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Senior Executive Service Selection Process

 

Overview

Learn more about how executive positions are filled.

Allocations Options

There is no statutory limitation on the total number of SES positions. However, the law (5 U.S.C. 3133) requires OPM to allocate "spaces" to agency heads on a biennial cycle. Agencies can establish positions within their allocation without further OPM approval. Flexibility has been built into the process to allow for limited adjustments outside the biennial cycle. However, agencies are expected to manage their executive resource needs within the levels set during the biennial allocation process to the extent possible (including "reprogramming" existing spaces to meet high priority needs, and maintaining flexibility to meet unanticipated needs). To facilitate strategic management of the Government's total executive resources pool, OPM also uses the biennial schedule to allocate Senior Level (SL) and Scientific/Professional (ST) spaces.

Hiring Options

Agencies can consider several hiring options to meet their needs in filling SES positions.

Publish a vacancy announcement

Agencies are required to publish information about vacancies to be filled by initial career appointment in USAJOBS. Vacancies must be advertised for at least 14 calendar days and must be open to all Federal employees in the civil service at a minimum. Agencies follow their merit staffing requirements for recruitment & selection.

Reinstate a former SES member

Agencies may fill positions with former SES members eligible for reinstatement. The appointee must have prior career service in the SES and have successfully completed an SES probationary period or been exempt from probation. There is no time limit after leaving the SES for reinstatement of an eligible appointee. Reinstatement may be noncompetitive or agencies may apply merit staffing requirements at their discretion. Agencies must determine that the individual meets the qualifications requirements of the position to which reinstated, but the individual need not receive a new Qualifications Review Board certification. Separation from the SES must not have been for reasons of performance, for disciplinary reasons, or a resignation in lieu of removal for these reasons.

Reassign a current SES member

SES members may be reassigned within their agency to any SES position for which they are qualified, but career appointees must have 15 days advance written notice (60 days if the reassignment is between commuting areas).

SES career appointees may not be involuntarily reassigned within 120 days of appointment of a new agency head or a new noncareer supervisor who has authority to make an initial appraisal of the appointee's performance.

Transfer a current SES member

A career appointee may be transferred only with the consent of the appointee and the gaining agency, except where there is a transfer of function between agencies. The appointee must meet the qualification requirements of the position to which transferred.

Appoint an SES Candidate Development Program (SES CDP) graduate

Merit staffing procedures apply to the Recruitment & Selection of individuals for an OPM-approved SES candidate development program. An individual who successfully completes the program and is certified by an OPM Qualifications Review Board (QRB) may be appointed to the SES without further competition. Although rare, agencies under certain circumstances may elect to request OPM approval for a CDP whose candidates are selected through agencywide, not civil service-wide, competition. Graduates of these programs may be approved by a QRB but must compete for their first SES career appointment.

Make a noncareer appointment

Agencies may make SES noncareer appointments to general (not career reserved) SES positions. Agencies must obtain a noncareer appointment authorization from OPM for each appointment. There is no time limit on the appointment, but the individual serves at the pleasure of the appointing authority. The appointing authority determines that the individual meets the qualifications requirements.

Process

Career Appointments

Initial career appointments to the Senior Executive Service must be based on merit competition. The law requires agencies to establish an Executive Resources Board (ERB) to oversee and participate in the merit staffing process. Generally, the process includes widespread public notification of the job announcement where diverse populations are engaged in the recruitment phase, preliminary review of applications by a human resources specialist, rating and ranking of applicants by a panel with in-depth knowledge of the job's requirements, evaluation of each candidate's qualifications by an Executive Resources Board, and final recommendation to the appointing authority. SES career appointees serve a 1-year probationary period.

Some agencies conduct SES Candidate Development Programs (CDP), which can be another way to qualify for an initial career appointment in the SES.

SES Merit Staffing Process

  1. Agency chooses a selection method.
  2. Agency publicly advertises the position through various methods, including placement on the USAJOBS website for a minimum of 14 days. The area of consideration is qualified Federal Employees only (only current Federal civil service employees may apply) or all qualified persons (anyone may apply).
  3. Candidates submit their applications to the agency.
  4. Agency rating panel reviews and ranks candidates.
  5. Agency Executive Resources Board recommends the best qualified candidates to the selecting official.
  6. Appointing authority makes a choice and certifies that the candidate meets both the technical and executive core qualifications for the position.
  7. Agency submits candidate's application package to an OPM-administered Qualifications Review Board (QRB) for certification of executive core qualifications.
  8. Following QRB certification, agency appoints the candidate to the SES position.

Non-career and limited appointments: Competitive procedures are not required to make non-career and limited appointments. The agency head or his/her designee approves the candidate's qualifications. At least 70% of SES positions Governmentwide must be filled by individuals with 5 years or more of current, continuous service immediately before initial SES appointment to assure experience and continuity.

Streamlined SES Selection Methods

OPM has developed two new selection methods that may be used to hire career appointees to Senior Executive Service (SES) positions: Accomplishment Record and Resume-based. When hiring through a competitive vacancy announcement, agencies may use either of these methods or the traditional narrative method for a given vacancy. All of the methods are based on the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs), which remain in effect.

