How to qualify for the Senior Executive Service


Do you think you are or could become executive material? If so, consider aiming for the Senior Executive Service.

Some SES jobs are open only to GS-15s or above and their equivalents, but others are also open to GS-14s and their equivalents.

Before moving into an SES job, you will need to obtain certification of your leadership skills from a Qualifications Review Board (QRB) — an independent board administered by the Office of Personnel Management and composed of SES members. QRBs base their certification decisions on five Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs): leading change, leading people, results-driven, business acumen and building coalitions. To access descriptions of each ECQ, type “ECQ” into the search window at

You will also need an offer for an SES job.

There are two ways to obtain QRB certification and an SES job offer. One way is to land an SES job through competition. After an agency selects you for an SES job, it will submit your job application to the QRB for a certification decision. Once the QRB certifies you, you may start the job.

Another way is to complete an SES Candidate Development Program (CDP) run by OPM or another federal agency. CDPs are intensive programs — lasting 18 to 24 months — that require classroom training, at least four months of developmental assignments outside the candidate’s current position, mentoring, coaching, field experiences and Web-based learning.

Agencies may tailor their CDPs and the size of their CDP classes to their particular workforce needs and organizational missions. However, agency CDPs must be approved by OPM.

Acceptance into all CDP programs is competitive. Invitations to apply are usually governmentwide and announced on a rolling basis on

Upon graduation from a CDP, candidates usually obtain QRB certification. Any CDP graduate with QRB certification may be selected, without further competition, to any SES job for which he otherwise qualifies. But graduation from a CDP and QRB certification do not guarantee selection for an SES job.

Some agencies offer new SESers a set percentage increase in salary, usually 10 to 15 percent, over their previous salary; other agencies are free of such restrictions. But no matter what your hiring agency’s policy is, you should at least attempt to negotiate an SES salary.

In fact, these words, “Is this salary offer negotiable?” may be among the most valuable because they compel your hiring agency to increase its offer to you. In addition, salaries in the excepted service — for which agencies are not required to notify the public of vacancies — are usually higher than those for comparable jobs in the competitive service. So, if you are moving from a job in the competitive service into an SES job in the excepted service, your negotiating potential may be particularly promising.

Whenever you negotiate a salary, be diplomatic. The more convincingly you explain how your qualifications exceed the minimum qualifications for the target job, the better. No ultimatums!

The minimum annual salary for SESers is currently $119,554. But maximum salaries vary from agency to agency. Agencies that have been certified by OPM for adopting performance-based appraisal systems may pay higher SES salaries than uncertified agencies. The maximum salary for SESers covered by certified appraisal systems is currently $179,700, and the maximum salary for SESers not so covered is $165,300.

Since 2010, the salary table for all SESers has been frozen along with those of other feds. However, SESers have remained eligible for bonuses.

All SESers accrue eight hours of leave per pay period.


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  1. Be in the right place at the right time, know the right person, and be good at playing the political game.

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