Thinking about what to write for your executive core qualifications (ECQ) sets your nerves on edge. You want to represent your best professional self in your narratives, and the key to doing this is outlining your most significant accomplishments in specific, yet concise detail.

What are Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ)?

ECQs consist of the following:

  • ECQ 1: Leading Change: consists of demonstrating creativity and innovation, external awareness, flexibility, resilience, strategic thinking, and vision.
  • ECQ 2: Leading People: consists of demonstrating conflict management, leveraging diversity, developing others, and team building.
  • ECQ 3: Results Driven: consists of demonstrating accountability, customer service, decisiveness, entrepreneurship, problem-solving and technical credibility.
  • ECQ 4: Business Acumen: consists of demonstrating financial, human capital, and technology management.
  • ECQ 5: Building Coalitions: consists of demonstrating partnering, political savvy, and negotiating.

ECQs aren’t just guidelines, they’re requirements to enter into the Senior Executive Service. They set a standard of competency necessary for building a corporate culture at the federal level, which is results-driven, serves customers, and constructs teams focused on success, forming coalitions inside and outside a given organization. These are used by various agencies and departments to ascertain leadership development, performance management, and selection.

You should consider your executive potential and expertise when developing your ECQs as they were designed to measure more than technical proficiency. Your ultimate performance strongly depends on your competencies in these ECQs, and you must demonstrate expertise in all five competencies.

Composing and Organizing Your ECQs

As of 2015, the White House released an Executive Order (EO) to reform particular action items, opening up acceptable materials to shorten the application process. For example, agencies with 20 SES and up were expected to submit plans to rotate SES members for member delivery, talent growth, and collaboration, with a goal of 15% SES member rotation for 120 days at least. ECQs are still relevant and expected, but the process may differ slightly. Here are six tips to help you write strong ECQs and be prepared.

1. Use the CCAR Method

Open your statement with a summary highlighting your executive experience. When tackling each accomplishment, it helps to use the Challenge-Context-Action-Result (CCAR) method:

  • Challenge: What is the specific challenge, goal or objective?
  • Context: Who did you work with and in what environment to find a solution?
  • Action: What specific actions did you take?
  • Result: What did you accomplish? Give a specific example or explanation.

2. Developing Competencies

Analyze how you honed your experience over the course of your career, from personal accomplishments to team-based and organizational-based. How did you look for leadership opportunities, seek out mentorship, or submit pieces for publication? What were the results?

These considerations are all relevant to your ECQs based on the results you achieved and how. What do others think of you as a leader?

As you use the CCAR method, these considerations will inform your competencies as you go about detailing how you lead change, lead people, drive results, and build and leverage technical credibility. Integrating this into a 5- to 10-page document is challenging with 28 competencies to address. Barbara Adams, President and CEO of SESWriters advises:

“ECQs should include the emotional intelligence of how an executive used their strategic vision, resilience, building coalitions, managing conflict, incorporating their actions and behaviors that led to support each of the 28 competencies’ within the 10 stories required in a set of ECQs. This is the hard part because the executive needs to reveal the way they handle situations to achieve positive results. Each of the 28 competencies’ must be addressed in the appropriate ECQ or risk the QRB (Qualifications Review Board) denying ECQ Certification.”

3. Formatting Your ECQ

Like your other application materials, the format of your ECQ is vital for holding the attention of the review committee. If your formatting is less than professional or comes off stilted, it reflects on you as a candidate. Consider the following on how to format your ECQ:

  • Each ECQ should not go over two pages
  • Use the first-person “I” point-of-view instead of third-person
  • Make each example easy to read and concise, breaking up paragraphs
  • Keep sentences short and to the point
  • White space helps make your ECQ scannable
  • Don’t use acronyms, unless citing multiple times, to achieve brevity
  • Use bold and italics to indicate critical details
  • Times New Roman, 12-point font is best — a classic typeface such as Helvetica is also acceptable
  • Number each page
  • Don’t use attachments — reviewers shouldn’t need to dig to find your experience
  • Leave off attachments of awards and certificates

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers examples in Word and PDF documents of ECQs for the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program. The examples display an excellent use of headers to identify competencies, breaking up paragraphs, utilizing white space and bullet points and addressing ECQs with brevity.

