Recently I advertised the USUHS Commandant position. A reader asked:
Any thoughts on whether you think this is a position that would make an O5 competitive for O6?
This is a common issue. A position is advertised, but you want to know if it will help get your promoted to O5 or O6 if you take it. Here is how I’d evaluate that situation.
First, you need to contact the incumbent in that position now, if possible. You’re going to need information that they have.
Now that you’ve contacted that person, you need to ask them some questions:
- Did they or anyone before them promote to O5/O6 while they were in the position or shortly thereafter? In other words, has taking the position led to promotion for those who’ve already done it? If the answer is yes, that is telling and indicative that the position advances people’s careers. If the answer is no, you should probably look elsewhere for a career advancing position.
- How large is their competitive group on their fitreps? You want a position with a large competitive group so that you can perform well and break out to the right with MP and EP fitreps. Competitive EP fitreps are probably the #1 most important ingredient for successful promotion, so if the position has a small competitive group or leads to a 1/1 fitrep, it would be a mark against that position’s potential to get you promoted.
- Were they able to get EP fitreps? They might not tell you this, but if they are willing to give you this info it can help you gauge the potential for you to get EP fitreps while doing the job.
- What do your mentors think about you taking the position? We all need mentors, and I always ask mine what they think when a potential position is in my crosshairs. If they don’t think it is a good idea, I usually pass on it.
That’s it. Those are the things I’d look at when trying to evaluate whether or not a position will help you get promoted. Most of the information needs to come from the incumbent or people who have previously done the job.
If you are particularly interested in this post, I’m sorry. You or someone you care about probably failed to promote. In reality, nowadays it is normal and expected to fail to promote to O5 and O6, so you have company. Here are my suggestions for those that fail to promote.
First, try to figure out why you didn’t promote. Because the promotion board members are not allowed to speak about your board, you’ll never actually find out why you failed to promote, but you can usually take a pretty educated guess if you talk to the right people (like me).
If any of these things happened to you, they are likely a main reason you didn’t promote:
- Any PFA/BCA failures.
- Legal issues, such as a DUI or any other legal trouble.
- Failure to become board certified.
There are other things that could happen to you that make it difficult but not impossible to promote. They include:
- Coming into zone while in you were in GME.
- Having non-observed (NOB) fitreps before the board, such as those in full-time outservice training.
- Spending too much time in the fleet as a GMO, Flight Surgeon, or UMO. This is mostly because it causes you to come into zone for O5 while you are still in GME, and is more of a problem if your residency is long.
- Never getting a competitive early promote (EP) fitrep. Many officers who fail to select have never had a competitive EP fitrep in their current rank. This can be because they were stationed places without competitive groups and they get 1/1 fitreps, or it can be because they were in a competitive group and did not break out and get an EP. To me this is the #1 ingredient to promote…competitive EP fitreps. If you don’t have them, you are really up against it.
- Receiving potentially adverse fitreps. This most commonly happens when you are at an operational command and your reporting senior is not someone who is used to ranking Medical Corps officers, although it could happen for other reasons (like your reporting senior felt you deserved this type of fitrep). The most common situation would be if there is a competitive group of 2 officers but both are given must promote (MP) fitreps instead of 1 getting an EP and the other the MP. When both get an MP, it reflects poorly on both officers unless the reason for this is CLEARLY explained in the fitrep narrative, which it often is not. The other thing that happens is that a reporting senior gives you a 1/1 MP instead of a 1/1 EP. If you are ever getting a 1/1 fitrep, make sure you get an EP. You should consider getting a 1/1 MP an adverse fitrep. If there is no way around this, often because the reporting senior has a policy that they don’t give newly promoted officers an EP, make sure that this policy is clear in the fitrep narrative.
- Having a declining fitrep. Mostly this happens when you go from getting an EP to an MP on your fitrep under the same reporting senior. If it is because you changed competitive groups, like you went from being a resident to a staff physician, that is understandable and not a negative. If you didn’t change competitive groups, though, make sure the reason you declined is explained.
- Making it obvious to the promotion board that you didn’t update your record. The most obvious ways a promotion board will know you didn’t update your record is if your Officer Summary Record (OSR) is missing degrees that you obviously have (like your MD or DO) or if many of the sections of your OSR are either completely blank or required updating by the board recorders. Remember that although promotion board recorders will correct your record for you, anything they do and any corrections they make are annotated to the board. While a few corrections are OK, you don’t want a blank record that the recorders had to fill in. It demonstrates that you didn’t update your record.
So who actually promotes to O5 and O6? In general, the officer who promotes is:
- Board certified.
- Has a demonstrated history of excellence as an officer. In other words, whenever they are in a competitive group, they successfully break out and get an EP fitrep. Being average is just not good enough anymore.
- They have no PFA failures, legal problems, declining fitreps, or potentially adverse fitreps.
- They have updated their record, and if they previously failed to select they reviewed their record with their Detailer and actively worked to improve it.
So what do you do if you were passed over and failed to promote?
