16 March 2013


In our last entry we explained the career advantages to mentorship. Many respected military and civilian leaders appreciate both the career and personal rewards of having a mentor. General Colin Powell has his famous Rules for Picking People: “Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.” With those rules under your belt, here are our seven steps to turning that into action.
Phase I: Know what you want.
What are you passionate about?  What did you envision yourself doing when the recruiter was pitching the military to you?  It is critical to do some soul-searching in this phase, find out what motivates you, and decide what job would be a good fit for both you and the military. This can be the most difficult challenge in the process as it will ultimately serve as your North Star. If you aren’t sure, then that’s ok too. A good mentor can help you refine and articulate your goals. Decide on a direction and begin to pursue it.

Phase II: Collect the data.  
Now that you know what you want, it is time to ask some questions.  Go online, ask your peers, or call a personnelist to find out where the assignments that best fit your personal and professional needs are located and under which commands they fall.  If you know someone currently sitting in your desired position, be sure to poll them on how much they enjoy it and ask what challenges they are facing, if any. In-residence professional military educational institutions are also excellent resources for understanding your next career move.  In most cases, you will be part of a class made up of hundreds of officers or enlisted personnel with a wide range of career field and location-specific experiences.  Take full advantage of these opportunities if you get the chance.

Phase III: Select a Mentor.
Mentally rank your chain of command and unit leadership based on how much influence they have.  Rank these same individuals on how approachable they are, and identify the top candidates you have had the most positive professional and personal interactions with.  Rank and select your top potential mentors based on this list.
The late General Norman Schwarzkopf was recently remembered, among many superlatives, as more than a public role model but also a loyal and caring champion for his troops, mentoring many throughout their careers.

Phase IV: The Approach.  
Remember, mentors are not formal appointments. Initiate conversation with your potential mentor by asking if he has time for a few questions about his professional background and previous assignments.  This gets your foot in the door.  If he is perceived to be too busy or does not give you a follow-up time to talk, revert back to the list you created in Phase III until you find an approachable candidate.   

Phase V: Ask questions, listen, and learn.  
Go in armed for success.  Blow your mentor away with the data you collected on possible assignments and available career options. It’s acceptable to let it be known you are there seeking guidance to nurture your future. Ask come critical questions: What did your mentor really enjoy doing? What were some of the pitfalls she experienced throughout her career? How high are the promotion rates in the various career fields?  Are there jobs that seem to be heading to a dead end in the military and are likely to be cancelled? These are some of the questions that can help determine whether a career path is right for you.

Phase VI: Brainstorm and select your ideal assignment.
Communicate your skills and passions to your mentor, and ask for help in brainstorming the units and positions in which you can make the biggest impact.  This brainstorming can also be done alone, but it helps to have an experienced individual to bounce ideas off of and get accurate information.  Using all the collected data, pin down your top assignment with your mentor’s buy-in.  Again, make sure this is something that will benefit the military as well as yourself.

Phase VII: Closing the Deal.
At this point, be prepared to move on in the process with or without your mentor’s assistance. Not every mentor puts in the time to actually get you that dream assignment. If this is the case, update your online development plan, provide sound justification for your decisions, and show how the military will be better off if you are granted the desired assignments.  
If your mentor intends to help you network a follow-on assignment, be prepared for several interactions with his professional network of colleagues. Much like the civilian world, expect phone and in-person interviews to find out if you will be a good fit. Many gaining unit commanders want to see how well your personality will fit within his or her unit.  Once selected, let your mentor work the matching game with the gaining unit’s leadership.  Celebrate this successful appointment with your friends and family only when you receive official signed orders.

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