The Accomplishment Record and Resume-based methods have been designed as more applicant-friendly than the ECQ narrative method. By lessening the paperwork burden on the applicant, these methods can yield a larger, potentially more varied and diverse applicant pool for career SES positions.

Accomplishment Record

Under this method, the vacancy announcement directs applicants to submit a resume and narratives addressing selected competencies (e.g., strategic thinking) underlying the ECQs and any technical qualifications. This permits candidates to submit a more streamlined application targeting the selected competencies instead of the lengthy ECQ narratives that have become standard. Agencies generally identify five competencies, one for each ECQ, that applicants must address in accordance with the instructions in the vacancy announcement. Narratives addressing the competencies are normally limited to one page per competency. When using this method, OPM recommends agencies conduct a structured interview as part of the selection process.

Resume-based

This option was designed primarily for high-level positions requiring sophisticated leadership skills or positions with hard-to-obtain technical qualifications that will likely limit the number of applicants. Under this method, the vacancy announcement directs applicants to submit only a resume. Applicants show possession of the ECQs and any technical qualifications via the resume. Agencies generally limit resumes to no more than five pages, including an optional cover letter. Agencies should contact OPM to obtain additional information on requirements for using the Resume-based method.

As noted, the traditional ECQ narrative method for SES merit staffing is also still available. Under this method, the vacancy announcement directs applicants to submit a resume and narratives addressing the ECQs and any technical qualifications. The ECQ statement, addressing all five ECQs, is limited to a maximum of ten pages. While ten page narrative statements are still accepted, OPM recommends agencies limit them to a maximum of five pages. Individuals should carefully follow the instructions in the vacancy announcement when preparing application documents.

OPM has developed vacancy announcement templates for each of the SES selection methods. Agencies may contact OPM to obtain a copy of the templates.

Probation

An individual's initial career appointment becomes final only after the executive has successfully completed a 1-year probationary period. This period begins on the effective date of the appointment and ends one calendar year later (e.g., if an individual was appointed to the SES on June 1st, the probationary period ends on May 31st of the following year). During the probationary period, supervisors should initiate action to remove the executive from the SES if it becomes apparent, after full and fair consideration, that the executive's performance is not suitable for satisfactory work.

Qualifications Review Board

Leadership, professional integrity, a broad perspective, and a commitment to the highest ideals of public service are hallmarks of the Senior Executive Service (SES). These qualities also serve as the foundation for the executive core qualifications (ECQs) that are the primary selection criteria for entry into the SES. These qualifications represent the critical skills senior executives need to lead the Federal government today and in the future. While technical job-specific qualifications are important, the keystone of the SES is executive leadership.

Qualifications Review Boards (QRBs) are OPM-administered independent boards consisting of senior executive service members who assess the executive core qualifications of SES candidates. All SES candidates must have their executive qualifications certified by an independent QRB before being appointed as career members of the SES. The QRB review and certification is the last critical step in the SES selection process. QRBs certify that an SES candidate possesses broad leadership skills.

This independent and objective review is intended to ensure that the Government is hiring executives with the qualifications needed in today's environment, especially the ability to lead in times of change, and that technical expertise does not outweigh leadership skill in the selection of new senior executives.

Membership

QRBs are composed of three members of the SES, each from a different agency. At least two Board members must be career appointees, and, whenever possible, one of the three executives will have previously served as a QRB member.

QRB members are volunteers, and we urge all Senior Executives to participate -- especially women and minorities. QRB service gives SES members the opportunity to monitor the appointment of new career executives and shape the future of the corps. Board members report that the experience broadens their view of Government programs, gives them invaluable insight into the importance of the Executive Core Qualifications, and renews their pride in the quality of the Government's executive corps.

Experience as a QRB member is one way to help build an SES corps of strong leaders who reflect the great diversity of America. After the QRB experience, SES members are an excellent resource to agency management and Executive Resources Boards for advice on improving evaluation and selection criteria as well as to SES candidates for guidance on developing executive skills and suggestions on documenting executive core qualifications.

We routinely schedule QRB members through agency human resources offices.  If you're interested in serving on a QRB or learning more, you may contact your agency Executive Resources office, or conatct us directly at 202-606-2246 or email our general mail box at SERS@opm.gov. To play a role in shaping the future of the SES - VOLUNTEER TO BE A QRB MEMBER.


Role of the QRB Members

The QRB is responsible for the fair and objective assessment of all case documents in the candidate's QRB case to determine if the candidate possesses the required executive core qualifications. Board members do not limit their assessment of executive qualifications to the candidate's ECQ documentation statement; they consider all of the information included in the application package. The candidate's qualifications taken as a whole must demonstrate that the individual has the leadership qualities needed in today's SES.

Specifically, the QRB judges the overall scope, quality, and depth of a candidate's executive qualifications within the context of the five executive core qualifications and determines whether the ECQs are present in any portion of the provided documentation. Candidates do not need to possess all of the competencies underlying the five ECQs but must have demonstrated executive level expertise, possess a broad perspective of government, and possess leadership qualifications needed for entry and success in the SES.


