We all want to be promoted. Some want it for more money, some for more leverage to help others, some are just tired of doing grunt work. Whatever the reason, the most asked question throughout my career was how to make the next rank. Although, how I have worded it has changed over the years, the advice is still the same 3 simple steps.
1) Define your finish line. Why are you trying to get promoted and what does it look like when you are promoted? We need to really think about what we are working towards and what the next steps are. When we can see the goal, we know each step is taking us closer. The problem is that we just say our finish line is Chief one day or MSgt next. We need to look at this a bit differently. What skills or habits do those MSgts have that we want to emulate?
As I have gained rank and position, I have adjusted my perspective several times. The things I thought as an Airman and young NCO were small picture compared to the reality of being a SNCO. I could have learned how to alter this perspective at a much younger age had I asked deeper questions to my SNCO mentors. Instead of what box should I check next, I should have asked how they lead teams when they are no longer boots on the ground. How do they leverage the strengths of others on the team? Etc.
Once you have a clearer view of where you need to go, you can define what you need to do to get there.
2) Do the work. This is the one area everyone tries to “hack.” We all want to achieve success in some area, but most don’t want to do what it takes to get there. We try to get that job with the duty title the board might like. “If I only have a leadership duty title, I am sure to be seen as a leader.” I have seen this idea tossed around my whole career, but it is faulty. True, people with certain duty titles do seem to be promoted faster; however, it is not the title, it is the person.
My old workcenter used to use a coveted maintenance duty title in a different way. What a production superintendent was in the training world was completely different than the maintenance world. AETC saw no issues with this, but the maintenance Chiefs who re-gained these NCOs later sure did. They had the title, but not the actions that matched the title. We had to do some tweaking to overcome this hurdle because our chain-of-command didn’t want to change. I have also seen this in other areas where people try to get a certain job because the previous person made rank there. Stop doing this.
“Get obsessed about the quality of your work, not the quality of your title.” advises Jon Acuff. When we stop focussing on how we are addressed and more on what we produce, we become the person our leaders want to promote. When I was asked to rack and stack for Forced Distro or for an award, I never said, “OK, who has the coolest duty title?” We looked at who produced quality work and/or gave maximum effort. Do the work. Show up for your team no matter where you sit on the bus.
3) Capture what you do. This seems like it would be the easiest thing to do on the list, but people still refuse to do it. You do great things all year long, write them down as you go. The first advice most of us are given as new airmen is to carry a little notebook in our pocket and keep track of what we do for our supervisors. Somewhere along the way, we stop doing this. I think it is because we don’t learn to track things properly.
Our lists look like a ‘to do’ list; rather, a ‘done’ list more than anything else. They are running lists of: launched 3 planes, helped at ceremony, took math CLEP, etc. We should be tracking what we do in the same way we write bullets. Make 3 columns in your notebook. The first column is your ‘done’ list where you write all the things completed. The next column should be for the details. “How many people were there?”; “How much cargo was on the plane?”; “How many houses were built?” These first two columns need to be completed at the end of the day or the end of the week while things are still fresh in your mind. The last column is where the money is: follow up. At the end of the week (or beginning of the next week) go back and look at the things in your notebook and see if the impact of that event has shown itself yet. Sometimes we can fill in the third column the same day and other times, it is something we track for months.
I stopped using notebooks as my career progressed and just used a draft EPR or 1206 on my desktop. I would place the information in a rough bullet format when I did something I thought was interesting. Then I would go back and modify as I learned more. When my EPR was due, I had a completed draft with things captured throughout the year, not the brain dump of “what did I do this year…?”
Know where you want to go, do the work to get there, and capture your efforts are the best career advice I can offer.