A new OPM report indicates that the best route into the SES, the highest level to which most career federal employees can aspire, is to put in a substantial career with the government and to take advantage of career developmental opportunities that can prepare one for a move up.

A survey of some 2,000 of those appointed into the SES over the last two years showed that 87 percent came from inside the government, while only 6 percent came from the private sector. The rest came from the military, academia, state or local government, or through reinstatement.

Fifty-four percent of those reported having more than 20 years of federal service before entering the SES, and another 28 percent had between 11 and 20 years; only 4 percent were under age 40, 26 percent were age 40-49, 54 percent age 50-59 and 16 percent age 60 or older. A third had spent at least 20 years in their current agency.

Also, two-thirds said they had been actively recruited for their positions, in many cases because they were known as someone who had undergone developmental experiences to prepare them for the SES. The most common of these were in-person training courses, on-the-job training, general assessments, mentoring, and academic degree programs/professional certifications.

“The developmental experiences rated most effective at preparing members for SES were residential executive development programs, prior experience in federal government, working in multiple agencies, and on-the job training. Those experiences were followed closely by developmental assignments within the current agency, prior experience in other sectors, in-person training courses, and mentoring,” OPM said.