37 Career Tips for Army National Guard and Army Reserve NCOs and Officers

Welcome to my mini-series covering 37 career tips for Army Officers and NCOs in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves.  Over the next month and a half, I will expand upon each one of these tips and write a separate blog post about it.  Make sure that you check back often to see our progress. 

Listed below are the 37 career tips with a brief description.   They are listed in no particular order.

# 1 Decide What You Want to Achieve in Your Career – Without a goal, it’s hard to arrive at your destination.  Successful Army leaders know what they want in their career and they have a game plan to get there. Learn more about mapping out your military career.

Why Most People Have Average Military Careers# 2 Build a Professional Network – We all like to work with and take care of people with know, like and trust.  You can be good at your job, but who you know, and what they think of you will have a huge impact in your military career.  Your goal is to get know influential people in your organization and form strategic relationships with them.  Learn how to network in the military.

# 3 Take the Tough Jobs No One Else Wants – Anyone can succeed in an easy job.  Successful military leaders seek out tough jobs that showcase their skills and challenge them.  If you want a bright career, look for the jobs no one else wants and take those jobs.  If you are good at what you do, people will notice.  Learn more about what jobs you want to seek out.

# 4 Stay at the Troop Level As Long as Possible – Ideally, you want to work at the troop unit as long as possible.  As a NCO or young Officer, spend as much time as you can at the company level.  Don’t be in a rush to serve in TDA units or staff jobs.  Stay in line units and stay in leadership jobs.  Learn more about staying in line units.

# 5 Get a Deployment or Two Under Your Belt – If you want to prove to others that you are serious about your career, you want a combat deployment, or two.  I’ve yet to meet many successful Army leaders that didn’t have a combat patch.  The major benefit of deploying is the experience you get and the credibility you have with others.  Learn more about why you want a combat deployment.

# 6 Read Every Day – Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.  You need to read books about leadership, communication, military history, tactics, conflict resolution, etc.  Read manuals, Army Regulations and any other book or reference material that can sharpen your skills.  Read at least 30 minutes a day, seven days a week.  You feed your body every day so make sure you feed your brain, too.  Learn more about creating a reading program.

# 7 Join Professional Associations – Joining professional associations is a smart move.  Not only will this look good on paper, but you will meet some movers and shakers and expand your network.  Consider the Military Officers Association, your Division Association, National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), the Army Reserve Association, etc.

# 8 Learn How to Manage Your Time – As part-time leaders, we have to put 10 lbs of you know what into a five pound bag.  Between your family commitments, civilian job, family life and personal responsibilities, it’s hard to balance everything.  Learn everything you can about time management, the 20/80 rule and scheduling and prioritizing your time.  Read more about managing your time.

what i would do differently in my military career# 9 Hire Talented People – Never be intimidated by talented people.  This includes peers, subordinates and superiors.  Do what you can to surround yourself with the best people you can.  This will help raise your stock as a leader.  You can’t go wrong having good people working for you.  Read more about surrounding yourself with talented people.

# 10 Get a Second Branch or MOS – While most Active Duty folks don’t need to do this, you will.  To get promoted faster and have more opportunities in the ARNG or USAR, you need at least two branches or MOS’s.  One should be in combat arms, another in combat support or combat service support.  Read more about getting a second branch.

# 11 Get Your Military Schools Done ASAP – When it comes to your OES and NCOES, and professional development courses, get them done as quickly as possible.  Don’t miss out on a promotion or job opportunity because you didn’t have the school you needed.  Read more.

# 12 Take One Class Every Single Year – You want to stay on the cutting edge.  Take either one military or civilian class EVERY year of your career to get promotion and retirement points, and to learn new things and stay ahead of your peers.

# 13 Get Experience in Different Career Fields – In the early stages of your career, stay in operational units and jobs.  As you advance your career, do a variety of different jobs, so you aren’t a one trick pony.  Consider recruiting, aide-de-camp, TAC Officer, Drill Sergeant, etc. The more things you do, the more you have to offer the Army, and the more opportunities you will have in the future.

# 14 Always Know the Requirements to Get Promoted to the Next Rank – You should always know your minimum time in grade, time in service and education requirements to get promoted.  Map out everything you have to do at your current rank, to be eligible for the next rank.

