Nearly every day I get a call from someone seeking help to prepare a set of Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ) as part of their Senior Executive Service (SES) package. Unfortunately, many people want their ECQs written in 3 days—sometimes less!
When I begin to ask them questions about whether they have a draft, are familiar with CCAR, or have thought about their stories, the answer is often no. To prepare a strong set of ECQs, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time: 1) identifying your examples, 2) writing, and 3) reviewing and editing.
• Identifying ECQ examples: Before sitting down to write your ECQs, you should identify 10 or more examples / stories to use. Your stories must fit the competencies (Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions); be from the past 10 years (5 is better if possible); and be at the executive level. Hosting meetings, arranging for training, implementing someone else’s plan is not typically considered executive. Your examples should demonstrate your strategic thinking and ideally, have enterprise-wide impact.
As you identify your examples, you may find that you have stories that could fit in more than one ECQ. Try to pick the strongest match to the ECQ and that ECQs underlying competencies (for example, the underlying competencies for leading change are: vision, strategic thinking, external awareness, innovation/creativity, flexibility, and resilience).
• Writing: Once you have your stories identified, you should outline your stories using the required CCAR model. CCAR is the acronym for Challenge-Context-Action-Result. It may even help to write out the parts of the CCAR model and then outline each part of the CCAR with the details. What does CCAR mean and how to use it?
Challenge. Describe a specific problem or goal.
Context. Describe the individuals and groups you worked with, and/or the environment in which you worked, to address a particular challenge (e.g., clients, co-workers, members of Congress, shrinking budget, low morale).
Action. Discuss the specific actions you took to address a challenge.
Result. Give specific examples of measures/outcomes that had some impact on the organization. These accomplishments demonstrate the quality and effectiveness of your leadership skills.
Once you have your outline, then you can start writing. Be sure to focus on your leadership skills and not your technical expertise (save that for the Technical Qualifications) and don’t forget to include the underlying competencies in your essay. Include as many metrics as possible throughout and make sure you can prove your results; it’s not enough to say things are better—you need to show that they are by using a clear before and after metric. You may want to think about including one action for each underlying competency.
• Reviewing / Editing: Don’t forget to leave time for this. Your ECQ draft should be 10 pages (2 pages for each ECQ). Have someone who does not understand your work review your ECQs (remember, that ECQ reviewers at the Office of Personnel Management level will not be from your agency or likely familiar with your work). Do a “word search” to make sure you have covered all 28 underlying competencies—and put them in the right ECQ. Check spelling and grammar—don’t rely on spell check. And make sure that you have used “I” rather than “we;” the hiring manager and reviewers want to know what you did.
How long does all of this take? SES applicants should expect to spend 40 to 60 hours (or even more!) of solid work to put together a strong set of ECQs. So no, I am sorry, but I cannot get your ECQ written by tomorrow…or even 3 days.