You Failed to Promote…Now What?

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My June 13th post that discussed whether CDR is the new terminal rank and other O6 promotion board takeaways has gotten the most attention thus far. I received some questions about what happens when you are passed over for promotion and are now “above-zone.” If you ever find yourself in this position, here is what you need to do:

  1. Realize that it is not the end of the world. As we’ve previously discussed, more and more people are getting passed over, and a good number of them eventually are selected for promotion. In FY15, 36% of LCDRs who were above-zone were selected for promotion to CDR. When it comes to CAPT, the above-zone selection rate was 11% in FY14, 10% in FY15, and 7% in FY16. While those promotion rates are particularly depressing for above-zone CDRs, you have to realize that there is a significant portion of CDRs who have given up and stopped trying to promote to CAPT but are still included in the denominator of the above-zone selection rate. Because of this, I think if you try to get promoted your chances are better than the aforementioned 7-11% above-zone selection rate.
  2. If you do nothing, you will continue to get looked at for promotion boards until you retire, resign, or are forced out of the Navy. There is no limit on the number of chances you get to promote and your record will be evaluated for promotion every year. That said…
  3. You need to try to promote. At a minimum you need to send a letter to the promotion board. What do you say in this letter? First, briefly state that you want to be promoted and that you desire to continue your career in the Navy. Second, briefly explain what a promotion would allow you to do that you can’t do at your current rank. Answer the question, “Why should they promote you?” For example, if you want to do Executive Medicine you need to be an O6, so tell them that you want to screen for XO. If you are a LCDR and you want to be a Department Head at a large MTF or a Residency Director (or whatever you want to do), tell them that you need to be promoted to CDR to be competitive for these jobs. The Navy wants to promote leaders. Make it clear to them that you are a motivated future leader.
  4. Try and get letters of support to attach to your letter. These letters should be from the most senior officers who can personally attest to your value to the Navy. In other words, it is probably better to get a letter from an O6 who knows you well than a 3 star who doesn’t. If you are not sure who to ask for letters, ask those more senior to you or your Detailer for advice. Your Specialty Leader is always someone to consider if he/she knows you well and can speak to your contributions to the specialty and Navy.
  5. Have your record reviewed by your Detailer. Because of promotion board confidentiality, you and your Detailer will never know the reason(s) you did not promote, but most of the time the Detailer can come up with an educated guess. They’ll often find things that you were not even aware of, like potentially adverse fitreps, or information missing from your record. My promo prep document will help you as well, which is available at the top of this webpage.
  6. Do everything you can to get “early promote” or “EP” fitreps. This is largely accomplished by continually striving for positions of increased leadership. You need to get a job that has historically led to promotion. If you are a LCDR who got passed over for CDR, try to get one of these jobs and excel at it:
  • Assistant/Associate Residency Director
  • Department Head at a small/medium sized MTF
  • Senior Medical Officer or Medical Director
  • Chair of a hospital committee
  • ECOMS member

If you are a CDR who got passed over for CAPT, try to get one of these jobs and excel at it:

  • Residency Director
  • Department Head in a large MTF
  • Associate Director or Director
  • Officer-in-Charge (OIC)
  • ECOMS President
  • Division, Group, or Wing Surgeon
  • CATF Surgeon
  • Specialty Leader

These lists are not exhaustive and are not the only paths to CDR or CAPT, but they are a good start.

  1. Meet with your chain-of-command. After you’ve been passed over is not the time to be passive. You need to sit down with your leadership and get an honest assessment from them of how you’re doing and what they would recommend to continue to advance your career. You may not like what you hear, but it is better to find out early if they don’t think you’re doing a good job or that you are unlikely to break out on your fitreps. That way you can try and put yourself in a better situation by changing commands.

In addition to the above list of things you should do, there are a few things you should not do:

  1. Do not lie in your letter to the board. In other words, don’t tell them you want to do Executive Medicine if you don’t really want to. Your record reads like a book, and if it tells a story that is contrary to what your letter says, this is unlikely to help you and may hurt you.
  2. Do not send long correspondence. Promotion boards have to read everything sent to them, and a long letter may not be appreciated. Keep it brief and to the point.
  3. Do not ask your current CO to write you a letter to the board if they’ve done an observed fitrep on you. His or her opinion about you should be reflected on that fitrep, so they don’t need to write you a letter. If they’ve never given you an observed fitrep or there is some new information not reflected on prior fitreps, they could either write you a letter or give you a special fitrep. Ultimately it is up to them whether they do either of these or none.
  4. Do not discuss anything adverse unless you want the board to notice and discuss it. This issue comes up frequently and people will ask me for advice, but ultimately it is up to the individual officer. The one thing I can guarantee is that if you send a letter to the board and discuss something adverse, they will notice it because they will read your letter! If you think there is a chance the adverse matter will get overlooked, it is probably better not to mention it and keep your fingers crossed.

Those are my tips for those who find themselves above-zone. Most importantly, if you want to promote, NEVER STOP TRYING. I personally know of people who got promoted their 4th look and have heard of people who succeeded on their 9th try!

3 thoughts on “You Failed to Promote…Now What?

    Scott said:
    October 9, 2015 at 10:57

    I’m MSC, but I find your blog very informative! Thanks Joel!

    Like

      Joel Schofer, MD, MBA, CPE responded:
      October 9, 2015 at 16:31

      Thanks! Feel free to send it out to MSC officers as well. Although it is focused on MC, some MSC might find it useful.

      Like

    […] I’ll put together an updated post on what to do if you didn’t promote, and one on what to do if you did, but here is the old one for those not selected for promotion. […]

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