ECQ Writing 101: Using the Competencies as a Guide

Executive Core Qualifications (ECQS) can be challenging to write. We’ve shared lots of best practices in this column to help you be more successful when writing your ECQs. People struggle with not only writing their ECQs, but also choosing the right stories to write about. Usually, this is not due to a lack of experience. 

Here’s the issue: We are in a constantly changing workplace (and world), aren’t we? So tell me, what do you, as a GS-15, or senior military officer, or corporate executive applying for an SES position, do that doesn’t have to do with Leading Change, Leading People, Creating Results, Managing Money/Resources/Technology, and Building Strong Interagency Relationships? I’ll ask the question and make the point another way: Don’t they all just bleed together? If that’s true, you can just write up essays that fit generally into those categories, and you’re good to go, right? 


It’s not a good idea to write your ECQs and then see where they might best fit. This approach leaves out one of the most important factors for selecting which examples to use in which ECQ. Let’s say you think of an example that you want to use for Results Driven. It should be great because you created some awesome results. 

But if you tell the story through your own lens, instead of the lens OPM provides, then your chances of being approved go down. 

And what is this “lens” I speak of? It’s the competencies. 

How do I know this? Because one of the main things the OPM review boards will look for is the individual’s possession of and ability to leverage the various competencies. So how else are you going to show them without using stories that weave the competencies in?    

So, after you pick an example, but before you write a word of your essay, look at the competencies for that particular ECQ and ask yourself, “Can I tell my story through that lens?” 

In other words, will I naturally be able to address most—if not all—of these competencies in this example? If not, then the example (story) you want to use might just be a better fit for another ECQ. 

The only way to find out is to check the competencies (the “lens”) for that other ECQ, and compare them to your story. This won’t be an exact science, of course, but if you use the competencies as a guide to select examples before you write them, you can choose the right kinds of professional stories and potentially save yourself a lot of time rewriting.  

Barbara Adams is the President and CEO of CareerPro Global, Inc. (CPG). She has been on the leading edge of SES application development for decades. Committed to providing world-class service, she has also built an SES writing team that has assisted more than 2,500 clients develop their application materials. Ms. Adams has been featured on T.V. and radio and as a presenter at numerous career conferences. She is the co-author of the book, Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service: How to Find SES Jobs, Determine Your Qualifications, and Develop Your SES Application. 

Posted in Career Tip of the Month

Tags: OPM, Executive Core Qualifications, ECQ, competencies



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