By Brandon Charters, RallyPoint USAF “Thought Leader”
Most military personnel, even general officers, have experienced the muddy and convoluted military assignment process. In the Air Force, when it comes to getting the best PCS opportunities, we’ve all heard some version of this widespread truth: “The only way to get a great follow-on assignment is to be an Executive Officer.”
No wonder these Executive Officer positions are so competitive, especially in the last 18 months on a duty station. Your commander has just enough time to socialize your name amongst his network of contacts before you gain orders to a new duty station.
This practice, however, is not something you learn from a recruiter or formalized training. It is instead something you discover over time when you repeatedly see these Executive Officers deployed to assignments at CONUS bases, or sent to Hawaii on an early PCS.
There are other ways to gain an upper hand in future career moves within the military. Think about who’s got your back, or as if commonly said within our military, who’s got your six? One of the best avenues is to find a mentor who has traveled this road – the road you’re hoping to be on.
Why are mentors important?
Working assignments in the military can be an intimidating process that requires the support from someone who has walked the walk … and who has your back. Execs have a distinct advantage of working closer to the decision-makers in the chain of command; this is a critical element of influencing your next assignment.
Mentors can give one of two things, depending on their willingness to help: advice or empowerment. Almost any military supervisor will give out quick advice and instruction, but empowerment through mentorship comes by way of guidance given over time, and networking actions that can generate a coveted by-name request.
With sequestration and draw-downs in personnel on the rise, we are doing more with less. It can feel daunting at times having to keep up with current ops tempos, let alone use valuable time and energy planning any kind of career path. Yet human resources/personnel commands require you keep your development plan up to date. This can get overwhelming without someone with experience to help make sense of it all, which is why mentorship is so important.
How do I find one?
Your integrity, character, reputation amongst your peers and performance within the unit directly impacts the type of mentorship you will receive. If you are lucky, a mentor may find you first. You may have been supported and nurtured by a senior officer already, who is now happy to guide you in your career planning.
But that’s not always the case. As you seek a mentor ask yourself some key questions:
- Who are your unit’s decision-makers?
- What assignments have they held?
- Have they enjoyed their career?
- Do they keep their office door open?
If you answered yes to the last two questions, you may have found a great potential candidate.
There is a reason that mentors are rarely assigned – the forced mentorship can often feel like both parties are just going through the motions to check a proverbial box. This model has been implemented in both the military and corporations with limited success.
Keep an eye out for our next blog post which will offer step by step guidance in finding and nurturing a mentorship.