Commentary | July 7, 2021

Officers: Managing your career  

By Cmdr. James “Jim” Bendle and Lt. Cmdr. Jodie Knox, Career Management Branch Officer Personnel Management (OPM-4) 

Did you know that OPM has resources and career counselors to help you manage your career? Do you have a good idea of what to do next?  If not, hopefully this article will introduce a few new considerations and provide helpful tips on submitting eResumes, reviewing your record and taking advantage of career counseling services.   

Virtual road shows and Podcasts

Many of you may have tuned into the OPM virtual road shows that kicked off in November 2020 in the Officer Personnel Management Virtual Road Show ALCGOFF 181/20, and learned how to better manage your career. We discussed a variety of topics including how boards and panels work, the Officer Specialty Management System (OSMS 2.0), career advice from assignment officers and much more. The goal of these roadshows is to provide best practices for officer career management. If you missed one, not to worry. You can view the recorded version on the OPM4 portal as podcasts. Our goal at OPM4 is to provide you with information that you can use, specifically regarding the promotion and assignment process, to manage your career. 

Do you have overall career questions? Within the Career Management Branch of OPM-4 we have career managers who want to talk with you about your plans. These career managers can guide officers across paygrades and offer advice on what to do next. Some general advice - to be successful in your career, know your specialty and your sub-specialties. Find a mentor –or multiple mentors – who are able to provide first-hand experience about the qualifications you need, jobs you should apply for, and what you need to do to get those assignments. 

What a successful officer track-line looks like

Careers are so much more than looking toward the next board – it is setting yourself up for selection and, as an officer, you need to understand how to get there. For the most part, successful officers understand how performance, professionalism, leadership and education (PPLE) apply to their record. They adjust their career track-line accordingly to achieve the necessary qualifications, competencies, experience and leadership. In addition, officers should recognize the importance the Officer Specialty Management System 2.0 (OSMS) on an individual’s record and its relationship to the assignment process.  Another excellent source of information to gain fidelity on successful career management is the Guidance and Eligibility Criteria for Officer Personnel Boards and Panels (CG PSCINST 1401.1B).  

For junior officers, establishing a primary officer specialty before reaching the tenured grade of lieutenant commander is an important milestone. Officer specialties appear on an officer’s Employee Summary Sheet (ESS), which selection boards and panels view. Most importantly, OSMS enables selection boards or panels to view officer progression across all specialties under a standardized apprentice, journeyman and master framework. Although progression through OSMS can span across multiple PPLE dimensions, it mostly falls into the professionalism category and enables selection board and panel members to equate how an afloat officer (for example) is progressing in comparison with an aviation officer of the same grade. If a selection board cannot determine what the officer’s specialty is or what positions or job types they could potentially serve in at the next paygrade, it may be difficult to make the case for best-qualified selection. 

The Guidance and Eligibility Criteria for Officer Personnel Boards and Panels (CG PSC 1401.1.B) contains a table outlining eligibility criteria and experience levels preferred or required for all command types. Seeking positions of increasing leadership and responsibility should be a fundamental goal for an officer. Keeping future command opportunities in mind while crafting an eResume ensures eligibility criteria is considered at each grade and informs recommendations an officer could seek from their rating chain in their evaluation potential block.  

If you have not seen it, the shopping list for commanders and below has a new format. It is presented in a sortable spreadsheet, and offers more information than any shopping list to date. Pay particular attention to the “description of duties block”, which states what is expected of the officer and what impact the person in that role has on the service. Most incumbents are listed and, if you have a question regarding the job, the person currently in that position is a great source of information. This information can also inform recommendations an officer should seek from their rating chain in the potential block on their evaluation.  

Consider prioritizing positions that support specialty progression over geographic preferences; choose jobs that provide opportunity to acquire necessary qualifications, experience and competencies. The most informed officers revisit their primary specialty requirements every time they craft an eResume and include jobs that accomplish what OSMS 2.0 lays out as the next required “wicket” in order to progress to apprentice, journeyman and master levels as well as levels I, II, III and IV within those subspecialties. 