# 15 Work Closely with Your Peers – Do what you can to build strong professional relationships with your peers.  They are not your enemy or competition.  Many of your peers could be your boss one day.  Don’t burn bridges and treat everyone well.  If you see a peer struggling, help them.

# 16 Stay in Shape – This one should be common sense, but don’t get fat!  Eat healthy, exercise regularly in between drill weekend and live a healthy life-style.  I’ve met lots of leaders who couldn’t pass the APFT or HT/WT.  You owe it yourself and your unit to act and look like a leader at all times!  Here are some tips on how to max the APFT.

Is a Military Career Worth It?# 17 Get Organized – Always prepare and plan BEFORE drill weekend.  Keep your personal gear and section equipment in order.  Remove the clutter.  Work smart.  Have a Leader’s Book with all of your key information in one place.  Set up a work space at home for your military work.  Read more about how to prepare for drill weekend.

# 18 Attend All Events – Make sure that you attend all mandatory fun events.  Lead by example.  Go to the Gala, Dining In, Dining Out and all other social functions.  You don’t want to become the black sheep because you don’t attend these events.  Learn more about mandatory fun in the Army.

# 19 Find a Mentor – Every successful person, businessman, athlete and military leader that I know of has a mentor.  Go out and find someone who has already accomplished what you want to accomplish in your career.  Pick their brain.  Find out what they did to become successful.  Read more about how and where to find a mentor.

# 20 Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses – We are all wired differently and bring different skills to the table.  We are all good and bad at certain things.  Your goal is to know what you are good at and then find jobs that compliment those skills. Read more about discovering your strengths and weaknesses.

# 21 Improve Your Writing Skills – Without a doubt, MOST military leaders do not have adequate writing skills.  It is a craft that gets developed over time with experience.  Take a writing class at your local community college, read books about writing, and most importantly, write lots of awards, evaluation reports, etc.  The more you do the better you will get.  Here are some tips to improve your military writing skills.

# 22 Improve Your Speaking Skills – Both Officers and NCOs will be required to do lots of public speaking.  Some people like it, but most hate it.  I suggest you sign up for Toastmasters® or take a public speaking class to hone your skills.  Remember, your superiors will evaluate your speaking skills, so do what you can to improve.  Here are some public speaking tips for military leaders.

# 23 Work On Your Attitude – No one likes a cynic or a negative-nelly.  People are naturally attracted to people with a good attitude.  Make sure you do an attitude check every day.  Put a smile on your face. Be aware of your emotions and body language at all times.  Read more about how your attitude affects your military career.

# 24 Document Your Achievements Every Single Month – One of my secret tips is to keep track of what you accomplish every month.  Have a journal and write down all of your big and small accomplishments.  Spend a few minutes at the end of every drill weekend, before you go home, and knock this out.  Read more about keeping track of your achievements each month.

# 25 Get to Know Your Team Personally – You don’t need to be buddy-buddy with your team, but you should know what makes them tick, what their strengths are, what their goals are, etc.  Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

How to Balance Your Military Career# 26 Never Burn a Bridge – Never leave a job on a negative note.  Never speak badly of others.   Even if you don’t like someone, treat them with respect.  Put aside your personal differences.  Remember that someone who works for you today could be your boss ten years from now.  The ARNG and USAR are really small organizations, so if you burn a bridge, it can literally ruin your career.  Read more about not burning your bridges with others.

# 27 Have a Game Plan Every Day/ Every Drill Weekend – Never show up for drill weekend or scheduled training without a game plan.  Make sure you know the OPORD, the training schedule and have a prioritized to do list at ALL times.  See a sample game plan for drill weekend.

# 28 Develop a Battle Rhythm Outside of Drill Weekend – Determine when things need to be done outside of drill weekend.   Map this out and put it on your calendar.  Give yourself deadlines for meetings, mission analysis, Troop Leading Procedures, back briefs, etc.  Read more about what to do outside of drill weekend.

# 29 Find a Military Friendly Employer – If you plan on making a career out of the Army Reserves or Army National Guard, it would be in your best interest to work for a company that supports their military employees.  Find a list of military friendly employers.

# 30 Get to Know Your Boss – It’s your responsibility to get to know your boss.  Find out what they like and dislike how they like things done, etc.  Find out what makes them tick and do what you can to build a strong working relationship with them.

