Military Career Tips: 50 Ideas for Military Career Progression

In today’s post, I’d like to share my best Military Career Tips for your Military Career Progression. I’ve spent nearly 20-hours researching, writing, and editing this post. I think it’s one of the most important articles on this website. I hope you will read it several times, share it with your peers on social media, and leave a comment at the end of the article.

These are valuable lessons I learned during my military career from real-world experience, from books I read, by talking with people I respected, and from mentors. If you’re looking to make a career out of the military, and be successful, this is the post for you.

Keep in mind this information is specifically designed for Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, but the advice will help any service member with their military career progression. 

First Things First

Before I share my list of my top Military Career Tips, there are two things EVERYONE should do first. These are (1) decide what you want, and (2) make a plan to achieve it. If you don’t do these two things first, none of the additional 50 tips will help you with your military career progression.

Success is whatever you want it to be, but it begins with a decision. Write that down and remember it. If you don’t know what you want, it’s hard to achieve it. Take some time somewhere quiet and think about your future military career. Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you want to make a career out of the military or just do a short stint?
  • What rank do you want to achieve?
  • What positions do you want to have?
  • What units would you like to serve in?
  • What schools would you like to attend?
  • What skills would you like to learn and master?
  • Where would you like to serve and with who?

This is just a starting point. You don’t have to get this 100% right. Just give it your best shot. Also, your goals will change from time-to-time. That is perfectly normal and okay.

Once you decide what you want with your military career, you can move forward to this next step: developing your game-plan. This is where you map out exactly what you must do to achieve your goals. You map out each year of your military career and identify what schools, what jobs, what assignments, what courses, and what education requirements you must complete to stay on track and ultimately achieve your goals.

Start with this year. What key steps do you need to take in the next 12-months? Do you need to finish a college degree? Do you need to attend a certain military school? Do you need to apply for a certain duty position? Do you need to increase your promotion points? Or something else?

After you finish this assignment for the next 12-months, do it for each year of your future military career. Once per year, review and update this document as needed. This step will serve as your action plan or game-plan for your military career progression. It sounds simple, but I bet less than 1 in 1,000 people serving in the military do this.

military career tips

Top 50 Military Career Tips

If you’ve done the two steps mentioned above, you can now benefit from my list of Military Career Tips you see below. My tips are broken down by category. The basic categories include:

  • Leadership
  • Professional Development
  • Personal Development
  • Jobs
  • Relationships
  • Money Tips
  • National Guard/Army Reserve Specific

These tips are designed to help you with your military career progression.

Leadership

Here are some of my best Military Career Tips when it comes to leadership.

# 1: Be a Servant Leader

It’s not about you. Don’t worry, it’s not about me either. As leaders, our job is to serve the people we lead. They don’t work for us. We work for them. Adopt this mindset in your leadership style. Take care of your people. If you do that, they will take care of you. Help your people grow and develop their potential. Help them get the schools and promotions they want and deserve. Remember, the military pays you to get things done through other people. The military pays you to develop leaders and future leaders. When it’s your time to lead, lead. When it’s your time to follow, follow!

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else. ~ Booker T. Washington

# 2: Lead by Example

Some people excel at this. Others suck at it. As a military leader, you must always lead by example. Do the things you want your team members to do. Set the bar high and have high expectations of yourself and everyone you lead. Lead from the front! Inspire people by your personal example.

Leaders dramatically influence the culture of their organizations through their own work habits. Being a leader does not mean one has ‘made it’ and is now exempt from hard work. Rather, leaders should set the pace for others. Few things discourage employees and volunteers any more than lazy leaders. Leaders should not ask their people to undertake tasks they are unwilling to perform themselves. ~ Henry T. Blackaby

# 3: Support Your Boss

Always support your boss. Make them shine. Be loyal, be helpful, and be a team player. Even if you don’t like or respect your boss, support them and make them shine. By doing so, you are doing your job and you are setting a good example for your followers.

