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Don’t be a bystander … manage your career

  • Published
  • By Joyce Shively
  • 375th Director of Staff
Several years ago, an officer I worked with was completing his outprocessing steps to PCS. We started talking about his next assignment and his career plans, when I stopped him. I explained to him that while his goal for an Air Force Institute of Technology funded advanced degree was on target, his timeline was off--by about two years! We spent the next hour reviewing his career, goals and strategies to accomplish them, and then set up some reasonable target dates. Getting ready to leave, he told me that no one had ever sat him down and given him any career guidance, ever!

I was shocked. Since my initial supervisor to two mentors whom I had deep respect for, I'd benefitted from having at least an annual feedback, having opportunities discussed, and having a corps-developed career ladder to help me plan for a successful career. The expectations for career progression had been ingrained early on ... there were skills to demonstrate, a path of expected positions to be held, PME and advanced education, and even certification that should be attained based on grade.

So how did this person not know how to reach his goal? The answer: he had neglected to do his research and was trusting that someone else would tell him when to take action. Now I'm not saying that his supervisors didn't let him down, because they did. But the individual must be an active participant in planning and executing their careers to stay on the track for success. Below are some basic actions that are within your purview to control and are dependent on your actions to keep you moving in the right direction.

Review your record every year. Between the vMPF and the Airman Development Plan websites, you have access to all your important personnel documents. Review your SURF for accuracy, make sure your OPRs or EPRs are posted in your record, and keep your ADP current. Review the Development Team's comments and discuss them with your supervisor.

Request feedback. By AFI a supervisor is required to provide documented feedback twice a year. The ratee can also request it. This is a joint venture to discuss positive performance, areas for improvement, and establish short and long-term goals with objectives to meet the goals.

Provide input. You need to keep a log of everything you do and the outcomes to those activities. Don't rely on your supervisor to "know what you do." Don't risk your evaluation on your supervisor's recollection of your performance and its significance in the last 365 days.

Don't get hung up on a job title. A duty title means nothing if you do nothing. Your job performance is what counts and what those around you will notice. Review the job description; it should reflect the scope, supervisory span and key duties of the position.

Do PME. As soon as you are eligible, start your PME. Don't wait until the last minute. No PME, no promotion.

Know the expectations of your career field. If your field expects that everyone should have certificate X, then you should take the appropriate steps to obtain certificate X. For officers, having an advanced degree is extremely important for promotion; different corps expect to see it attained by different times in a person's career so don't lag behind. Check out the AFPC web site for more information on career ladders. Review promotion board results and watch for trends.

The bottom line is to be an informed consumer. Seek guidance on the next job and know the requirements to attain it, ask for feedback, take opportunities to stretch your talents. Don't be caught two years behind--take the lead to actively manage your career path!