Have you been advised to never put your most desirable choices near the top of your wish list because you are destined not to get your top choice? The reality is that someone will get their top choice, so how do they do it? How do you get that choice PCS assignment in interesting commands, exchange programs in Australia, the White House, or the most sought after units? Someone has to get them… is it luck? No, it’s about initiative. Here is a 5 step guide to finding (and hopefully getting) the best assignments
Note: This approach will work better in some branches and communities within the military, as different communities have different degrees of flexibility. It is also probably the most practical for those E-6 and above, but the concept is the same for everyone.
1. Find out what assignments are becoming available
The biggest hurdle to landing the best PCS assignment is often just knowing where they are. Your branch manager/monitor/detailer is unlikely to call you and tell you that a new position is available in London, for example, or in your speciality’s most prestigious unit - so you can’t just wait for options to come to you - you have to seek them out.
To find the best assignments, tap into your network. RallyPoint is the best way to discover those opportunities, but you can also reach out to your mentors, former leaders, and friends who are just a few years ahead of you. Beginning about a year before your re-assignment date, ask others about interesting opportunities, and have them ask their friends for you as well. By using RallyPoint, your 50 contacts can turn into 2500 contacts asking on your behalf, if all your friends/mentors ask their friends/mentors. Using the RallyPoint Military Assignments Career Corner, you will also be shown all PCS openings of other RallyPoint members around your next rotation date. Sooner or later you’ll find a few assignments opening up around the time of your PCS date that you find interesting or compelling for your career. Congratulations, you’ve just overcome the hardest step!
2. Reach out to the person holding the assignment to learn more about the role
Now that you know of a few assignments that you find interesting, you’ll want to learn a lot more about them, and learn from the people in those assignments. How did they get the assignment? Likely they went through many of the steps described in this article, and you can learn a lot from them.
Remember not to just ask questions like “how do I get this job?” - that makes your call/emails seem pushy and inappropriate. Instead, ask broader questions like “How do you like the position?” “How do you like the unit”? and “What recommendations do you have for somebody like me who is interested in these kinds of roles?” Asking open ended questions turns the conversation into a mentor-mentee relationship, and something that military personnel should always be willing to do is be a mentor - so make it easy for them - and listen.
If you cannot directly reach somebody in the role you are interested in, find the closest person possible… perhaps somebody else in the same unit or an adjacent unit, and learn from them. Use RallyPoint to search for your units of interest (including adjacent units), and find the right people to connect with.
3. Find out what best qualifies someone for the role you are interested in
Now that you’ve learned about some interesting roles, and spoken with either the person holding that role or somebody else in that unit, you need to be honest with yourself to see if you qualify for that role. Does it require a special skill or school that you need? Perhaps you still have time to attend that school/training so you can be competitive for the assignment. Perhaps it requires something that is not realistic, like a certain foreign language skill that you can’t learn overnight. Review military profiles on RallyPoint to get a better sense for the kinds of background and qualifications people in that unit of interest have.
When you find out what best qualifies somebody for that PCS assignment, be honest with yourself if you can be competitive for it. If you cannot, then gracefully continue to explore other options. If you can, then you’re in luck and can continue to step 4.
4. Get a warm introduction to the unit you are interested in joining
The best PCS assignments are not assigned by random lottery - they tend to be heavily influenced by the gaining unit leadership and the efforts of the person or people interested in that assignment. In other words, the assignment process is competitive, and it’s often determined well before you ever have your conversation with your career manager. If you have ever wondered how some of those choice PCS assignments are filled, now you know.
What you want is a warm introduction to the decision makers in that unit, to see if you can be considered for the position. What is a warm introduction? Well, let's first describe a cold introduction…. have you ever received a call from a telemarketer who called you out of nowhere with something to sell? If you have, your first reaction was likely to want to hang up and to become upset that somebody just wasted your time - no matter what the other side was trying to sell. That is a cold introduction. Now imagine your friend calls you and says “hey, I just bought this product and it’s great! I liked it so much that I asked that they send you a free sample as well.” Then if that same product rep later calls you, you would be much more willing to listen to what they are pushing because of the endorsement by your friend. This is a warm introduction. People are much more likely to listen to individuals they don’t know if they come recommended by somebody they do know, or if they have mutual people or experiences in common.
Perhaps your old mentor or friend is now serving in the unit you are interested in, or perhaps in an adjacent unit and he/she can still get an introduction for you. It doesn’t really matter how you get the warm introduction, as long as you do - while respecting and keeping your own chain of command informed as appropriate.
Once you get that introduction, you will want to make yourself known to the decision maker… whether that is a staff section leader, a senior NCO, or the XO/CO himself. Don’t just “ask” for the position - instead, show them your maturity and professionalism by relating to them the research you have done about the position, the qualifications you understand the position requires, and the qualifications you posses that you believe would make you competitive for the role. Express your interest, remain respectful, and accept feedback. If the role is not spoken for yet, and you present yourself professionally, it is very much possible the other side will suggest that you might be a good fit.
5. Keep your chain of command informed and discuss the assignment with your assignments officer
Ultimately it must be your branch/monitor/detailer who assigns you the PCS orders, and as we all know, the needs of the military come first. That said, the best positions need to filled as well, and steps 1-4 described above is often how this happens.
Take initiative to contact your career manager early and remain respectful; keep them informed of the conversations you’ve had, the interest you have, and hopefully the mutual interest from the other other unit. Perhaps they also made a “By Name” request for you - meaning the gaining unit called your career manager already and asked for you by name - that is a very compelling driver of action in your favor. In all this, it’s important that your career manager understands that you place the needs of the military first as well, and that you feel you have found a position you are strongly qualified for, and that receiving this assignment would benefit everyone, not just you and your family, but also the gaining unit due to your qualifications and fit.
If you get the position of your dreams, remember your lessons and make sure to mentor those that come after you - so that they too can best align their skill sets and interests with the roles they are assigned. If you don’t get it the first time, you would have still gained an expanded network, a better understanding of the system, and a greater knowledge of different roles and opportunities - which you can certainly leverage for your next assignment. The broader your network, the more reach and influence you can have on your own career over time.
All policies regarding RallyPoint Basics can be found in RP 3-1
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