SES Resume Writers’ Guide to the Senior Executive Service (SES)

June, 06, 2015


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If you have ever wanted to work in the government or hold a position that can make real change in the world, the Senior Executive Service (SES) may be for you. These individuals work to make sure that the United States government operates at the top quality and works for the nation’s needs, policies and goals.

To fill these federal leadership positions, the application process is designed to comb through all the candidates and select only the best. Holding an SES position is worth the challenge, as it promises a fulfilling career.

To learn about the Senior Executive Service, read this guide. The staff at SES Resume Writers has compiled everything you need to know to land the federal leadership position you want. For guidance on your SES application, contact us today.

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What Is the SES?

The Senior Executive Service (SES) is a group of dedicated civil servants who work in the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. SES employees are proven leaders who have made significant contributions, achieved important professional accomplishments, and are committed to serving the public interest. There are SES roles in nearly every government agency, and they form the link between Presidential appointees and lower-ranking civil servants.

Who Qualifies to Be an SES Member?

To qualify as a member of the SES, an employee must hold one of the following:

  • A career-reserved position that protects the public by ensuring the impartiality of the federal government.
  • A career appointment that requires approval from a Qualifications Review Board (QRB).
  • A general position that can be career, noncareer, limited-term, or limited emergency.
  • A noncareer appointment. OPM makes noncareer appointments on an ad hoc basis. Noncareer appointees can hold only a limited number of SES positions.
  • A limited-term appointment that is nonrenewable and will expire after no more than three years. Limited-term appointments are typically special project roles.
  • A limited-emergency appointment. Limited-emergency appointments are also nonrenewable and will expire after no more than 18 months. These appointments fill verifiable, essential, and unplanned staffing needs.

When Is a Position Defined as SES?

SES positions, by law, may not exceed a certain percentage of total positions. How many positions are permitted depends on the type of SES role. For example, limited appointments must stay below 5% of total SES positions. In addition, to qualify as an SES position, a role must do one of the following:

  • Lead an organizational unit
  • Accept responsibility for the success or failure of a specific program or initiative
  • Monitor and evaluate the organization’s progress toward the achievement of its goals, shifting course when necessary
  • Lead a team of employees in addition to a personal assistant
  • Act with executive authority on matters related to policy and decision making

When Is a Position Not Defined as SES?

The federal government classifies most employee positions by grade. These grades determine title, salary range, duties and responsibilities, and necessary qualifications. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), positions above General Schedule 15 include most managerial, supervisory, and policy roles.

Not every managerial or policy-oriented position is part of the SES. Excluded positions include:

  • Jobs in the legislative (Congressional) or judicial branches
  • Jobs that require Presidential appointment and confirmation by the Senate
  • Jobs in law enforcement, such as the FBI
  • Jobs in intelligence, such as the CIA
  • Foreign service jobs

The Qualities of SES MembersLeading People Example ECQ

Senior Executive Service (SES) positions typically attract candidates with a long track record of distinguished professional successes. SES candidate personalities often include individuals who are driven to succeed, competitive, passionate about work, and determined to persevere, even in challenging times. The Qualifications Review Board assesses potential SES candidates for viability in an array of positions, not only for the position that the candidate wants to hold.

Executive Core Qualities

  • Be able to lead change: Can the individual implement and lead during a strategic change, such as Presidential transitions?
  • Be able to lead people: Can the individual inspire employees to enthusiastically work toward the agency’s vision, mission, and goals?
  • Be results-driven: Can the individual assure the agency will produce measurable and beneficial results?
  • Have strong business acumen: Can the individual manage and lead diverse agency resources, including employees, funding, and information?
  • Be effective at building coalitions: Can the individual build strong alliances with other organizations, including those from foreign governments, the private sector, state and local governments, and nonprofit groups?

About the SES Candidate Development Program

Outstanding leaders who demonstrate a clear and consistent professional track record may be considered for the Senior Executive Service (SES). Members of the SES are senior government employees who act as the liaison between the office of the President and rank-and-file agency employees.

SES positions are highly coveted, and competition for these roles is fierce. Up-and-coming leaders who wish to become a member of the SES, but who may not have achieved the skills or accomplishments necessary to pass a Qualifications Review Board examination, may apply to enroll in the Candidate Development Program (CDP).

What Is the SES CDP?

The SES CDP is a succession management program created by the Office of Personnel Management. The CDP prepares and nurtures talented senior leaders so they may grow into a future role with the SES. Individuals who graduate from the CDP with approval from the Qualifications Review Board may be able to move into an SES career appointment directly, without having to compete against other qualified candidates.

Graduating from the CDP greatly improves the chances an individual will win a role within the SES, but it does not guarantee it. In addition, gaining admittance into the program is not required to secure an SES post. Nevertheless, competition for spots in the CDP is fierce, and the vast majority of applicants fail to win a place in the program.