If your eResume only lists jobs based on geographic desires or personal interests (for example, position history is solely law enforcement), you could be missing the most important parts of the equation, such as career progression and leadership opportunities within a chosen specialty. Of course, life is complicated, and personal factors need to be considered when crafting an eResume. Balancing both personal needs and career progression as outlined in specialty officer requirements is something to consider over multiple tours of duty.    

Preparing for a selection board…  

Good records management is crucial in preparing for a best-qualified board. Best practices entail ordering your Official Military Personnel File (formally known as the EIPDR) one year in advance of the board to ensure that all documents are in place. Consider the ESS to be akin to a “table of contents” for the awards and educational transcripts in your record. If they are listed on your ESS, they should be in your record for the board’s review. If you choose not to review your record, you may be signaling poor records management to a board or panel. Also, submitting an updated and robust record of professional development (CG-4082) prior to the board suggests that you have reviewed your record and maximized the education and professionalism dimensions by amplifying significant accomplishments not documented in your OER or ESS. You can find clear guidance on what should go into a CG-4082 outlined on the OPM-4 Portal page. OPM-4 also provides the officer corps with record reviews, and active duty promotion list 
(ADPL) officers are encouraged to request one.

Although each specialty varies, it typically takes at least two assignments in an officer’s chosen specialty to meet all necessary qualifications, competencies, and time requirements in order to achieve the journeyman level.

Many junior officers--especially Coast Guard Academy graduates--may begin their careers in assignments that are not in the specialty track they desire to be in, and that’s okay.  However, when it comes to the end of a third assignment, an officer’s primary specialty should be solidified and recognizable. If the lieutenant commander promotion board cannot determine what your specialty is or what positions or job types you can serve in at the next paygrade, it will be difficult to make a case for potential at the next grade and, ultimately, where you stand as a best qualified candidate above all others. This is because an officer typically goes in zone for lieutenant commander about nine to 10 years after their date of commission. Of course, this timeline varies based on projected and actual promotion zone sizes but is a reasonable benchmark on which to build long-term plans. Most specialties require five to six years in specialty across two separate tours to reach the journeyman level. Considering this, take a 
look at the time and qualification requirements for your career specialty and use this timing to plan what you aim to achieve within that pre- lieutenant commander window.  

Of course less traditional paths--when officers change specialties, are working on dual specialties or don’t have a clear path solidified at the lieutenant commander grade--can still have a successful career based on a variety of other factors, such as taking challenging, high-risk or highly visible assignments, being further along with educational pursuits, and performing above expectations.  Most career officers establish a primary specialty and either one secondary specialty or specialty experience indicator(s).  Aggressive pursuit of more than two primary specialties is generally counterproductive.  

Additional career enhancing information

Consider taking advantage of the Coast Guard’s new professional development opportunity, the Coast Guard Mentoring Program, which offers a variety of mentoring relationships to help you build knowledge and skills in your areas of interest. The program uses by modernized, portable software that applies algorithms to optimize matches between mentors and mentees, and amongst group members. This could be just what you need to become a stronger job candidate! Read more about this program on MyCG. 

Please keep in mind, if you want someone to review your employee record and provide specific guidance on how to take your career to the next level, email OPM-4.  This career counseling is only available for officers at this time, but there have been discussions about expanding the service for enlisted members and civilians.  

Sign up for an officer career virtual road show where you’ll have the opportunity to engage with assignment officers and learn many other career planning nuggets; or, access recorded sessions on the OPM-4 portal site after they occur. Send a counseling or joint record review request to the OPM-4 inbox and start taking proactive steps to make long-term plans for a successful career!

So, stay tuned! More officer career guidance to come on MyCG

*If you’d like to ask OPM a general question, please email us. When we get enough questions, we’ll compile and post responses to Portal and MyCG.

Resources:

  • OPM-4 Portal Page
  • Coast Guard Mentoring Program
  • Record of Professional Development (CG 4082)
  • MyCG article: Coast Guard Mentoring Program enrollment now open