Realize that it is not the end of the world. Based on the recent promotion board statistics (which you can get in the Promo Prep), most officers were passed over for O5 or O6, but a large number of the officers selected were from the above zone group.
If you do nothing, you will continue to get looked at by promotion boards until you retire, resign, or are forced out of the Navy. There is no limit to the number of chances you get to promote and your record will be evaluated for promotion every year. That said…
You need to try to promote. Consider sending a letter to the promotion board. What do you say in this letter? First, briefly state that you want to be promoted and to continue your career in the Navy. Second, 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 be a Department Head at a large military treatment facility (MTF) or a Residency Director (or whatever you want to do), tell them that you need to be promoted to be competitive for these jobs. The Navy wants to promote leaders. Make it clear to them that you are a motivated future leader.
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.
Have your record reviewed by your Detailer, Specialty Leader, other trusted senior advisor, or by me. Because of promotion board confidentiality, you will never know the reason(s) you did not promote, but most of the time experienced reviewers 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.
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 a promotion.
As a LCDR who got passed over for CDR, try to get one of these jobs and excel at it (this list is not exhaustive and these positions are not the only path to CDR, but they are a good start):
- Assistant/Associate Residency Director
- Department Head at a small/medium sized MTF
- Senior Medical Officer or Medical Director
- Chair of a hospital committee
- MEC 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)
- MEC President
- Division, Group, or Wing Surgeon
- CATF Surgeon
- Specialty Leader
- Chief Medical Officer (CMO)
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 continuing 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. You can stay in as a LCDR for 20 years, and I personally know of people who got promoted their 9th look!
Whenever a promotion board starts, the members are provided two items to guide them as they decide who to promote, the board precept and the convening order. These documents are available on-line and should be used to figure out how to promote and write your fitrep.
The Board Precept
The precept is released in December and can be seen anytime afterwards. For example, if you go to the FY19 O4 Staff Corps Promotion Board page and click on the link marked with an arrow, you’ll get the board precept even though this board hasn’t started yet:
The Convening Order
The convening order for a promotion board is not released until it starts. If you monitor the board page closely, you’ll usually be able to get it within 1-2 days after the board begins. You just click the link that reads “Board Convening Order”:
Incidentally, this is how I always find out the promotion opportunity for all the boards and post it on the blog. It is in the convening order.
Why You Should Care
You should care about the precept and convening order because they tell you how to promote to the next rank. Go to this page and download them from the most recent boards of your next rank. You can see all the different boards circled in red here:
Click on the board for the next rank you’ll be competing for, and download the precept and convening order. If the board hasn’t happened yet (like the FY19 O4 board), then you’ll have to look at last year’s convening order (FY18).
Use these documents for two things. First, to figure out how to promote. For example, I deconstructed a past O6 convening order here.
Second, use them to come up with wording for your fitrep bullets, as discussed here where I showed you how to pull phrases for your block 41.
The Bottom Line
- Go to this page.
- Get the precept and convening order for your next rank. You might have to go to last year’s board for the convening order if the board hasn’t started yet.
- Use them to figure out how to get promoted and for writing your fitrep.
O5 fitreps are due soon, so it is time for me to write my fitrep. How do I do it? Here are the steps I go through:
- I get the Surgeon General’s priorities and the convening order for last year’s O6 board. (If you were an O4, you’d want the O5 convening order. If you are an O3, you’d want the O4 convening order.)
- I read through them, highlighting the important language (similar to what I did in this very popular post). I do this because I use this exact language to take my accomplishments and frame them in the setting of strategic Navy initiatives. This allows me to demonstrate Navy-wide impact, which is the goal when you are trying to prove to people that you deserve to promote.
- I take my CV, which is the document I use to track my accomplishments, and I edit it so that it only includes what I did during the time period covered by the fitrep. Here’s what was left, which is what I use to build my blocks 29 and 41.
- I print out a copy of my last fitrep.
- I download the Word template you use when drafting a block 41. This template eliminates some of the spacing issues you run into when printing your fitrep only to find that the last line of your block 41 narrative isn’t there anymore.
- I boot up NAVFIT98A and I start writing the fitrep, as outlined in Joel Schofer’s Fitrep Prep.
- Once I have a draft ready, I put it aside for 24 hours and/or have someone else who I trust read over it. Having a mentor or two take a look is always a good idea.
- I read it one more time, ensuring that I spell checked it.
- I submit it up the chain of command.
The standard advice has always gone something like this:
“If you are above zone, you need to send a letter to the promotion board so that they know you are still trying to promote. Otherwise they won’t pick you.”
Now that they no longer stamp officer records with “AZ” (above zone) and they look exactly the same as those records that are in zone, do you still need to write a letter to the board? Has the standard advice changed?
Reasons to Send a Letter to a Promotion Board
I addressed this in a post from a few years ago entitled “Should You Send a Letter to the Promotion Board?” I still agree with just about everything in that post, except for this:
“…you should always send a letter to demonstrate interest in getting promoted when you are above zone.”
