Three Steps to Writing Your Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs)

The ECQs are one of the most important and foundational parts of a strong SES application. Obviously, your goal should be to develop and submit the most well-written, comprehensive and convincing narratives that you possibly can. After years of working closely with thousands of SES applicants, we have developed a three-step process to streamline this sometimes difficult process.

Step One: Brainstorm

At this point, you simply want to brainstorm at least one (two is recommended) example for each ECQ. Don’t worry about all the details yet, but simply consider the past five to seven years and select examples that you think might fit. Many professionals have found it extremely helpful to brainstorm their potential topics with a friend, colleague, supervisor or mentor who has a clear understanding of their experience, leadership and accomplishments.

This type of brainstorming before you begin the actual writing is invaluable to your overall process. At the very least, you will have all of your potential examples organized in one place, enabling you to gain a broader perspective of how your overall narratives might look.

Step Two: Outline

In this step, you will build on the work you did while brainstorming, but go into a bit more detail and summarize your examples in the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) format. As you do so, refer to the ECQ competency explanations on the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) website, and consider whether you will be able to address them effectively in the examples you are choosing for each ECQ.

The real value of this exercise is that you can easily decide if one topic might work better in a different ECQ than you originally intended. For example, as you outline your topic for Leading Change, you might find that it actually involves a lot of collaboration and negotiation to overcome hidden agendas and internal politics. If that’s the case, you might want to move that one to Building Coalitions, and then come up with a new example for Leading Change.

Step Three: Develop

If you’ve already completed steps one and two, then you should have a much better idea of exactly which topics you’ll be using in each ECQ. Step three is simply about sitting yourself down in that chair, and expanding on your CCAR outlines with more detail until each ECQ contains two examples and does not exceed two pages (check each vacancy announcement for specific instructions).

Instead of just trying to dive in and write your ECQs without a plan, we recommend that you slow down and follow these three basic steps. This will help to give you peace of mind that you’re not just shooting in the dark, but have a strategic plan in place that ensures you will provide examples that are relevant to each ECQ. Further, this will enable you to be much more productive and much more efficient with your valuable time and energy.

You can find job-winning, OPM-approved samples of SES application packages, and a complete set of ECQ Builders in our book, Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service. Get your copy today by clicking on this link or searching the title on Amazon.

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. CPG recently sent a team to instruct senior officials at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, in best practices for developing their SES application materials. She is the co-author of the new book, Roadmap to the Senior Executive Service: How to Find SES Jobs, Determine Your Qualifications, and Develop Your SES Application.

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