Planning your career - Don't get ahead of yourself

  • Published
  • By Frank McGowan
  • Director, 412th Logistics Test Squadron
Have you ever heard that common expression, "No one is going to look out for your career better than you are?"

Anyone with more than a couple of years of service in the military or as a federal employee has certainly heard this. The more senior members have a better feel for what it means than the junior members, and for the most part it is a statement we all pretty much understand.

Or maybe, it was being told to find a mentor; does that sound familiar?

We all remember our first mentor, someone who took us under their wing and fed us those little nuggets of wisdom we still carry to this day. Plus, they helped make sense of the many different and seemingly complicated career choices available to us.

Those choices can seem quite daunting when you are a young Airman, junior officer or new civil servant on your first assignment and you're just trying to understand the basics of your primary duties and how the Air Force as a whole works. There is a lot of sound advice available to help us manage our careers step-by-step as we move through the years and hopefully fulfill our aspirations. I want to touch on a very simple principle that has been very beneficial to me throughout my career.

One of the best pieces of advice I received for managing my career was given to me, really before my career even began. As a trainee in Officer Training School at Lackland AFB, Texas, my instructor was a senior captain. To this day I do not know if the discussion about what job you get was part of his lesson plan or he was just sharing with us his thoughts. He was talking about individuals who are so caught up with moving up the ladder, that all they focus on or talk about is where their next assignment is or what their next job will be, not giving their full attention to the job at hand.

Of course, he was cautioning us not to be like those individuals and this is what he said to our class, "The best way to take care of your next job is by taking care of the job you are in now." When I heard that as a young officer trainee, it just seemed to make perfect sense; it was one of those little nuggets of wisdom that just dropped into my lap and has stuck with me throughout the years.

Some of you are now saying "What is so "important" about that advice, of course you have to do well in your current job to get a better one." What did the OTS instructor mean when he said "taking care of the job you are in now?" Did he mean go to work each day, keep your nose clean and do a good job? Yes, but he was really communicating much more than that.

He meant give 110 percent to everything you do each and every day. Be a team player that others can count on under any circumstance. Do not complain about what jobs or tasks you or your unit are being asked to accomplish, but take them on and produce nothing but top-notch results. Pay attention to the little details in each job you are given and not just the "big rocks." Bring solutions to your boss and not just problems. Lastly, treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Now, this list is not all inclusive and I could expand upon each principle expressed, but if you make an effort to follow these principles you can become a respected expert in your job and people will start to seek you out to help them solve the difficult problems they face in their jobs. Over time, you can be sure your boss and your bosses' boss will take notice and you will become one of those go-to people who exist in every organization. In addition, the aforementioned work habits are what lead to doors opening up for that next job.

Your reputation for doing excellent work and being a go-to person will precede you and when the right person is being sought for that tough assignment or to fill that key position, your name will be on the short list of candidates, or better yet it will be a by-name request with your name on it.

Now I am not suggesting you don't engage in sound career planning and setting future job objectives. I highly encourage you to think about where you want to be two or even five years from now and lay out a plan to get there. I also encourage you to seek out senior personnel to get their advice and learn from their experiences setting a career path. Additionally, find a mentor you can go to and get their honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses so you can set a course to build on those strengths and develop those areas that need improvement.

But, remember this - if you do not excel in the job you are in now, opportunities to take on greater responsibility or expand your worth to the organization will not avail themselves. So, be the absolute best you can be in the job you are doing today and most likely the next one will take care of itself.