How to be Promoted FAST in the Military

Caveat: Promotions aren’t everything, your experiences may vary, you won’t get the support you need, and life is not fair. This isn’t for everyone. Its intent is to share with you, inspire you, and encourage the best in you.

I lost my first stripe in the military. After that experience, a supervisor helped me create a game plan to make every rank the first time. Fourteen years later, I made E-9. Here’s what I did.

1. Write down the exact timeline: When the board is, the month of the promotion test, the promotion selection month, and the approximate time of sew-on. This step is critical-you must know when you should be studying and when to do other things (school, vacations, hobbies, etc.)

2. Practice standardized testing: It’s a must-do. Take every test you can to practice your timing, guessing ability, short-term memory, and ability to focus. I took the AFOQT, SAT, ACT, and 30 CLEP/DANTES exams to keep my test-taking skills sharp. Not good at tests? Simply practice. Over and over.

3. Write out your why: Why do you want a promotion? Here’s mine. I felt I had failed the military, my family, and myself when I lost the stripe. I used that guilt, failure, and sense of loss to fuel an unstoppable passion to give back to the Air Force. Healthy or balanced? No. But hopefully I have years ahead of me to work it out in counseling.

4. Paint a picture: To serve at the highest level, you must build leadership qualities. Spend time on developing these qualities and write performance reports to reflect your actions. “Managed hazardous energy control program…” Boring! “Led 45 unit safety reps to drive down #1 hazardous energy risk” Much better.

5. Red Team (How will you fail?): It’s easy to think forward and hope for success. But thinking about failure is many times more important. Used by everyone from Gen Stanley McChrystal and special ops teams to fighter jet training, red teaming is thinking through how a plan will fail and allows you to set controls in place to prevent failure. An example: You might fail to pass a fitness test because you did not prepare. So schedule every workout in advance. Practice the fitness test. You should red team everything important, from deployments to studying for promotion exams.

5. Ask advice: Constantly pursue excellence. Ask people who are getting promoted how they did it. Don’t rely on random tips from the average performer if average is not your goal.

I believe in you. No matter what rank, no matter how many times it takes you to test successfully, no matter if anyone else believes in you…I do. If you’re promoted and did it honorably, built others up, helped your team along the way, and served with pride, you did (and continue to do) it right.


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