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Recruitment & Selection

Qualifications Review Board Process

Membership in the Senior Executive Service (SES) demands leadership, professional integrity, a broad perspective, and a commitment to the highest ideals of public service. This is the essence of the "corporate SES" and the foundation for the executive qualifications that are the primary selection criteria for entry into the SES. These qualifications represent the critical skills senior executives need to succeed in the Government today and in the future. While technical job-specific qualifications are important, the keystone of the SES is executive leadership.

Executive Core Qualifications

OPM identifies the executive core qualifications in terms of the key skills that are essential for success as a senior executive. The executive core qualifications are:

  • Leading Change
  • Leading People
  • Results Driven
  • Business Acumen
  • Building Coalitions

Executives are expected to do more than just have a strategic vision -- they must lead change. They must lead and motivate people, not just manage human resources. In planning and evaluating programs, they must show results. Even though Government is not a business, they nevertheless must have a sharp business sense. They must move beyond using communication skills to represent the organization to using communication for team and partnership building.

Agency Merit Staffing

An agency Executive Resources Board (ERB) conducts the merit staffing process that results in the selection of a candidate for initial career appointment in the SES. The ERB assesses the technical or professional and the executive qualifications of the candidate, and makes the final determination about whether the candidate meets the technical job-specific requirements. However, the ERB does not make the final determination about the candidate's executive qualifications - this determination is made by the independent Qualifications Review Board (QRB) administered by OPM.

After a tentative selection is made, the agency forwards the candidate's application package (i.e., "case") to OPM for presentation to a QRB. The agency requests QRB certification on the basis of one of the following three criteria: (A) demonstrated executive experience; (B) successful completion of a formal, OPM-approved SES candidate development program; or (C) possession of special or unique qualifications that indicate a likelihood of executive success. (See Certification Criteria at the end of this document)

Qualifications Review Board Process

All senior executives 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 determine whether the candidate has the requisite executive qualifications for entry into the SES.

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.

Role of the Senior Executive

While OPM convenes Qualifications Review Boards and provides staff support, the Boards are composed of members of the SES. Federal executives need to develop a sense of ownership and pride in a set of common goals, values, and attitudes that extend beyond individual aspirations and transcend their commitment to a specific agency mission or profession.

As members of the governmentwide SES corps, senior executives share the responsibility for ensuring that new members have the leadership qualifications needed for success as a Federal executive. Participating in QRB certification gives SES members an opportunity to exercise this responsibility. Further, 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 (ECQs).

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, generally for three hours. Depending on the case load, additional Boards may be convened on an ad hoc basis. The Boards usually meet in Washington, DC, although on occasion they are held in other cities to give field executives an opportunity to participate in the selection of SES members. OPM maintains a roster of senior executives available to serve as QRB members, based on names provided by agencies or volunteers.

An OPM staff member serves as a QRB Administrator for each Board, gives instructions about the certification process, answers questions from QRB members, and provides any other guidance and staff support as appropriate.

QRB Operations

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

ECQ Documentation

Candidates may use their entire record to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for entry into the SES. This can include professional experience in the public and private sectors as well as volunteer experience, education and training, awards, and other accomplishments. Board members should fairly assess all factors presented by the candidate.

Candidates are encouraged to follow a "challenge-context-action-result" model in documenting their executive qualifications: describe a specific problem or goal (challenge); describe the individuals/groups they worked with and/or the environment in which they worked to tackle a particular challenge (context); discuss specific actions taken to address a challenge (action); and give specific examples of the results of the actions to demonstrate the quality and effectiveness of their leadership skills (result).

Case Review

The QRB reviews one case at a time. The three Board members independently review the materials presented in support of a candidate's executive qualifications and decide if the candidate's experience meets the ECQ requirements. 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.

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.

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.

QRB Certification

After the QRB members review a case, the final decision to approve or disapprove is by majority vote. If one or more of the members want to disapprove the case, the Administrator will ask for a general discussion of the candidate's qualifications to determine if the Board can arrive at a consensus. If the QRB disapproves the case, the Administrator asks for specific reasons and/or guidance to pass along to the submitting agency.

Case Disposition

A QRB either approves or disapproves a case based on the information provided. The QRB may recommend additional training or developmental experiences for the candidate which will be relayed to the agency, but the approval is not made contingent on the individual receiving such training or experience.

If a case is approved, the Administrator or Board members record the QRB decision and any recommendations, and the selecting agency is notified of the approval and the recommendations. The agency may then appoint the individual to the SES.

If a case is disapproved, the Administrator records the QRB decision and documents the specific reasons for the disapproval and any QRB comments or recommendations to be passed along 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.)

The Qualifications Review Boards convened weekly certify cases on the basis of Criterion A or Criterion C.

Ad hoc Qualifications Review Boards are convened to certify cases on the basis of Criterion B. In these cases, the agency's Executive Resources Board first certifies that the candidate has successfully completed all Candidate Development Program (CDP) activities. OPM staff and an ad hoc QRB review each candidate's training and developmental experience to assure that it provides the basis for certification of executive qualifications.


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.

QRB Case Documentation

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

Criterion "A" Cases (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:

  • Application forms for Federal employment required by the agency;

  • Brief (no more than 10 pages) written executive qualifications statement that evaluates the candidate's background as it relates to each of the five Executive Core Qualifications;

  • The vacancy announcement.

When a QRB approves a Criterion "A" case, it can recommend that the candidate's demonstrated experience be supplemented with developmental assignments or management training. However, the candidate's certification is not contingent upon completion of such development.

Criterion "B" Cases

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. OPM staff and a special QRB review each candidate's training and developmental experience to assure that it provides the basis for certification of executive qualifications.

Criterion "C" Cases (Special/Unique Qualities):

Criterion "C" cases are rare and appropriate only when exceptional candidates with demonstrated executive experience are not available. 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. For example, 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.

An agency may propose such a candidate for consideration under Criterion "C" by:

  • Documenting why the candidate's special and unique qualifications make him/her a superior choice for the specific vacancy and discussing the candidate's potential to succeed in the SES. (Such documentation must include a reference addressing the candidate's unique qualifications and executive potential.)

  • Presenting a plan to strengthen the candidate's executive qualifications. 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.

Key documents provided for a "C" case:

  • Application forms for Federal employment required by the agency

  • Brief (no more than 10 pages) written executive qualifications statement that assesses the candidate's experience and potential for success in the SES, in relation to the five Executive Core Qualifications

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

  • A written reference by someone familiar with the candidate's executive qualifications

  • An Individual Development Plan that shows how the candidate will obtain the Executive Core Qualifications

  • The vacancy announcement.