10 tips for getting promoted

  • Published
  • By Col. Kurt Leslie
  • 149th Maintenance Group

The $64,000 dollar question that I think everyone would like answered is "How do I get promoted?” Or better yet, “How do I get promoted NOW!” I have been in the military for 38 years so I have a few thoughts on the subject. I have been a commander in the Texas Air National Guard for more than 23 years. I was also enlisted for 15 years and have seen first hand some things you can do to position yourself for promotion.  The 149th Fighter Wing is committed to promoting the most qualified Airmen who can give the wing the best possible chance to accomplish the mission. I have compiled my own top ten list of things you can do to help you get that next promotion in the Texas ANG. 

  • Know your stuff

Whatever your career field is, be the expert. Never turn down a training opportunity. If you are interested in moving up to the next level, find out everything you can about it, to include the accountability that goes along with it. I can’t tell you how many interviews I have done where applicants don’t know what the requirements are for that position or rank, and at times relied on the hiring or promotion board to educate them. Furthermore, obtain the appropriate skill level by completing your career development courses and on-the-job training requirements at the earliest possible moment. Finally, gathering information about the next level can help you identify and fill in any knowledge gaps and possibly position yourself for that next promotion. If you come across as only being interested in the next promotion and not about doing your current job to the best of your ability, chances are promotions will be hard to come by. 

  • Bond with your boss

Believe it or not, your supervisor is between you and your next promotion. Commanders depend heavily on your supervisor to make a recommendation on your next promotion.  Take the time to sit down with your supervisor and have them explain your place in the organization. Ask them their opinion on what it’s going to take to get to the next level and have them document the conversation. That way you can review your progress with him or her at your next feedback session. Develop a relationship with your supervisor so that they know that you have their best interest at heart. Also, if you think your supervisor is holding you back, go to the next level in the chain of command to assist you in meeting your career goals. 

  • Build a network

Every now and then there are opportunities to get involved in a wing project that requires coordination with other parts of the wing. This is an excellent way you can branch out to other organizations and develop a network of contacts and sources of information. Getting to know other people in the wing and around the Air National Guard can be of great benefit to your career. 

  • Know your worth

Keep track of your accomplishments and contributions to the wing. Quantify the results as much as possible. Keep this information so you can answer the question, “How do you know you are getting better?” Supervisors and commanders can’t be everywhere all the time. Sometimes they need you to remind them how great you really are. 

  • Give off good vibes

Many effective leaders have positive can-do attitudes that are contagious within and outside their organizations. They make you feel good just to be in the same room with them. If you have nothing good to say about the wing or Air National Guard, do what my parents taught me: “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.”  However, if you have a legitimate concern, use your chain of command to get it resolved because that is why we are here. When bringing up issues, offer a solution and be part of the solution, not the problem. Also make everyone around you better. The secret to being successful at the next level is that it is not about you anymore; it is all about the mission and your people’s success. I was asked on a promotion board once what can you do as a colonel that you cannot do as a lieutenant colonel? My answer was “nothing.” Rank should not limit your effort in getting things done.  

  • Get noticed

Gain visibility by getting involved in high-impact and high-profile events. The wing is always looking for volunteers for different programs, and often it’s the same people volunteering all the time.  Wing Christmas parties, retirement events, public speaking, CFC or deployment coordinator are just some examples. Look for opportunities. 

  • Look the part

If you want to be promoted to the next level, at least look like you are ready for the next level. Press your uniform or have it professionally done. If you want to be the next wing command chief or a shop supervisor, dress the part. This even includes casual days. 

  • Make your own opportunities

Align your aspirations with the wing’s needs. If you see an area that needs your talents don’t be afraid to offer your assistance. Always make yourself available and take the attitude that you are never off the clock. Also, complete your PME at the earliest possible time. Too many times positions go unfilled because of a failure to complete PME.  Furthermore, I would highly recommend in-residence. I have attended four in-residence PME courses in my career and I got much more from an in-residence course than I did from the correspondence courses.  I learned more about the total force from my classmate’s experiences than I ever did from a book. Also, complete your CCAF sooner rather than later. Education is always a good thing, and it is something no one can take away from you. 

  • Have patience

Promotions sometimes take longer in the Air National Guard, but when the door for upward mobility opens, be ready to walk through it. I know when I look to promote a chief, I want them to have a diverse background. Remember, a supervisor’s retirement or resignation in the organization could be your next opportunity. Patience really is a virtue.

  • Be in the right place at the right time

Be realistic with your expectations. If your promotion timeline does not match with your current place in the organization, look into other organizations for opportunities. Some areas offer substantial bonuses and future promotions that may meet your timeline. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. There may be opportunities in other career fields. Finally, you never know when an opportunity is going to come up, so be ready when it does. Take charge of your career.

I wish you all the best of luck and hope to see you on your next promotion board.