, a five-page resume. While you won’t have to address all 28 executive core competencies with traditional ECQs, the agency might request five executive competencies unique to the application.

USAJobs resumes have a character limit of 5,000 per job in applicants’ employment histories. The ECQs can have between 4,000 and 10,000 characters and should follow the CCAR formula.

Job Duties and Achievements

A lack of key achievements often weakens Senior Executive Service resumes. Duties are your job functions, and they can probably apply to anyone holding the same job title. They only describe at a basic level what your role was, but not how you executed it, per se. While it is certainly appropriate to include your duties in the resume, you need to focus equally on your personal achievements for each position.

Key achievements refer to what you accomplished while serving in each role, such as milestones you reached and specific role-related successes. Maybe you surpassed the quarterly goals or brought in new ideas that transformed the organization. Often, people shy away from highlighting their achievements in job descriptions because they fear coming across as conceited or bold. For SES resumes, in particular, the Qualifications Review Board (QRB) is looking precisely for these achievements and how they relate to the position you’re applying for.

Many people find targeting their achievements to the job posting one of the most challenging parts of compiling a Senior Executive Service resume. You need to describe your position and responsibilities while also showing why this experience makes you a good fit for the role. The CCAR model offers an excellent way to present this information.

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The Challenge-Context-Action-Result Method

The best way to balance your functions and accomplishments is by using the Challenge-Context-Action-Result format. You may have already used this format for writing ECQ or TQ narratives, and it is also very effective when writing bullets or sentences for your Senior Executive Service resume. The QRB uses the CCAR format to assess applicants’ key skills and competencies. The objective is to tell your application readers a story and demonstrate your accomplishments in your various job positions.

While your SES resume will be much shorter than your 10-page ECQs, the CCAR formula is a great way to format the description of your job roles. Basing your resume information on the ECQs also gives your entire application a sense of cohesion and purpose. All your CCARs should focus on the particular ways in which your previous experience qualifies you for the new role.

Using the CCAR format on your resume will be slightly different than how you use it in your ECQs. Let’s break down how to translate CCARs to your SES resume:

  • Challenge: As the first element of CCAR, the challenge portion sets up the challenges you confronted in your role. This is an excellent opportunity to showcase any hardships or roadblocks you faced in the position — for example, if the company you worked for underwent a restructuring or a project lost funding. Setting up the challenge allows you to demonstrate how you responded.
  • Context: In the context section, you’ll describe the who, what, where, why and how of the situation. Your resume might communicate the context since your role descriptions will fall under each of your position descriptions.
  • Actions: This section allows you to showcase how you responded to the challenges you faced in the role. Structure these with especially strong action verbs to demonstrate your accomplishments.
  • Results: Going further than simply describing how you responded to a challenge, the results section asks you to demonstrate the wider implications of your accomplishments. If, for example, you confronted the challenge of losing funding by applying and receiving a competitive grant, explain what that grant allowed you or your team to accomplish. Think of the results section as the bigger picture in your resume, allowing you to show readers how, in that role, your actions positively impacted your organization.

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Five Tips to Ensure Your Accomplishments Are Clear, Concise and Compelling

Many people struggle with measuring and recording their achievements. Maybe they’re too humble and more focused on the team than on themselves. Maybe they’re just too busy and don’t want to take the time to develop an accomplishment-based resume. Whatever the case, many SES applicants simply use basic job descriptions on their resumes, not realizing this may actually hurt their chances of landing the job.

Anyone can look up a basic position description and paste it into a resume, but this is not an effective approach — you can do better. If you’re the type of employee who goes above and beyond, don’t just tell your potential employers — show them through a thorough analysis of your accomplishments. Doing so can make your resume stand out and demonstrate the unique qualifications you bring to the table. Using the CCAR format is a tried-and-true way to help you craft position descriptions that target the key skills you want to highlight.


A few more tips to enhance your resume include:

We’ve all seen those over-the-top resumes in which the applicant claims to be the “best in the universe.” Don’t be that person, but don’t be overly humble, either. An SES resume calls for bold — and true — claims about your visionary, results-driven and relevant accomplishments, but you don’t want to go too far. Like most things in life, it’s all about balance.

Sometimes an initiative is ongoing, or you may have improved the overall morale of a dysfunctional team through open communications and team building, and it’s more challenging to provide numeric proof. Still, whenever possible, use dollar amounts, figures and percentages. For example, you might write, “Planned, managed and justified a $4 million annual budget while supervising a multifunctional staff of 24 personnel.” Or, “Found inefficiencies in the acquisition process, collaborated with key stakeholders to revamp standard procedures and associated policies. As a result, streamlined a critical business process and saved the organization $600,000 annually.”

To ensure you cite current and relevant accomplishments, you may want to list every achievement from your last couple of rating cycles. Once you do that, you can pick and choose which ones to include in your resume. Hint — read the vacancy announcement closely and use the most relevant ones for the job you want.

Make it easy for your resume reviewer to see the value you bring by creating parallels between the major duties in the vacancy announcement and the things you’ve been doing in the last few years.

Too often, people overlook the challenges they’ve overcome in the workplace. Those accomplishments are great content for your SES resume. In unpredictable economic times, many of us have to perform our missions at work with limited resources, with budgetary or personnel constraints, and amid ongoing changes. When you can still thrive and create results amid the chaos, you set yourself apart as a strong leader who can overcome and adapt.

Five Key Features of Standout SES Resumes

The best SES resumes perform well for a reason. They have certain key elements that help them stand out and show hiring managers your best features. Consider these five factors when reviewing and compiling your SES resume:

  1. Five ECQs: Even if you have a separate document detailing in full your competency in the ECQs, you must also include them in your SES resume. They show you have the leadership and team-building skills that bring results.
  2. Quantifiable and qualitative results: While artful descriptions of your accomplishments can be compelling, numbers are effective tools on any resume. Whenever possible, use dollar amounts, figures and percentages to demonstrate the scope of your responsibilities and accomplishments.
  3. Specialized experience: Vacancy announcements include some necessary specialized expertise, and you can use our Headline Format to establish your core competencies that match the requirements of the SES application.
  4. Active voice: Using active rather than passive voice in your resume will help capture the reader’s attention. Passive voice can become dull and less engaging, especially in a long document like an SES application. Active voice also frames your accomplishments as actions you’ve taken.
  5. Relevant experience and leadership: Federal and SES resumes perform best when the experience and leadership experience is tailored specifically to the job posting.

Compete for a DC-Area Position With Our SES Resume Writing Services

Need resume help for a DC-area SES job application? With more than 70,000 corporate, military and federal resumes and 5,000 SES applications under their belt, our writing team has the experience to make your resume stand out. We have a 99.6% customer satisfaction rating that speaks to our clients’ success using our services.

Our SES resume writing service starts with an assessment of your skill sets, such as your leadership strengths and talents. Then, our Master Senior Executive Writers work with you to compile narratives of your executive leadership experience using proven processes. We pay close attention to both federal and SES resume requirements so you can be sure it is in total compliance.

We know what HR is looking for, and we’re prepared to develop professional and artfully crafted SES resumes that highlight your unique leadership experience, skills and accomplishments.

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If you’re looking for trustworthy and professional federal and executive resume writing services, we can help. We have almost four successful decades in the business, and our award-winning, industry-leading resume writers specialize in corporate, federal and military resumes.

Contact us for a free consultation if you want to know more about our SES resume services or if you feel ready to start on your high-quality federal job resume.

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