Your number one job as a good employee is meeting your targets. Your periodic evaluations are based on how you perform against previously agreed upon milestones. By consistently meeting and even exceeding your performance targets, you demonstrate your reliability and your boss knows that they can count on you. ~ Thrive Yard

# 4: Outwork Everyone

Be known for having a great work ethic. This is so rare in the military nowadays. Most people strive to do the minimum. Outwork everyone. Don’t just put in the extra hours; work smart and be efficient and productive. Be the “go-to” person known for getting things done. These people always move up through the ranks quickly.

Luck is overrated. So is talent. And giftedness. You can have all of those and still flub your life. What makes you a success, sometimes even a legend, is your work ethic. It is escapee mentality to look at successful people and pass it off as luck or talent or some other unfair advantage. It absolves you of having to take responsibility. ~ Carol Parks

# 5: Hire Talented People

Never be intimidated by talented people. This includes your peers, subordinates, and superiors. Do what you can to surround yourself with the best people you can. If you can pick some of the people who work for you, pick 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.

The more talented people you have, the happier everyone in the company will be. This is because they know everyone is able to do their jobs and they are able to be as efficient as possible in their jobs. It makes everyone work on a more level playing field, which reduces burnout, frustration, and boredom. ~ Universal Class

# 6: Mission & People

Always put the mission first. That’s your # 1 responsibility. Put the people you lead right behind mission accomplishment. If you do that, you can’t go wrong. Your job is to accomplish the mission and take care of your people. I’ve found that if you do a good job taking care of your people, the mission always gets accomplished.

career options in the military

Professional Development

Here are some of my best Military Career Tips when it comes to professional development.

# 7: 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 anymore, move on. If you are no longer effective at what you do, move on. Soldiers deserve leaders who WANT to be there. Don’t leave too early and don’t stay too long.

The moment you feel like you can’t walk away from the military might be the very moment that you should. ~ LinkedIn

# 8: Complete One Class Yearly

You want to stay on the cutting edge at what you do. Take one military or civilian class EVERY year to get promotion and retirement points, and to learn new things and stay ahead of your peers. This could include a military school, a correspondence course, a college class, or anything that will teach you new skills. Commit to life-long learning.

# 9: 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. You could also join an association affiliated with your branch of service.

For most people, creating professional relationships is important, and joining a group allows you to have a sense of security and trust. From this, you are able to support and help one another in reaching your professional goals. Associations sponsor numerous events throughout the year that allow you to connect with your peers. You can share ideas, ask for advice, volunteer to be a speaker or become a member of a committee. Since most associations have national or local conferences, you can participate and have the opportunity to learn about breaking news in your career, learn “best practices” or new ideas, hear about key achievers in your field and also meet and brainstorm with others who are also looking to share and learn new information. ~ Higher Ed Jobs

# 10: 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, even if you don’t feel like it. You don’t want to become the black sheep because you don’t attend these events. Also, while you attend these events, don’t just sit around the table and drink. Get out and network with other people there and try to have fun.

# 11: 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 to the next rank. Map out everything you must do at your current rank, to be eligible for the next rank. If you can’t answer these questions, sit down and talk with someone who can explain it to you.

# 12: Complete Your Military Schools 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. Be proactive and enroll in these schools as soon as you become eligible.

# 13: Actively Manage Your OER/NCOER

Stay ahead of things when it comes to your evaluation report. Know when it is due. Remind your rater if need be. Keep good records of your achievements so when you need to fill out your support form, you can provide detailed information. Never let your evaluation report become overdue. Also, make sure your evaluation reports are filed in your permanent records, and that you keep copies of them in your “I Love Me Book.”

# 14: Grow Your Network

It’s vital to grow your network. The military is a lot like the civilian world in the respect that successful people like to hire and work with other successful people. Plus, there is a “good ole boy” system. That’s just how life works, like it or not.

When people move to a new job they like to bring people they worked with in the past with them, in most cases. Why? We are promoted or demoted based on the people we surround ourselves with.

Identify several key players in the organization who have promising careers. Start to network with them. Look for people in other units you can network with. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about brown nosing or butt kissing. Instead, it’s just building a like, know, and trust relationship with other influential people.

While you are busy growing your network, make sure you take care of the people who work for you, especially the good people.

