Your ECQs should be well written narratives that provide information about your strategic, executive achievements in the language of the ECQ and its relevant sub-competencies. When writing your ECQ narratives, OPM recommends using the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) Model.
An ECQ narrative may include one or two examples (not more than two) of relevant experience that matches the ECQ (and sub-competency) definitions. Keep in mind that your ultimate audience is the Qualification Review Board (QRB) (again, no one from your agency may sit on your QRB) so your stories must stand on their own. The QRB is looking for specific challenges, actions and results, rather than expressions of your philosophy or technical expertise.
Here is OPM’s definition of CCAR to use when writing your ECQs (along with some edits):
Challenge. Describe a specific problem that needed to be solved. Remember to think as holistically as possible. The QRB is interested in the large-scale, if you have suitable examples. And, it should be something where you had to get others behind you (this is not about your sole contributions but your leadership of others).
Context. Describe the individuals and groups you worked with, and/or the environment in which you worked, to address a particular challenge (e.g., complexity, co-workers, members of Congress, shrinking budget, low morale, impossibly short deadlines). Make sure this is at the executive level—not an example where you were asked to implement someone else’s idea. Think about examples where you were the initiator of an idea that had enterprise-wide impact.
Action. Discuss the specific actions YOU took to address a challenge. Use “I” not “we” even if you were part of a team. The QRB wants to see your personal contributions.
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. Metrics always help support your results. If your result was qualitative, how can you show it was substantial? Perhaps a quotation from an award recommendation or performance evaluation, or a comparison to a prior situation.
Before you can begin writing your ECQs, you need to identify your examples. Your examples must be from the past 10 years (the past five years is even better—you don’t want anyone to think your best days are behind you!) and exhibit your strategic thinking, rather than transactional activities. You are limited to two examples per ECQ; each example must be a fully developed CCAR.
How can you identify your examples? Think back over the past five to seven years of your career. What do you consider to be your major achievements? What would your supervisor think was most impressive? Look back over your award citations, performance evaluations, and accomplishment reports—you may get some ideas from those documents. Talk to your colleagues; conversations may prompt your memory for good examples. Don’t forget to think about things outside of work that might show your executive level experience.
Other things to keep in mind:
- You should not repeat examples in multiple ECQs. However, if you have a large complex story, you can use different parts of the story in different ECQs.
- Even if your example is highly technical, be sure to simplify it in the telling and focus on your leadership of that issue. Your ECQs are not the place to show off your technical prowess; instead, wow the reader with your leadership savvy.
- For some, it may be easier to identify examples and then match them to the ECQs; for others, trying to identify a specific story for each ECQ might be more effective.
- The ECQs are not about your philosophy but rather your demonstration of the ECQs and sub-competencies in specific work situations. Do not include statements along the lines of, “I believe…” or use quotations from famous leaders.
- You should use “I” throughout your ECQs. Even if the example that you are using is from your work as part of a team, the QRB is interested in your personal contributions. And yes, you can take credit for work done by your subordinates (after all, your leader is taking credit for your work, right? That’s just how it works folks.)
- Do not refer the reader to earlier ECQs or your resume; each ECQ should stand on its own.
- Sometimes an example can fit more than one ECQ; in that case, be sure to use the example where it best fits the ECQ definition.
- Spell out acronyms and keep your stories simple—remember KISS.