QRB Administration

OPM staff review each case to ensure that appropriate merit staffing procedures were followed; that the documentation of executive core qualifications is adequate; and that the required documents are included. After reviewing and resolving any discrepancies, the case is forwarded to the QRB for action.

Qualifications Review Boards are convened weekly to certify cases on the basis of Criterion A, Criterion B or Criterion C. Depending on the case load, additional Boards may be convened on an ad hoc basis.  Boards usually meet in Washington, DC, and in some instances, virtually, to give field executives an opportunity to participate in the selection of SES members.

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QRB Operations

An OPM staff member serves as the QRB Administrator for each Board, conducts a briefing about the hiring selection methods used by agencies, gives instructions about the certification process, answers questions from QRB members, and provides any other guidance and staff support as appropriate.

Board members independently review one QRB case at a time.  If a case involves a QRB member's employing agency or if a member otherwise believes he/she cannot provide an impartial review, the concerned QRB member will be excused from that case. If there is no longer a career majority as a result, the case will be held over and submitted to the next QRB.

After review, board members discuss each case. The Administrator facilitates this discussion to reach consensus. The QRB does not rate, rank, or compare one candidate's qualifications against those of other candidates, nor does it discuss merit staffing, technical qualifications, or SES position designation issues. Rather, board members judge the overall scope, quality, and depth of a candidate's executive qualifications within the context of the five Executive Core Qualifications. The final decision to approve or disapprove is by majority vote.

The QRB either approves or disapproves a case based on the package information submitted by the agency. If board consensus is to approve, the Administrator records the decision and recommendations (if any), acquires the signature of each board member, and notifies the submitting agency. The agency may then appoint the individual to the SES.

If one or more of the members wants to disapprove the case, the Administrator will facilitate a general discussion of the candidate's qualifications to determine if the Board can arrive at a consensus. If the consensus is to disapprove, the Administrator will note specific reasons, comments, and/or guidance, record the decision, and acquire the signature of each board member. The administrator then provides a report detailing board disapproval reasons and recommendations to the submitting agency. The agency will be advised that it has the option of submitting the same case to the next scheduled QRB or having the case returned for revision or alternative action. If the disapproval was based on inadequacy of the case presentation, OPM staff will advise the agency on ways to improve the case to enhance its chances for approval if resubmitted.

Note:

If a QRB case is disapproved a second time, a new case on the same individual for the same position may not be submitted until the candidate has acquired additional qualifying experience in those areas where deficiencies were noted by the QRB. OPM generally requires that the agency hold a new merit staffing competition to credit the additional experience - the closing date of the new announcement should be at least 12 months later than the closing date of the original announcement.

QRB deliberations are privileged. While the names of those who have served as QRB members may be made public, the names of members of individual Boards are not released.

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Case Documentation

The agency determines the criteria type of a QRB case to be submitted to OPM for review by the Qualifications Review Board. The criteria are:

Criterion "A" - Demonstrated executive experience; SES candidates are considered under Criterion "A" when their overall record (professional and volunteer work experience, education and training, accomplishments and awards) demonstrates application of the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform at the SES level. Candidates must demonstrate executive experience in each of the five Executive Core Qualifications

Key Documents Provided for an "A" Case
DocumentsTraditional
Method
Resume-Based
Method
Accomplishment
Record Method
SES Vacancy Announcement X X X
ECQ Statement (not to exceed 10 pages) X
Resume X X X
QRB Template   X X

Criterion "B" - Successful completion and graduation from an OPM-approved SES Candidate Development Program activities; Special OPM Internal Qualifications Review Boards are convened to certify cases on the basis of Criterion B. The agency's Executive Resources Board first certifies that the candidate has successfully completed all SES Candidate Development Program activities.Key documents provided for a "B" case:

  • Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ) Presentation
  • Resume
  • Mentor Evaluation
  • SES Development Plan (Signed)

Criterion "C" - Possession of special or unique qualities that indicate a likelihood of executive success; this type of case involves a candidate whose professional/technical background makes him/her particularly well-suited for the SES vacancy, but who lacks demonstrated experience in one or more of the executive core qualifications. However, they must have the potential for quickly acquiring full competence in all of the core qualifications (e.g., an attorney may have outstanding legal skills and in-depth knowledge of the specialized field for which the SES position is responsible, but he/she may not have had the opportunity to manage human, financial, material, and information resources).

Key documents provided for a "C" case:

All document listed above for Criterion A;

Also required:

A written description of the candidate's unique and special qualifications that make him or her a superior choice for the SES position for which selected and the SES;

A written, ECQ based reference by someone familiar with the candidate's executive qualifications and;

An Individual Development Plan that outlines how the agency plans to strengthen the candidate's executive qualifications in the areas in which the candidate had little or minimal demonstrated executive experience. This Individual Development Plan (IDP) should include developmental assignments and/or formal training that are focused on the specific executive core qualifications that need to be enhanced.

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