When people start noticing you, it opens the door for newer opportunities. Business and career-minded individuals who have networked over time have been able to expand with minimal effort because of the avenue of newer opportunities opened to them through networking. Opportunities like meeting the right clients or even meeting people that are superior to your career path could be a stepping stone that could change your life for the better. ~ Higher Ed Jobs

map out your military career

Personal Development

Here are some of my best Military Career Tips when it comes to personal development.

# 15: Improve Your Speaking Skills

Both officers and NCOs will be required to do lots of public speaking throughout their military career. Some people like it, but most people hate it. I suggest you sign up for Toastmasters® or take a public speaking class at your local community college to hone your skills. Remember, your superiors will evaluate your speaking skills, so do what you can to improve. Plus, mastering public speaking will help grow your confidence.

# 16: 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 morning. Put a smile on your face. Be aware of your emotions and body language at all times.

Your attitude determines your success. Any successful person will say you cannot progress further in your career with a negative attitude. Having the correct attitude will determine how far you progress not only in your professional life, but also your personal one. Viewing the world and your situations with an empathetic and vibrant outlook will help you enormously in achieving your goals. ~ Integrity and Values

# 17: 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. Plus, when you are doing a job, focus on the things you are good at and delegate the things you aren’t good at (if possible). And remember this, you will never turn a weakness into a strength, so focus on your strengths.

# 18: Improve Your Writing Skills

Without a doubt, MOST military leaders do not have adequate writing skills. It is a craft that gets developed with time and 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 write, the more you will improve.

# 19: Read Daily

Leaders are readers. You must read books about leadership, communication, military history, tactics, conflict resolution, etc. Read manuals, 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.

# 20: Keep Your Emotions in Check

There is a time and a place to speak your mind. Managing your emotions is very important. Remember, 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.

# 21: Be Open to Constructive Feedback/Criticism

Be open to feedback. You can learn and grow if you can do this. Don’t take everything personally. When your boss corrects you or someone gives you input, learn to appreciate it, instead of taking it personally.

# 22: Have Written Goals

Have written daily, monthly, and yearly goals for your job, personal life, finances, relationships, etc. Learn and master the power of goal-setting. Let it work for you. Setting goals changed my life for the better. When you put things down on paper, something magical happens. Set goals and teach others to do the same.

# 23: Ask for Help When Needed

It’s okay to ask for help if you need it. Don’t worry about it or overthink it. You don’t have to know everything about everything. You have many talented people working with you to seek input from. Not only will you get new ideas, but the people who make the suggestions will be happy to help you.

# 24: Learn from Every Experience

Let every experience be a learning experience. Throughout your military career, make it a goal to seek knowledge in all that you do. In every good and bad situation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did I do right?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What did I do that I shouldn’t have done?
  • What didn’t I do that I should have done?
  • What did I learn from the experience?

# 25: 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? What do you want your reputation to be? My unique selling proposition was to be the maverick that could come in and do any job with zero supervision and little guidance.

Jobs

Here are my best Military Career Tips when it comes to jobs and duty positions.

# 26: Seek Out the Jobs You Want

Don’t just take what you are given. Know 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, so you can apply. If you only take what’s offered to you, you will miss out on lots of great opportunities.

# 27: Take the Tough Jobs No One Else Wants

Anyone can succeed in an easy job. Successful military leaders seek out the tough jobs that showcase their skills and challenge them to grow. If you want a bright career, look for the jobs no one else wants and take those jobs. If you succeed in those tough jobs, people will take notice. Another great tip is to look for a jobs with incompetent people in them and be their replacement. By doing that, you have nowhere to go but up.

# 28: Stay at the Troop Level As Long as Possible

Spend as much time as you can at the TROOP LEVEL. You want to serve in operational, deployable, go-to-war units as long as you can, ideally at the battalion level and lower. This is what the Army is all about. This is where you will learn, refine, and master your leadership skills. Be wary of staff positions or positions in TDA units. Stay in those deployable MTOE units as long as you can.