What to Know About CDPs

There are multiple CDPs tailored to suit the succession and organizational needs of individual agencies. Most agencies require CDP candidates to have earned a grade of GS 14 or GS 15. The programs themselves feature:

  • A minimum of 12 months of training, including 80 hours of formal training
  • An Individual Development Plan designed for the specific needs of each enrolled SES candidate
  • ECQ-specific training that includes participation from members outside the candidate’s agency
  • A minimum of four months of developmental training that takes place outside the candidate’s existing duties
  • An SES mentor who provides the candidate with appropriate guidance and feedback

During the program, a candidate will:

  • Engage in leadership challenges that create opportunities to work outside the comfort zone
  • Interact with senior employees outside the current agency
  • Train in roles outside the current agency
  • Perform executive-level assignments while benefitting from the counsel of a mentor
  • Learn what it takes to direct change, lead people, drive results, develop business acumen, and build coalitions to achieve goals
  • Further develop knowledge of existing programs and problems that extend beyond the current agency

How SES Members Are Hiredcareer-btn

Earning a career appointment to the Senior Executive Service (SES) is an honor that reflects an impressive professional record, a drive to innovate, an ability to lead others, and a commitment to serving the public interest. Thousands of individuals apply to the SES each year, but only the most qualified will be accepted.

Some candidates join the SES through an agency-sponsored Career Development Plan, while others join the SES without having worked for the federal government at all. Regardless of the career path you’ve chosen, you can begin your journey to the SES today with the help of the experts at SES Resume Writers.

Merit-Based Competition

Federal law requires that every SES employee earns a position through merit-based competition. Each agency develops its own SES staffing process that directly reflects its own needs. The agency defines its own selection method, writes its own advertising, performs a cursory review of candidates using its own Human Resources specialist, and ranks the applicants based on individual qualifications.

The Hiring Process for SES Members

People who want to become an SES member follow this series of seven steps:

  1. Application: The candidate submits an employment application package that generally includes an SES-targeted resume, a cover letter, and supporting or relevant documentation.
  2. Phone Interview: Once the resume passes muster, candidates submit to phone interviews.
  3. In-Person Interview: An even smaller group of candidates participate in in-person interviews before a qualified Executive Resources Board.
  4. Board Recommendation: The Board makes its final recommendation to the agency based on the qualifications of the candidate concerning the required duties and responsibilities of the job.
  5. Agency Selection: The agency selects its preferred candidate and submits that individual’s application to the Qualifications Review Board (QRB).
  6. QRB Verification: The QRB further verifies that the candidate meets all the SES criteria, including technical and executive qualifications.
  7. Hire: If certified, the agency appoints the candidate to the position, and the SES hiring process is complete. If the QRB does not certify the candidate, the agency and the Executive Resources Board choose another.

SES Executive Core Qualifications

Senior government executives face distinct challenges. To effectively meet those challenges with the right solutions, they require strong leadership skills, a visionary mindset, a team-focused attitude, and an exemplary commitment to serving the public interest. Individuals who demonstrate these attributes through important career accomplishments and an ability to produce superior results with limited resources may be qualified to join the Senior Executive Service (SES).

The SES is comprised of talented men and women across nearly every federal agency in the Executive Branch of the United States government. These professionals act as liaisons between top Presidential appointees and the rank-and-file federal employees in their respective agencies. In this position, members of the SES will:

  • Demonstrate personal integrity
  • Develop and implement policy, modifying when necessary
  • Lead through times of change
  • Act as impartial representatives of the public

There is competition for SES positions among qualified candidates. When an announcement is made for a new position, it attracts driven executives from within and outside the federal government. To earn a position, a candidate must successfully compete against thousands of other candidates and pass through a grueling interview process that requires two certifications by independent boards. To earn certification, a candidate must demonstrate that he or she meets the required SES qualifications and competencies.

Get Help with Your ECQs

Executive Core Qualificationsman_in_suit

SES Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) define the specific attributes agencies look for in a Senior Executive candidate. Although each agency creates its own application, review, and certification process, final candidates for every agency must demonstrate concrete accomplishments in these areas. In addition, review boards consider whether candidates are a good fit for a range of SES roles beyond the role for which the candidate is applying for.

To meet the ECQs, candidates must effectively demonstrate that they:

  • Can lead change: The federal government is committed to taking the best path over the well-worn path. An SES candidate must innovate, question, and develop insights that reflect external awareness. Key attributes of a successful SES candidate include flexibility, vision, strategic thinking, and a resilient attitude.
  • Can lead people: A changing environment and visionary thinking can lead to conflict. The successful candidate must encourage employees to share views while preventing and resolving conflict when necessary. The candidate must also build an effective team by helping others develop skills that benefit the agency as a whole.
  • Are results-driven: The candidate must produce high-quality results in a cost-effective and timely fashion. The results-driven candidate can make intelligent and definitive decisions, even with limited data and a high likelihood of unpleasant consequences. In addition, the candidate must anticipate the future of the agency by identifying important opportunities and successfully taking well-reasoned risks.
  • Have strong business acumen: Taxpayers fund every agency dollar, so using resources wisely is of paramount importance. The successful SES candidate manages the budget and the workforce with skill while staying up-to-date on important technology developments that can improve process outcomes.
  • Can build coalitions: SES candidates must be able to manage out as well as up and down. The ability to partner with strategic collaborators to advance the mission of the agency is essential. The candidate must also demonstrate political savvy and be able to influence others in an attempt to build consensus.

