| career self assessment

If you are SES aspirational—or even if you’re not, the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) Model should be your friend. Not only is CCAR required for the writing of Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ), it is also useful for interviewing.

Using CCAR allows you to tell your story in an interesting and compelling way. How does CCAR work? When writing your ECQ stories (or responding to interview questions), consider the following:


Describe a specific problem or goal. The more significant the challenges faced and overcome, the more significant the results will appear.


Talk about the individuals and groups you worked with and/or the environment in which you worked to tackle a particular challenge (e.g., clients, co-workers, members of Congress, shrinking budget, low morale). This is the background information needed to understand why your accomplishment was significant.


Discuss the specific actions you took to address a challenge. Focus on actions that showcase your ability to solve problems in the organization to which you are applying. Be sure to include multiple actions. Some people find it easier to actually list their actions (1, 2, 3, etc.; you can smooth it out when you edit). 


Give specific examples of the results of your actions. These accomplishments demonstrate the quality and effectiveness of your leadership skills. Results can be quantitative (with metrics) and/or qualitative. And of course, they need to demonstrate that you solved the problem.

Here’s what a potential CCAR outline might look like:

Achievement: Ensure 24/7 security requirements were met while complying with mandated furloughs during 2013 Sequestration.


  • Midway through the fiscal year, it became evident that Congress would not provide relief from the Budget Control Act of 2011, and the agency would be forced to comply with guidance requiring furloughs.
  • Available staffing did not permit the simultaneous full furlough and minimum security requirements to provide proper building security.
  • I was required to reduce labor hours by 22% over 7 weeks.


  • The Budget Control Act of 2011 required significant budget cuts to the agency for fiscal year 2013.
  • Department guidance leading into 2013 directed the agency to plan as if the cuts would not be implemented.
  • I was required to ensure 24/7/365 security for vital assets throughout the Department while still taking my “share” of cuts.


  • I created a 5-person team to develop a solution to meet the security requirements and reduce expenditures toward reduction targets. I aimed to find other reductions to try to avoid furloughs.
  • I created a quantitative framework of prioritized staffing to meet security requirements and associated costs. I had my team develop alternatives with risk assessments versus cost. These scenarios demonstrated that the required 7 furlough days presented an unacceptable risk to the agency and its tenants.
  • My business case and risk assessment showed that a 3-day furlough could be sustained within acceptable risk parameters.
  • Simultaneously, I sped the deployment of an automated scheduling tool 4 months ahead of schedule to replace the decades-old, paper-based process so that staffing could be assessed in near real-time. I developed technological solutions that complied with departmental guidance for deploying new software, trained administrative officers, and provided technical support for all shifts of FTEs and contractors.


  • My 3-day furlough proposal persuaded agency leadership, who adopted it in place of the previous mandates. Politically, this caused less strife than justifying a complete furlough exemption.
  • The prioritized framework I created based on risk assessment has served as the baseline minimum security standard since it was deployed. All staffing changes since then have been assessed within this framework.
  • The lessons learned from the limited deployment of the automated scheduler significantly improved its full deployment later that year with operational lessons learned. The system is still in use by the agency and is being deployed to a wider set of users. Agency leadership views it as the most significant tool for managing staffing hours (which is the single largest agency expense) in the agency’s history.

Once you have an outline, you can “fill in the blanks” and craft your story.


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.