How to join the Senior Executive Service

Moving into the exective ranks demands a proven track record and some high-level skills, but it's not a mystery.

men talking

Do you have what it takes to sit at the executive desk? (Stock image)

Joining the Senior Executive Service is not quite as straightforward as the GS hiring process, but neither is it the subjective crapshoot of political appointments. And once you’re in, you’re in for life.

Agencies announce their SES vacancies on the Office of Personnel Management’s USAJobs website. When agency officials find someone they want for an SES position, they submit the individual’s executive core qualifications to a Qualifications Review Board convened by OPM. The board must certify all selectees before they can be appointed to SES.

Successful candidates must have the ability to:

  •  Bring about strategic change both within and outside an organization to meet organizational goals.
  •  Lead people toward meeting the organization’s vision, mission and goals.
  •  Meet organizational goals and customer expectations.
  •  Manage human, financial and information resources strategically.
  •  Build coalitions internally and with other federal agencies, state and local governments, and nonprofit and private-sector organizations, among others.

More information can be found at OPM.gov/SES, including examples of résumés and tips on how to write a qualifications narrative.


Read the full Executive Handbook package

Main page
How to spot a turkey farm
How to make the most of a mentor
How to share a service
How to assess your team
How to influence policy
How to stay out of the weeds
How to learn from success
How to foster better performance
How conformists can spark creativity

OPM has tried to make the SES application process more accessible to candidates from outside the government with the goal of attracting new talent. But Bert Subrin, director of member and agency liaison at the Senior Executives Association, said the application process can be complex and lengthy, and most applicants still come from inside the government.

"Most of them go up the ladder," Subrin said, "maybe on the theory that the devil you know is better than the devil that you don’t."

NEXT STORY: How to share a service

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