Jun 02

Applying for Senior Executive Service Jobs

Corliss-HeadshotEntry into the Senior Executive Service (SES) is a path often considered by transitioning military leaders interested in continued public service at the Federal level.  The application process is intensive and requires a clear understanding of the process, terminology and information expected. While you may be encouraged to create a two – three page resume for a private sector job search, the federal application process, and the SES application process in particular, has very different requirements.  Before you begin, you may wish to tap the insights and experience of former colleagues who have successfully navigated the SES application process on their own.

In the Washington, D.C. area, I recently connected with Corliss Jackson, President and CEO of Federal Job Results, whose company provides professional assistance to clients with Federal job search and application.  Corliss is a Certified Federal Career Counselor, Certified Federal Job Search Specialist and Certified Federal Resume Specialist.  I asked Corliss to help distill some of the core components of the SES process.



VSB: What are the top three things transitioning senior military leaders should keep in mind about the Federal government Senior Executive Service (SES) application process?


1. The documents submitted by the applicant require approval from the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  OPM is looking for very specific experience in a very specific format.  It is important that the applicant know the format and information OPM is requiring so the resume and essays can be tailored to OPM’s needs.  If there is deviation from OPM’s expectations, OPM can reject the application.  If rejected, the applicant gets one chance to rewrite the package.  If it gets rejected again, there is an 18-month waiting period before the applicant can reapply to other SES positions. 

2. The appointment and security investigation process can take 6 to 18 months or more; it can be public and it may consist of multiple panel interviews from mid-level management to the highest levels of the agency. 

3. The best way to start on writing the SES application materials is to create a list of 10 major professional accomplishments and include the basic details.  Look at performance reviews, OERs, fitness reports, etc. for project details and results. 


VSB:  What is the difference between ECQs and TCQs? When should they be modified by the SES applicant?


The ECQs (Executive Core Qualifications) are standard.  They can remain the same for all SES applications.  Once a strong set of ECQs have been developed, they do not need to be modified unless an update is desired.    

The TCQs (Technical Core Qualifications) change with each application, based on the position’s focus.  For example, if applying to a position as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), there will probably be a set of two to four questions that would allow the agency to gauge the applicant’s experience in overseeing a financial organization, its processes and its employees.  TCQs are very specific to the position and generally will need to be rewritten (or at least reworked) for each SES application submitted since they most likely will be different for each application. 


VSB: Can you shed some light on the Context Challenge Action Result (CCAR) format? What is it and why is it so important in the SES application process?


In order to best understand that an applicant has the ECQs to be successful in his/her first SES appointment, OPM is looking for applicants to describe experience in a specific format.  Each ECQ should have two examples.  The first example needs to be about 3/4 of the response and very strong (with significant detail) and the other should be the last 1/4 of the response.  Of course, if you have two equally strong examples, use both.  The total page length for all five essays should be 10 pages for the full document, roughly about 2 pages per ECQ.

Each ECQ needs to reflect the CCAR format.  This is very important to OPM.  Actually typing these words into your document can be helpful as you write:





Each ECQ needs to “prove” these competencies.  Think about wording and how examples can show these competencies:


ECQ 1 Leading Change

This core qualification involves the ability to bring about strategic change, both within and outside the organization, to meet organizational goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to establish an organizational vision and to implement it in a continuously changing environment.


Creativity & Innovation

External Awareness



Strategic Thinking



ECQ 2 Leading People

This core qualification involves the ability to lead people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to provide an inclusive workplace that fosters the development of others, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports constructive resolution of conflicts.


Conflict Management

Leveraging Diversity

Developing Others



ECQ 3 Results Driven

This core qualification involves the ability to meet organizational goals and customer expectations. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to make decisions that produce high-quality results by applying technical knowledge, analyzing problems, and calculating risks.



Customer Service



Problem Solving


ECQ 4 Business Acumen

This core qualification involves the ability to manage human, financial, and information resources strategically.


Financial Management

Human Capital Management

Technology Management


ECQ 5 Building Coalitions

This core qualification involves the ability to build coalitions internally and with other Federal agencies, State and local governments, nonprofit and private sector organizations, foreign governments, or international organizations to achieve common goals.



Political Savvy



VSB:  Where can transitioning senior military leaders learn more about the SES application process and procedures?

Jackson:  OPM’s website (ww.OPM.gov/SES) has information on the process, format and the competencies, along with examples. 


VSB:  Any other advice for senior leaders interested in pursuing a post-military career in the federal government?

Jackson: Networking works!  Figure out how to make it work best for you.


Individuals interested in professional assistance with the Federal job search and application process can learn more at www.FedJobResults.com.

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