# 29: Shine in Every Job You Have

The job doesn’t make the person. The person makes the job. Regardless of your duty position, do it with excellence. People will notice you if you do that. Show up early, work hard, get the job done on time and to standard, and keep a positive mental attitude. Learn everything you can about each job you have and do it with excellence.

# 30: Don’t Stay in Any Job Too Long

Make it a goal to stay in each duty position you have between 9 and 18-months. You can stay in the more important jobs, like command, a little bit longer. Don’t get too comfortable in any job. Once you learn and master it, it’s time to find a new duty position, so you can expand your skills. I see a lot of leaders get comfortable and ride out their duty position as long as they can. It might work for some people, but it’s not the best career move.

team player in the military

Relationships

Here are some of my best Military Career Tips when it comes to relationships.

# 31: Develop a Master Mind Team

Identify two to five people who have similar goals, or are go-getters, and develop a mastermind team with them. This works best when it is people outside of your unit and chain of command. Get together once a month, or once every 60-days, to share ideas and learn from each other. This is a valuable tool to have at your disposal.

A Master Mind may be developed by a friendly alliance, in a spirit of harmony of purpose, between two or more minds. No two minds ever met without creating, as a result of the contact, another mind which affects all participating in the alliance. ~ Napoleon Hill

# 32: Get Your Spouse On the Same Sheet of Paper

It’s hard to make it to the top (in anything) with an unsupportive spouse. It’s crucial that you sit down with your spouse and share your career goals and dreams with them. You need them to be supportive. Tell them why you are doing what you are doing. Tell them what is important to you. Find common ground. Also, make sure you support their goals. With a supportive spouse, it is 100 times easier to have a rewarding and fulfilling career.

# 33: Find a Mentor

This is one of my best Military Career Tips. You must have a mentor. Initially, it will be your supervisor or someone in your unit you look up to. However, as you start to progress through the ranks it’s vital to find someone you can counsel with.

Ultimately, I think it’s best to find a mentor outside of your unit. Look for someone who held the rank and duty positions you desire, and seek them out as your mentor. Ask them questions and listen to them. Talk with them every 60 to 90-days to ask questions, share ideas, and learn new things. And whatever you do, humble yourself and don’t be a know it all. Do what they teach you!

A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you. ~ Bob Proctor

# 34: Never Burn a Bridge

The Army is much smaller than you think, especially the National Guard and Army Reserve. That’s why it’s important to never burn a bridge. If there is a problem, address it immediately in private. If there is a misunderstanding, fix it. If you do something wrong, apologize. The person you burn a bridge with today could be your boss in 10-years from now!

# 35: Treat Everyone with Respect

Treat everyone with respect. Whether talking with the President, a 4-Star General, or a low ranking Private, show respect to everyone. How you treat one person is how you treat everyone. How you treat someone that can do very little to help you is a direct reflection of your true character.

# 36: Be a Team Player

The Army is a team. You might lead your own team, but you are also part of several other teams. Your career cannot be about you. Support your boss. Help them reach their goals. Support your subordinates. Help them reach their goals. Help your peers. Be a servant leader and put others first, whenever possible. Everything you do for others, both good and bad, will come back to you 100 fold.

Teamwork can be effective in building great work relationships. By work relationships, we don’t mean that people have to be the best of friends. Rather, developing the right frame of mind where you respect and listen to other people’s opinions and collaborate positively is what we call a good work relationship. ~ Proof Hub

# 37: Keep it In Your Pants

I said it. This won’t apply to most people, but some people need to hear this. Never sleep with a peer, subordinate, or superior. Don’t cheat on your spouse. Don’t mess with someone else’s spouse. Don’t date or have relationships with other military personnel. It almost always backfires. It might be fun while it lasts, but it almost always explodes and puts you in a bad spot.

# 38: Think of Things from the Other Person’s Perspective

This skill has really helped me a lot in life and in the military. Remember, 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.

Money Tips

Here are some Military Career Tips about money.

# 39: Save for Retirement

Whether you plan on serving in the military one-year or 40-years, put aside money each month for your retirement. You will eventually age and want to retire. Time flies.

