Looking to fast track your military career? If so, you are in the right place at the right time.
I’ve put together a list of tips for part-time Army Officers and NCOs serving in the National Guard, Army Reserve, or Defense Force. These are lessons I’ve learned from personal experience and from talking with successful retired General Officers and senior NCOs.
My hope is that you will evaluate yourself in each area and identify things to improve upon. Let’s begin.
How to Fast Track Your Military Career
If you want to fast track your military career, you can begin by doing the simple things listed below. Don’t overlook a tip because it is simple. That’s what most people do.
# 1: Decide What You Want
Success begins with a decision. You must decide what you want with your military career. Be as specific as possible.
What rank do you want to achieve? What career field do you want to be in? What MOSs or branches do you want to be affiliated with? How long do you want to serve? Are you looking to retire with the military or simply fulfill your initial obligation?
Until you can objectively answer these questions, there isn’t much else you can do. This is your “destination.” The next tip will explain your road map.
# 2: Map Out Your Career
Once you decide what you want with your military career, take time, and map out your career. Take out a piece of paper and write everything down. What schools do you need to complete for each rank and when? How long do you need to serve in each rank? What civilian education do you need? What jobs do you need?
What schools do you need to attend this year? What job should you take next? Complete this step for the next five to ten years. It’s quite enlightening.
This “roadmap” will guide you each year. Update it as needed. Remember that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”
To achieve the career you want, you need to be strategic with the jobs you take. That’s where mapping out your career path can be a major help. Your career path is simply a series of jobs you take that ultimately lead you to your dream career. Career paths go hand-in-hand with a career plan, which is basically a list of short- and long-term goals that you strive for along your career path. ~ Tallo.com
# 3: Take the Tough Jobs No One Else Wants
This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can share with you if you want to fast track your military career. Take the jobs that no one else wants. Look for incompetent leaders you can replace when their time is up in the job. Look for tough jobs that most people are scared to take. Why? Because if you get this job and excel in it, you will quickly stand out in the crowd.
The last thing you want to do is replace a superstar. In that case, you have nowhere to go but down. However, if you replace an incompetent or bad officer or NCO, you have nowhere to go but up. Make sense? This is some of the best career advice I ever received.
# 4: Stay in Operational, Deployable Units
This advice might sound weird but hear me out for a minute. I’ve had several successful leaders I highly respect who taught me to do this. They said, stay at the battalion level or lower, as long as you can. Soak up that troop time. Stay in the MTOE, deployable, go-to-war units. Get that experience. Then, after 10 to 15-years, seek out other positions that interest you.
Leadership is what the Army pays us to do. Deployable, go-to-war units are what the Army is all about. This is where you should spend MOST of your time in the military (in most cases).
# 5: Excel in Whatever Job You Get
There will be times when you get jobs you do not like or want. That is life. Remember, the job doesn’t make the man. The man (or woman) makes the job. Whatever job you get, give it your best. Shine bright.
Sometimes the job you didn’t want will turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because you will meet new people, expand your network, learn new skills, and gain new perspective.
# 6: Expand Your Network
You’ve heard that the military is a “good ole boy” system. That is true. You could argue that about every organization in the world, not just the military.
Here’s the truth. Successful leaders like to surround themselves with talented people. They like to bring these same people with them to future jobs. This is how the real world works, like it or not.
It would be in your best interest to network with “up and comers” who are “pegged” to go far in the organization. I’m not telling you to simply ride their coat tails, but the more leaders you know that like, know, and trust you, the better. This is how the real world works.
Networking is an effective way of exploring careers and learning about job opportunities. There is a huge chance that someone in your network is able to introduce you to people who could be beneficial to you just starting in your industry. You don’t know when or how opportunities will arise but it’s important to be ready to size the opportunity when they come. ~ Business2Community.com
# 7: Pick the Jobs You Want & Need
Whenever possible, pick the jobs you want and need. Don’t just take what you get. Be proactive and SEEK OUT your dream jobs. It’s possible. If you only take what you get, you will get the crumbs.
How do you do this? Find jobs you desire and figure out when the person in the job is due to change to another job. A few months before their transition, make sure you have met the requirements for that job position, get your packet in order, and apply to the job as soon as it becomes available. It may be in your best interest to network with the chain of command in that unit to get your foot in the door.
# 8: Attend the Required Schools Ahead of Time
Don’t wait until the last minute to attend your NCOES or OES schools. Be proactive. As soon as you are eligible to attend, apply for the school. Sign up for it. I see many Soldiers miss a promotion by not having completed the required schools. Never wait until the last minute to attend a school you know you will need.
# 9: Keep Your Personnel File in Order
Keep your “I Love Me” book updated and in order. Make sure your personnel records are up to date and your DA Photo is up to date. Review these things at least two times per year. Whenever you receive an award, commendation, evaluation report, or anything important, make sure you add it to your personnel file promptly.
# 10: Find a Mentor
Mentors are critical. Find several mentors you respect and trust. Ideally, pick one in your unit and one outside your unit. This could include a retiree, an Active-Duty friend, or even a former Soldier. Ideally, look for someone who has attained the rank and jobs you want to achieve, and then find out what they did to get there.
Ask them questions. Listen. Be a sponge. Learn everything you can.
# 11: Be a Student of Your Profession
This is quite perhaps the most important tip on this list. Learn everything you can about your profession. Read books, attend events, listen to your mentor, and attend schools. Never stop learning. Set aside 15 to 30-minutes daily to learn everything you can about military history, your unit, leadership, communication, tactics, etc. Be a sponge and seek knowledge.
If you can get just one percent better each week, you will be 100% better every two years. Do that for a 20-year career and you would be 1,000% better. Can you image the leadership skills and potential you would have if you did that? You’d be General Officer or senior NCO potential! Boom!
# 12: Focus on Helping Others
This one might sound weird, but you want to be a team player. In fact, you want to be known as a team player. Help whoever you can, whether they are in your chain of command or not, are a subordinate, a peer, or someone above you in the chain of command.
Be nice, be friendly, and be a servant leader willing to offer your help. Only do it if you genuinely want to. This is one of the fastest ways to stand out in the crowd. Most people are in it for themselves and want what’s best for them. That’s okay.
You want to be different though. By asking people “what can I do to help you out today?” you will stand out in the crowd. Why? Because so few people do it.
In conclusion, these are my best tips to fast track your military career. None of this is rocket science. Many of these things are easy to do and easy not to do.
What are your thoughts? What are your best tips to fast track your military career? What did I leave out? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.
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Former Army Major (resigned)
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