Monday, June 23, 2014

The Secret Code of the Officer Detailing Language

Detailers have a full set of sales pitches to smooth the process of getting you to the job they want you to take. Let us discuss a few of them. From RADM Winnifield's - Career Compass

"We need your expertise in the job."

In this pitch the detailer emphasizes your experience in a similar job and the need for it in a follow-on job. In this formulation you are a pro whose abilities are badly needed in the open billet. On the other hand, if you have never been in a similar assignment before, the detailer may pitch it by saying, "You need to broaden your area of expertise to become promotable or more assignable downstream."

"This job requires a high-performing officer."
This pitch is not only to your ego but also to get you into a billet that demands a high performer. The detailer is telling you that the placement officer will not accept just anybody to fill the open billet. The implication is that the billet is a plus in your career planning. But the detailer may also be telling you that you may be put in with a group of highly motivated individuals where the competition will be fierce (which is not all bad).

"This job calls for an officer in the grade of [the next highest rank]."
This pitch means that no qualified officer was available at the higher grade to fill the billet. You should ask why. Chances are that it is a less-desirable billet at that grade and that they had a hard time finding an officer to fill it. Therefore, the system has downshifted to fill it. This can be an opportunity, but it is just as likely that the billet has been misgraded.

"You were recommended (or asked for) to fill this billet."
This sales pitch is another appeal to your ego. Being asked for is nice, but is this a job that fits in with your progression to screening for command? How will it look to a promotion board? The people who asked for you or recommended you will not be identifiable to or known by the boards unless the billet is a high-visibility one (in which case there is no problem). A variant of this pitch is that you are among two or three nominees for the job-and the nominees are well known to you to be high performers.

"Your timing is great."

In this pitch the detailer knows you are coming up before a screening or promotion board (say in the next year) and that the job on offer will enhance your resume. In a variation of this pitch, the detailer will say that the boss is well known and that it would be in your interest to have a fitness report signed by that individual before the board meets. Another variation is that you will get to the command just before it deploys and hence will get valuable experience and a chance for a more impressive fitness report. There are many other variations of this game. It is like timing the stock market to buy or sell. You can get stung badly if you are wrong in the face of a fickle future. Remember: job first, timing second.

"You need more operational experience."

This statement may be true, but some operational experiences are better than others. To go to sea and be put on a deployable staff is helpful in one way, but if it delays assignment to a department head or command track billet, it is not as good as a ship or squadron billet.

"You have been selected for postgraduate instruction."

This may be just what you want. To be selected (meaning you made the cut) and to have an opportunity to earn a degree and to have some shore duty after an arduous sea tour can sound great. But be careful. Is that what you really want to do? Getting an advanced degree indicates one or two payback assignments are in your future. Are those payback tours likely to be in career-enhancing jobs?

"We need you back ashore."
The implication is that you have been at sea or in command long enough and that it is time to give others a chance. Never be talked into leaving a sea command early, no matter who wants you. You should leave command kicking and screaming. A year in command simply is not long enough to learn the business.

"This is a joint (or combined) billet."
Here the detailer will point out, if you do not already know it, that joint or combined duty is a prerequisite for selection to flag rank. But the type of billet (is it with the J-3 in the Joint Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or in a small joint technical field activity?) and the timing (should you be at sea at this point?) are important factors. Keep your eye on your objective: qualifying for command. Your flag hurdles should take second in priority behind getting ready for command. That said, you would have a leg up in flag selection if you have already had your joint tour.

"You need the flight hours."

This ploy is normally used with aviators who are to be ordered to flying billets ashore. You may need the flight hours-or at least they would help you as you go up the ladder and strive to screen for squadron command. But a prior question is, why did you not get the needed hours in an earlier tour?

"You are going as an aide to the admiral."
Many years ago flag lieutenants were designated as staff communicators. These days flag lieutenants (at sea) and aides (ashore) are more the personal assistants than key members of the staff. They are seldom involved with the substance of the staff's business. Rarely would an admiral ask an aide's opinion on a major matter of substance in making a decision. Aide jobs can be good jobs, but not for the reasons you may think. You may think that you can do no wrong to be working directly for an admiral. You may think that the admiral may be able to help you with getting a plum follow-on assignment. This is wrong thinking, however. Moreover, your admiral almost surely will be long retired before that individual would have influence (if any) for the critical milestones for your career. My advice is to go into an aide tour with your eyes wide open. Filling the job does not mean you are one of the anointed; it is an interesting detour as you prepare yourself for command. If you have any control in the matter, do not stay in the job long. In a year you can learn most of what there is to learn.

"There are a lot of perks with the job."
You do not hear this as much today. In days past, a captain stationed in command overseas might have a number of perks: a personal auto and driver, special allowances, government quarters, household help-and even a personal aircraft and crew in some overseas assignments. Today the perks are more modest and in most cases limited to a few overseas jobs. It is axiomatic today that a good career job has terrible hours, family separation, no government quarters, some personal danger, a great deal of workplace pressure to produce, and often is located in a threatening neighborhood-or all of the above.

"This is a new (and important?) billet."
Billets are being established and disestablished daily. Just because the billet is new does not mean it is on the career main line. Many such billets are highly specialized, and their importance may be fad related. The Navy has fads as does any large organization. Special program billets can be very trendy and tricky, so buyer beware.

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