Saturday, January 16, 2016

Before you interview to become an officer...

As an officer, I often get asked to conduct interviews for enlisted Sailors seeking to apply to be an officer.  Too often, the Sailor seems to think that everything is easier as an Officer: better pay, better housing, and better working hours.  It comes as a surprise to many that if I applied the same effort I would make far more outside the military, not lose money moving every 2-3 years, and work less hours than I do now.

I've become tired of receiving candidates who apply to officer programs with a "it's the next thing to do" attitude.  Sorry kid, this isn't high school to college.  My job isn't always fun, and I take lots of lumps that most people don't see, as does my family.  I know I'm not the only one that thinks this way.

Or for that matter, your unimpressive 3.0 EVAL
I also have had my own issues with prior enlisted officers that forget they've become officers.  I've had at least one officer tell me "If I was still enlisted I'd be a Master Chief now."  Really?  Then you should have stayed enlisted, because you are in a different job with different expectations.

I've been collecting questions that I regularly ask on interviews to help determine if I'd actually want someone to join my ranks, or if they are motivated for all the wrong reasons.  I decided to list a few below:

1. What are the differences between the oath for enlisted vs. officer?

The enlisted oath is:

I, [name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

The officer oath is:

I, [name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Subtle differences in the language, large when you think about it.  Officers are expected to discharge duties of their office, meaning their job will be whatever they are told to do.  You have to "grow where you are planted," and often that has nothing to do with what you thought you were hired for.  Outside your rating is no longer an excuse to not perform. 

If you can't talk to these differences during an interview, it tells me you don't recognize the difference in expectations, and that you are possibly a bad fit.

2. What are you reading?  What have you written lately?

A LOT of enlisted Sailors don't read (and many officers don't either, sadly).  That is disappointing, considering the plethora of libraries on base with all their free books.  I expect officers to read and keep learning.  Not having good reading habits early is a barrier to learning.  The same goes for writing.  If all you write are bullets for your EVAL and Facebook posts, you aren't impressing me.

3. What does your spouse think of you becoming an officer?

We forget that being an officer is a family affair.  Work/life balance is a joke, your work will get more of you than family, so you need to think about how you take care of your family.  Plus, how will your spouse respond when petty officer X's spouse is mad you marked said petty officer down on the last EVAL cycle?  Especially for small commands, the jump from enlisted to officer can be hard on the family and it should be discussed early.

4. Where do you see yourself in 10 years professionally, personally and financially?

Most people think only two years out at best.  I want long term thinkers in the officer corps, someone who is trying to imagine the future, because ultimately officers are expected to create change wherever they are assigned.  I also want people who are thinking about and planning to take care of their families so that they don't fall apart halfway through their career.  Lastly, if someone doesn't take care of their finances, they won't be eligible for the security clearance needed later in their career.

5. What will you do if you don't get selected?

If you don't have a plan...well, how can you be an officer and be expected to make plans?

There isn't a "right" answer to the questions above.  Not everyone is a writer.  Not everyone has a supportive spouse.  If you have thought long and hard about being an officer though, you'll have answers to the questions above and be able to talk intelligently about them.