Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Personal statements on an officer package

My name must be out there for getting officer interviews and recommendations, because I've had more than a few come my way the past two months (many from outside my detachment too!).  And that is awesome!  I always enjoy reading personal statements, reviewing officer packages and talking to Sailors who want to make that jump from enlisted to officer.

I think there is a lot of mystery on what to write on a personal statement.  More than a few people have indicated there are "secret" words and phrases that somehow make or break you on a board, or that you MUST talk about some subjects in order to even be considered.  As if the board is made of robots and not people!

So let's talk about that personal statement....

First, your personal statement will never make up for a lack of skills or qualifications.  You can be the best orator in the world, but if you aren't qualified for the job, the board will likely not pick you.  And heaven help you should you have poor grammar and sentence structure!

The end goal of your personal statement is to paint the picture of YOU in the minds of the board members, such that the board members can see YOU functioning as a junior officer in the community and potentially as a senior leader later on.

A big key is that it's a personal statement about YOU.  Boilerplate stuff is typically ignored and puts you in the pile of people that are forgotten.  Make sure your statement talks about you.  A good way to test this is to have someone else read it and say "Did I see Petty Officer X in this statement, or could it have applied to another Sailor?"

Although there aren't any secret phrases, there are some key topics to hit on:

- How long do you plan to stay in if selected?  A board would naturally want someone that is younger and has career goals.  Most people will assume you'll hit at least ten years in order to retire, but we already have plenty of 20 year LCDRs.  If you have longer career aspirations, talk about that.
- What sort of impact do you want to have?  Do you want to command Sailors?  Are you a technical genius that wants to spread good ideas in a specific way?  Talk about how if you become an officer, you'll get a chance to have a specific impact in some area you feel passionate about.
- And speaking of passion, have some.  You're probably passionate about something in your job.  Talk about how that passion will help you as an officer. 
- If you have something in your record that might be a negative (NJP, broken service, etc.) that must be seen by the board, part of your statement can be used to explain it.  For example, let's say you got out of the Navy, then came back in.  Use part of your statement to explain how that time confirmed your decision to be in the Navy, and how that experience can help you mentor those thinking of getting out.

While you are interviewing with officers in the community you want to join, ask them about what your first two tours would look like as a junior officer.  Then, in your statement, talk about how you'd fit into your new community and why you'd do well in those sort of roles.  I'm always shocked by Sailors that think their enlisted experience immediately translates into officer experience, like somehow a Naval Officer is simply an upgraded and better-paid Sailor.  It's NOT.  It's a different job, requiring different skills and expertise to succeed.  The board members know this and have likely experienced prior-enlisted Sailors that regress to enlisted behavior...with disastrous results.  By using part of your statement to show how you'd fit in and do well at what junior officers do, you help paint that image to the board that you're the perfect pick for the community.

Lastly, read a bit about your community and pick up on common themes.  Read your communities strategy.  Read about the operations your community does.  Read about the COs in your community that did well and won awards, as well as the ones that failed and were fired.  That's what you're potentially walking into, and your statement should show how you're going to fit in and make that place better.