Educate yourself about the Thrift Savings Plan and Roth IRA. Learn about investing. If you are smart with your money, you can position yourself for long-term financial success, and have more than just your pension. Trust me on this one, you will be glad that you did this step.

Whether or not your retirement plans are looking secure, the new year is a great time to review where you stand. Regardless of your particular financial situation, the same retirement principles apply this year as always: reduce spending, plan for surprises, make conservative decisions on retirement savings and Social Security, and keep earning income if you can. ~ Forbes

# 40: Live Below Your Means

Most people really mess this up. Whenever they get a pay raise or promotion, they spend that extra money. Or worse, they spend MORE than they make each month.

Whether you are living on an E-2 pay or General Officer’s pay, live below your means. I scratch my head when I see young Soldiers driving nicer cars than their Colonels. Stay out of debt whenever possible. Buy things with cash. Be frugal and smart with your money.

It will be difficult to focus on your military career progression if you are constantly worried about money.

Remember, it’s not how much you make, it’s what you do with your money that matters. Anyone can retire wealthy and get ahead if they are smart about it.

# 41: Follow a Financial Plan

Develop a monthly spending budget and follow it. Develop a savings plan and follow it. Develop an investing plan and follow it. Develop a debt reduction plan and follow it. Seek out the advice of licensed financial professionals. Develop a simple financial plan for the short-term and long-term. As I mentioned earlier, if you aren’t worrying about money all the time, you can focus on your being the best at whatever it is you do in your military career.

walk away from the military

Just for National Guard & Army Reserve Folks

The Military Career Tips you see below are specifically for service members in the National Guard, Army Reserve, and Defense Force.

# 42: Be Prepared for Each Drill Weekend

Never show up for drill weekend or scheduled training without a game-plan. Make sure you know the OPORD, training schedule, and have a prioritized “to-do” list at ALL times. Visit the armory once or twice a month, in between drill weekend, to stay organized, get things set up, and be prepared. It’s time well spent.

# 43: 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. Pick a routine that works for you and stick with it. For most leaders in the ARNG and USAR, you will work at least 10-20 hours per MONTH, outside of drill weekend, unpaid. Being organized makes life easier for you.

# 44: Find a Military Friendly Employer

If you plan on making a career out of the Army Reserve or Army National Guard, it would be in your best interest to work for an employer that supports their military employees. The last thing you want to worry about is getting fired because of your part-time military commitments.

# 45: Volunteer for 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 the experience, skills, and network you get. 30-days on ADOS is similar to one year experience for most one-weekend-a-month personnel. You also get to network with the AGR force and learn new skills.

# 46: Get a Second Branch or MOS

While most Active Duty folks don’t need to do this, you should. To get promoted faster and have more opportunities in the ARNG or USAR, you should have at least two branches or MOS’s.  One should be in combat arms, another in combat support or combat service support. This opens your career up to new opportunities.

# 47: Get Experience in Different Career Fields

In the early stages of your military career, stay in operational units and jobs. As you advance your military 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 value you have to offer the Army, and the more career opportunities you will have in the future.

# 48: Volunteer for Deployments

If you want to prove to others that you are serious about your part-time military career, you want a combat deployment, or two. I’ve yet to meet any successful military leader that didn’t have a combat patch. The major benefit of deploying is the experience you get and the credibility you have with others.

# 49: Document Your Achievements Monthly

One of my secret Military Career Tips is to keep track of what you accomplish every month. Have a journal and write down your big and small accomplishments. Spend a few minutes at the end of each drill weekend, before you go home, and knock this out. Over a period of six to twelve months, you will have a large list of achievements. This will make preparing your support form much easier, rather than trying to remember everything you accomplished during the rating period.

# 50: Master Your Time Management

As part-time military leaders, we have to put 10 pounds 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. Learn to work smart, set priorities, and be efficient.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, these are my best Military Career Tips. While these tips are designed primarily for Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, I do believe these Military Career Tips will benefit anyone serving in any branch of the military.

What are your thoughts? What are your best Military Career Tips? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day!

Sincerely,
chuck holmes





Chuck Holmes
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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