Federal Careers

Many people think they are ready for the Senior Executive Service (SES) if they have spent a year as a GS-15. There is actually no time-in-grade requirement for the SES; instead, it’s about your executive leadership experience.

Executive leadership includes the ability to provide strategic leadership and commitment to public policy and administration at the highest levels. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has identified 5 executive core qualifications (ECQ). The ECQs were designed to assess executive experience–not technical expertise.


They measure whether an individual has the broad executive skills needed to succeed in a variety of SES positions–not whether they are the most superior candidate for a particular position.

That decision is made by the employing agency, not OPM. Successful performance in the SES requires capability in each ECQ. The ECQs are interdependent; successful executives demonstrate successful competence in each.

As defined by OPM, the five ECQs are:

1. Leading Change – This core qualification involves the ability to bring about strategic change, both within and outside the organization, to meet organizational goals. This ECQ requires the ability to establish an organizational vision and to implement it in a continuously changing environment.

2. Leading People – This core qualification involves the ability to lead people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. This ECQ requires the ability to provide an inclusive workplace that fosters the development of others, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports constructive resolution of conflicts.

3. Results Driven – This core qualification involves the ability to meet organizational goals and customer expectations. This ECQ requires the ability to make decisions that produce high-quality results by applying technical knowledge, analyzing problems, and calculating risks.

4. Business Acumen – This core qualification requires the ability to manage human, financial, and information resources strategically.


5. Building Coalitions – This core qualification requires the ability to build coalitions internally and with other Federal agencies, State and local governments, nonprofit and private sector organizations, foreign governments, or international organizations to achieve common goals.

In addition to the five ECQs, there are also 28 competencies embedded within the ECQs. The competencies are the personal and professional attributes that are critical to successful performance as a SES.

Before deciding whether you want to apply for the SES, you should do some careful self-assessment to decide:

  • Do you actually want to be a member of SES—do you have the time, energy, and commitment to lead people and programs—and have the “buck” stop with you?
  • Do you have the requisite experience (either inside or outside the government) and can you document it? If you have never held a supervisory position or never planned and executed a budget, it may be difficult to meet the Leading People and Business Acumen ECQs.
  • If you do not have the experience already, are you willing to do what it takes to get there? Perhaps apply for a SES Candidate Development Program (CDP) or take a lateral or accept a detail / rotational assignment to obtain the necessary experience?

Once you decide you’re ready to apply for the SES, you should start to work on your SES package. In most cases, your package will consistent of your SES resume and your ECQs. OPM recommends that candidates be ready to spend 40+ hours preparing their ECQs. My experience tells me that more time is needed, especially if you have never written ECQs before or thought about the specific examples you want to use.

A subsequent article will address preparing your ECQs. If you do not want to wait, more information about the ECQs and preparing your SES package can be found at: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/senior-executive-service/reference-materials/guidetosesquals_2012.pdf.