In my opinion, you no longer need to send a letter just because you are above zone. If you have another reason to send a letter, then please do. If you are just sending one because you think you have to, I think that is no longer necessary.
The FY18 O6 board convening order states on page 2:
“…in determining which officers are best and fully qualified for promotion, you are required to equally consider both above-zone and in-zone officers.”
What if You’re Not Sure?
As you might imagine, I get asked a lot whether someone should send a letter to the promotion board. This is my standard response…
Pretend that you did not send a letter to the board, the board is over, and you were not selected for promotion. Are you going to be kicking yourself for not sending the letter? If the answer is yes or maybe, then send the letter. As long as you keep it short and sweet, there is no real downside.
Frankly, I think that when officers send letters to promotion boards they are often just making themselves feel better, and there is nothing wrong with that. You want to make sure that when the promotion board results come out, no matter what happened, you feel like you did everything you could to get promoted.
The Bottom Line
If you are above zone and want to send the letter just so there is no regret, feel free, but it is definitely not required to be considered for promotion.
During the last Specialty Leader Business Meeting, the Detailing Update mentioned that there were about 10 cases of officers who lost their promotion due to a security clearance issue. As a result, I added a new section to the Promo Prep document. In it you can find out how to check your security clearance. Here’s what I added:
Step 8 – Check Your Security Clearance
If your security clearance is expired, you won’t promote. To check on its status, go to blocks 92 and 93 of your Officer Data Card (ODC). Here is what mine says:
Block 92 – VV1015
Block 93 – 1115
What does this mean? The letters and dates in order are the level of clearance you are eligible for, the level of clearance you have, the date your investigation was initiated (MMYY format), and in block 93 the date your clearance was granted (MMYY format).
My first “V” means I am eligible for a “Top Secret – SCI Eligible” clearance. The second “V” means I actually have one. Here is a list of the various codes you might see:
The second date in block 93, “1115” in my case, is the important one. A Top Secret clearance is good for 6 years, so I should be good until NOV 2021. A Secret clearance, which is what most of you will have, is good for 10 years.
If your security clearance will expire within the next year or you have any questions about this, you should go to your security manager to renew it. Don’t let a promotion slip by because you had an expired clearance. It happens more than you would think.
A reader recently asked me for help preparing for a big interview that I had done in the past (the interview to become a Specialty Leader). We both thought that interview prep would be a good blog post, so here is my advice after 10+ interviews for significant leadership positions:
- Be prepared for an in-depth and long interview. My interview for Specialty Leader was with VADM Bono when she was a two star and the Navy Medical Corps Chief. It thought that it was going to be 15-20 minutes with a max of 30 minutes because she was (is) so busy. She talked to me for an hour and 15 minutes and it was a very, very thorough and in-depth interview. Although I got the position, I probably should have been more mentally prepared for the possibility that it could have lasted over an hour.
- Always have a reasonable understanding about the current state of the position you are interviewing for. I ensure this by talking with the incumbent for at least 15 minutes about the position. Ask how it is going, what they liked or didn’t like about it, what has gone well and what hasn’t, etc. In addition, try to meet with their immediate supervisor to ask them a few questions about the position. I try to find out what they would like out of the position in the future, what they need more of, and what their strategic priorities are.
- Make sure you’ve read all of the core strategic documents. To me, these include the Navy Medicine Commander’s Guidance (Short Version and Long Version), the DHA Director’s Priorities and Vision, and your command’s mission/vision statements. There may be others, depending on what you’re interviewing for. For example, I like this article on Value Based Healthcare.
- If given the position, always have a plan for what you want to do in the future. Ideally, your plan needs to support the strategic documents in #3 above.
- Tell the truth and be honest to yourself. In other words, don’t try to be who you think they want. Be who you are. If you’re not what they want, it is probably better if you don’t get the job anyway.
- As soon as you are done with the interview, write down the questions they asked. Then you can use these questions to prepare for future interviews. The list of questions I’ve been asked in the last few years include:
- What do you see as the role of (insert whatever position you’re interviewing for)?
- What has prepared you for this position?
- How do you see yourself in this position supporting the Surgeon General’s strategic initiatives?
- What do you see as the role of the senior enlisted leader?
- Describe your leadership style.
- How would you handle a disagreement between you and the CO?
- How do you handle it when you make a decision and someone who works for you disagrees with you?
- How would you handle the multiple priorities associated with being a director, especially as it relates to GME?
- How do you see your role on the Executive Steering Committee/Command Evaluation Board?
- What are your top 3 priorities?
- What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how have they impacted you as a leader?
- How do you think you and your direct boss/supervisor will work together?
- What part of the directorate is most interesting to you?
- Why did you apply for this job?
- What are your biggest leadership challenges?
- How do you handle disagreement or conflict?
- Tell me about your leadership style.
- As soon as the results of the interview are released, no matter whether you got the position or not, always ask a few of your interviewers for feedback so you can grow professionally. They’re usually happy to give both positive and negative feedback.