# 31 Form a Mastermind Team – Find three to five peers, trusted folks, and mentors that you can do a monthly mastermind call with.  I learned this principle from Napoleon Hill and I can tell you that it works wonders.  You can share ideas with each other, ask questions, learn from each other, and hone your skills.  Read more about a Military Mastermind Team.

# 32 Develop Your Own Unique Selling Proposition – Come up with a short statement that describes what you bring to the table.  What do you want other people to know you for?  How do you want to be viewed by your superiors?  My unique selling proposition was to be the maverick that could come in and do any job with zero supervision and little guidance.  Learn more about developing a unique selling proposition.

# 33 Spend Some Time Every Year on ADOS or ADSW – It would be in your best interest to spend some time on ADOS/ADSW every year, even if just for a few weeks.  The benefits are that you get experience.  30 days on ADOS is like one year experience for most one weekend a month personnel.  You also get to network with the AGR force and learn new skills.  Read more about ADOS and ADSW.

Army Officer Career Success# 34 Seek Out the Jobs You Want – Don’t take what you are given.  No what jobs you need and want and then actively seek them out.  Network with influencers in your organization and know when the jobs you want will open up and what you need to do to be qualified for those jobs.  Learn more about getting the jobs you want.

# 35 Think of Things from the Other Person’s Perspective – This skill has really helped me in life and in the military.  Remember that there is always more than one side to the story.  Don’t be too quick to judge others.  When there is an issue, get both sides of the story.  When someone does something you disagree with, put yourself in their shoes, and think of things from their perspective before you cast judgement.  Read more about how to think from another person’s perspective.

# 36 Keep Your Emotions in Check – There is a time and a place to speak your mind.  Managing your emotions is very important.  Remember that your followers are looking to you for leadership and stability and they will feed off your emotions.  Before you get angry or say something stupid, take a few minutes and collect your thoughts.  Read more about mastering your emotions.

# 37 Know When to Leave the Military – At some point in every NCO or Officer’s career, you will leave the military.  Only you know when it’s best to leave.  If your heart isn’t in it, move on.  If you are no longer effective at what you do, move on.  Soldiers deserve leaders who WANT to be there.  Read more about knowing when to leave the military.

BONUS TIP: Have Fun – Put a smile on your face and don’t take yourself too seriously.  Create lasting memories and incorporate fun events into scheduled training when you can.  No one wants to work with a sourpuss.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to thank you for reading my mini-series covering my 37 best career tips for Army National Guard and Army Reserve NCOs and Officers.  I hope you found the information helpful.  Feel free to click on the links at the end of each tip to read the separate post about it.

On a side note, I’d love to know what you think.  Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts.  Which tip is your favorite and why?

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12 thoughts on “37 Career Tips for Army National Guard and Army Reserve NCOs and Officers”

  1. These are great tips and overviews of how to get your butt in gear and forge a military path that you envisioned. Granted it doesn’t always turn out the way you wanted but sometimes that is a blessing in itself. Seriously, Chuck these are simply excellent LIFE lessons that everyone needs to work on. I am paraphrasing Norman Vincent Peale here but: if you shoot for the moon and miss at least you land with the stars.

  2. Pingback: Stay in the Army Line Units as Long as Possibile | Citizen Soldier Resource Center
  3. Chuck, these are all important tips. I ask, how do you balance standing up for what’s right vs. burning a bridge (sometimes standing up for the right thing and having integrity can burn a bridge, so to speak). I don’t mean being insubordinate, but sometimes just plain doing the right thing when everyone else is not, will burn a bridge. Any advice?

    1. I’d argue that doing the right thing trumps burning a bridge. If you do the right thing, and it ends up ruining your career, so be it. Not all leaders are willing to take that risk (most aren’t) but if you know in your heart the battle is wort fighting, than do it. That’s part of your job being a leader. I think of it like marriage. Pick your battles. Some are worth fighting. Others aren’t.

      1. I agree with that comparison. I suppose it depends on how important the right thing is to you in that case, or what kind of core value it challenges. A lot of people aren’t willing to stand up for what is right. The ones I know who have, may have burned a couple bridges, but they still have great careers.

    2. I have to agree with Chuck; doing the right thing always trumps not burning a bridge. It can be a difficult situation, but I have been there. I did burn a strong bridge once in doing what was the right thing. I questioned myself after the fact, but have had reinforcement that I did right.

      If all people would live with that morale, this world would be a much better place.

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