Relevant SES Competencies

The top SES candidate demonstrates the SES competencies with ease. While they may be difficult in practice, they lead the motivated and focused professional to succeed. They are what separates the average candidates from the best.

The successful SES candidate demonstrates:

  • Strong interpersonal skills: The candidate earned a track record of consistently treating others with respect. The candidate does not ignore courtesy and sensitivity and responds to individual needs in unique situations.
  • Effective oral communication: The candidate must listen effectively, clarify information when necessary, and present important information to others clearly and convincingly.
  • Integrity and honesty: SES candidates must demonstrate honesty and fairness in all dealings. The candidate must behave consistently in an ethical manner, being a role model for others.
  • Strong written communication: Clear language, organized thinking, and concise and convincing written words are the hallmark of the successful SES candidate.
  • A focus on continual learning: The SES candidate must be self-aware, assess personal strengths and weaknesses fairly, and continue to develop professionally throughout employment.
  • A motivation for public service: The SES candidate must align agency goals with the practices that best serve the public interest.

Senior Executive Service Pay Rates

The Senior Executive Service (SES) consists of key leaders within certain federal agencies of the Executive Branch. Securing a position is difficult because they are prestigious and hold a considerable level of authority — Senior Executives rank just below top Presidential appointees and can lead hundreds of people in an agency. SES salaries are not as high as jobs in the private sector but are among the highest in the federal government.

SES Wage Schedule

The federal government classifies most jobs in a grading system known as the General Schedule. The grading system defines a title’s acceptable salary range, duties, and responsibilities. SES salaries are not included in this grading system, however. Each agency can set its own SES salaries, although total pay cannot exceed the salary of the Vice President, and maximum pay depends on whether or not the agency is certified for SES performance appraisal.

SES employees who live in costly urban areas also do not receive a locality pay adjustment. The minimum SES salary is 120% of the base pay for a General Schedule 15 (GS-15) job. GS-15 jobs, and sometimes GS-14 jobs, are the minimum qualification to apply for an SES position.

SES Resume Tipsresume-btn

f you are considering applying for a position within the Senior Executive Service (SES), you have achieved a career defined by important accomplishments, integrity, leadership, and vision. Applying for an SES position may be unlike any other job application process you’ve navigated before. Following instructions precisely is essential, and failure to include relevant documentation — or even using improper formatting — may cause your application to be rejected before it has even been reviewed.

The professional team at SES Resume Writers has helped successful, achievement-oriented candidates apply for SES positions for over 25 years. We are the leading firm in the industry and are outstanding in the career management service field. Our clients are very successful in landing interviews, and 99.6% of our candidates are satisfied with our services. When it comes to expertise in SES, no other firm can match the career management services provided by SES Resume Writers.

Key SES Resume Tips

he most important thing about your SES application is that following instructions precisely is essential to success. When preparing your SES application package, be sure to:

  • Spell out all acronyms
  • Use short, complete, and grammatically correct sentences
  • Use common words and expressions, not  industry-specific jargon
  • Cite a different experience for each qualification to highlight competency
  • Address each of the 28 core and fundamental competencies
  • Keep your explanations simple, so the reader can understand
  • Use the CCAR (Challenge-Context-Action-Result) model to flesh out your executive stories
  • Proofread all submissions instead of relying on electronic checks
  • Avoid referring the reader to elsewhere in the application
  • Use specific, but brief, accomplishments instead of vagueness
  • Do not identify any of the non-merit factors, such as race, gender, nationality, color, religion, disability, age, marital status, or sexual orientation

When reviewing the format of your SES application, remember to:

  • Meet the page limits
  • Number all pages
  • Use 12-point font
  • Keep margins to 1 inch
  • Use paragraphs
  • Write sentences that are easy to read
  • Type out all materials
  • Only attach documentation when required (training certificates and award notices are not necessary)

SES Application Content

While following the instructions for your application is essential, what matters most in terms of content is the quality, breadth, and depth of your professional experience. Some of the information you will need includes:

  • Clear descriptions of leadership skills using the CCAR model
  • Specific professional experiences that demonstrate your ability to meet Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) rules
  • Your vision for the organization you plan to lead
  • Recent experience, education, and training that are not greater than 10 years old
  • Awards you have earned that demonstrate an ECQ or fundamental competency
  • Measurable results, including special assignments, while providing relevant but concise details

SES Resume Writers Is the Industry Leader in SES Career Management Services

You’re a professional who is accustomed to success. You are a skilled team builder who knows when to tap a valuable resource. When it comes to positioning yourself for an accomplished future with the Senior Executive Service, SES Resume Writers is the experienced partner you need to achieve your professional goals.

SES Resume Writers is the leading SES career management firm in the industry. We are the only firm in the world that has earned ISO 9001 registration. We write content-rich resumes that highlight your accomplishments, succinctly and correctly. With more than 3 decades of experience writing SES applications, we can help you achieve an SES position where you can transform government — and it all starts with your resume.

For more information about SES Resume Writers, contact us for a free consultation.

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