4. Use Proper Tone

You don’t want to get chatty in your ECQ, nor do you want to be too formal. Do not use slang. Be professional with a friendly tone.

Do not use passive verb forms. Passive language is associated with formality from youth, but the reviewers will see many ECQs. Hold their attention. Choose active verbs and combine them with the first person point-of-view.

Bad: “The restructuring of our team personnel eliminated the need for extra supervisors and was named this candidate’s best contribution to the company because it saved a lot of money and made workers feel more satisfied with their job.”

This example is lengthy, vague, and fails to use the “I” point-of-view.

Better: “I reorganized five teams of personnel into one and eliminated the need to hire three additional supervisors, ultimately saving the company $150,000 and boosting performance by 18 percent.”

This improved example uses specific data points to illustrate the candidate’s accomplishment and how they achieved it from their point-of-view. It’s also concise and to the point.

5. Don’t Deviate

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re in the flow of writing. Don’t focus too heavily on technical and managerial abilities only to find out you left out your leadership experience.

Make leadership your number one focus and don’t deviate once on topic. Here are additional tips to consider:

  • Demonstrate relevant experience across every ECQ.
  • Use the Challenge-Context-Action-Result model.
  • Each job experience listed should detail specific accomplishments.
  • Don’t skip over fundamental and relevant competencies within your ECQ narratives.
  • Don’t combine ECQs. Brevity is beneficial, but not at the price of your reviewer’s confusion.
  • Always focus on education, experience, and training within the last 10 years, since some reviewers think experience over 10 years old is irrelevant.
  • ECQs should never reference other applications materials, such as “see resume.”
  • Switch up your types of examples, such as saving the company money or establishing new, effective policies.
  • Don’t create a grocery shopping list out of your ECQs that have no context or details.
  • Detail your vision for the company, not your personal take.
  • Non-federal experiences are relevant if they support a particular ECQ, such as professional organizations, volunteer work, and nonprofits positions.
  • Only highlight awards and items of recognition as linked with the related ECQ.
  • You may include formal training and education if it enhanced your skill-set in any give ECQ.
  • Give examples and details of special assignments.
  • While you don’t want to overpower your leadership information, adding in special qualifications can enhance and support your ECQs, including languages, public speaking engagements, publications, membership in relevant societies or professional organizations.
  • Always show and don’t tell when it comes to results. Illustrate and quantify measurable achievements, such as in cost savings, efficiency or productivity. Don’t be vague.

6. Leave Out Unnecessary Characteristics and Affiliations

Reserve personal beliefs, commitments and philosophies for personal conversations. Commitments to political causes may be relevant if you can show the bottom line and how it relates to a specific ECQ, such as political appointee experience.

Never identify your national origin, sex, race, religion, marital status, age, sexual orientation or disability status. These are non-merit factors and don’t hold relevance.

Writing about yourself as a professional through executive core qualifications will open your eyes to your leadership skills and experience, building your confidence and sense of authority. You are applying because you know you have what it takes.

Now, it’s time to demonstrate that on paper. Show, don’t tell — with concise, relevant and measurable details, using the proper format and tone. Be dynamic and friendly, but don’t express yourself too casually or formally. Show them what you can do.

Related: How to Write a Federal Resume

Sarah Landrum of Punched Clocks writing about ECQs Millennial career expert Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a career blog focused on helping you find happiness in life and at work. For more advice from Sarah, subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on social media @SarahLandrum.


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Sarah Landrum

Millennial career expert Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a career blog focused on helping you find happiness in life and at work.

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