You’ve examined your qualifications and interest, and made the decision to apply for the Senior Executive Service (SES). It is time to start working on your ECQs. Don’t wait until you have a specific SES posting. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot work on your ECQs now.

Not Job Specific

ECQs are NOT job specific; instead, they are about your leadership. Getting your ECQs prepared ahead of time will allow you the necessary time to prepare your executive resume and any Technical Qualifications (TQ) associated with an individual posting. Once you have a strong set of ECQs, you can use them across multiple postings.

What goes into ECQs?

ECQs include specific evidence of your possession of the each of the 5 executive competencies (leading change, leading people, results driven, business acumen, and building coalitions). In addition to the 5 ECQs, there are also 28 sub-competencies embedded within the ECQs and an additional 6 cross-cutting competencies that should be clearly exhibited throughout your ECQ document.

What is CCAR and why does it matter?

CCAR (challenge, context, action, result) is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rubric that must be used for your ECQs. Using this rubric will help readers of your ECQs understand your stories. The CHALLENGE is the specific problem you faced, the CONTEXT tells the reader about the people involved, the organization, the larger climate, and other details that demonstrate the executive nature and complexity of the challenge. ACTIONS are the things that you personally did (or that you directed others to do) to address the challenge. And of course, RESULTS are proof that you solved the challenge. In a perfect world, results should be demonstrate using qualifiable metrics; it’s not enough to say “things improved…” you need to prove that they improved.

What are your ECQ stories?

Before starting to write, you should identify your ECQ stories. Your stories need to be executive (rather than transactional) and ideally show enterprise-wide impact. Examples should be from the past 10 years (5-7 years is better if possible). Your examples should have an ending so that you can demonstrate results. If your specific example has not yet fully concluded, provide a specific metric to demonstrate progress. And obtaining a degree or talking about your philosophy will not be considered executive. Focus on specific leadership achievements.

How can you identify your stories?

There are two ways to go about identifying your stories; the first way is to identify when you led change, led people, etc. The second way is to identify your most significant achievements from the past 10 years and then match them to a specific ECQ. Both ways work; you need to figure out what works bet for YOU. It is not unusual to have more stories than you need for Results Driven and not enough for another ECQ. If that is a situation you face, review the underlying competencies for the ECQs and see if you can tell your story in that frame. For example, if you have too many Results Driven stories and not enough Leading Change, look at the underlying competencies for leading change (vision, strategic thinking, innovation/creativity, external awareness, flexibility, and resilience) and see if you can think about how to tell one of the results driven stories through the leading change lens.

Other things to keep in mind:

Review OPM Guidance on preparing ECQs (see: Try to have at least one action for each underlying competency in every ECQ (and keep the underlying competencies in the right ECQ). Use as many numbers as possible throughout your ECQs—numbers of people, dollar value of budgets / projects / contracts, timeframes, etc.

These numbers provide context to your stories and the ultimate readers of your ECQs is the Qualifications Review Board (QRB) at OPM—they will not know your agency or your job. Focus on your leadership, not your technical acumen. Be prepared to spend the necessary time to put together a good package; in my view, this is 40-60 hours.

And if you’re struggling with your package, get help! No one does this alone.

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.