If you meet all of the requirements to apply and you are serious about applying, meeting with your commander face-to-face at the beginning of the application process is essential (in my opinion). A lot of people don’t take the time to do this. Instead of meeting their commander at the beginning, they simply write the bullets, schedule the interview after the fact, and route the paperwork to their commander for signature. If you don’t meet your commander I think you are missing a huge opportunity to both improve your perspective as a leader and improve the overall consistency of your OTS application.
When I knew I wanted to apply for OTS, I talked to my commander’s secretary and asked her if he was available for a 15-30 minute appointment. I was at a small unit so this was very easy, but even if you are at a large unit it is not as hard as it seems. You should make sure your supervisor, NCOIC, or Flight Chief know your intentions and ask around until you find out who you need to talk to to “get on the commander’s calendar.” Follow protocol and don’t burn any bridges here but do what you need to do to meet your commander. Your justification can be that your application requires the commander’s recommendation so he or she should at least know who you are.
In preparation for the meeting you should know when all of the appropriate deadlines are and have a general idea of what type of paperwork will be required. Don’t stress about it too much because at this point your commander will not want to know the nitty gritty details. It will be more likely that he or she will want to get to know you, talk to you, and get a basic idea if you are worth his recommendation or not. Your objective for the first meeting should be to simply introduce yourself, inform the commander of your intentions, and ask for any general advice he or she has to offer. If you forget everything else, remember this is likely the first impression your commander has of you as you begin the application process but don’t psyche yourself out. Just be yourself and you will be fine.
Let your commander dictate the overall strategy for your application from the date you meet to the date you submit. Ask your commander’s opinion on how he or she wants to conduct the interview. Operate under the assumption that you and your supervisor, flight chief, or flight commander will be writing the bullets and your commander will only tweak them to make them his or hers. Ask for any advice on writing the essay. This is your time to both establish your level of professionalism and competence and obtain any advice you can use as you piece together your application.
I met with my commander in October or so, and my package was due in January. My initial appointment went very well. My commander gave me some really good pointers and gave me the perspective I needed to prepare myself for my application. I did a lot of growing from when I started to when I submitted, and the 15 minute appointment I had with my commander started it all.
In total I met with my commander twice. I did an initial meet and greet and a follow-up appointment to check in. At the follow-up I did up a quick word document with what paperwork the commander could expect to see from me (paperwork-wise) and he dictated the timeline. For most documents he wanted them endorsed within 30-45 days prior to submission. We also specifically decided how we were going to do the essay, interview, and the application itself. Here are the notes from both of my meetings meetings which really changed my perspective on leadership and the application process:
- The essay is your opportunity to have a conversation with the board. Speak from the heart and be honest.
- The commander’s recommendation is his (or her) opportunity to have a conversation with the commander’s peers on the board. It is his or her opportunity to convince the board why you are better than all other applicants.
- Q: Have you seen anything in previous applications that I should avoid? A: Yes, previous packages have said by tone the person is a great Tech Sergeant, not that person has the potential to be a great officer.
- You are not applying to be a Second Lieutenant, you are applying to be a future squadron commander.
- Commanders have a different perspective than others, including enlisted leaders. My takeaway was that I needed to somehow convince the board I share this perspective without necessarily saying it specifically in my essay.
- Q: How do you sing your own praises but not in an arrogant way? A: Use phrases like I have had the privilege to serve as this, I have had the honor to serve as that, or I have been told that. It is more about the tone of the package, not specifically about the language.
- Commander’s are generalists. They are asked to do anything, even if they are trained for it. They need to be able to be given a task way out in the left field and be able to perform superbly.
In addition to the above advice, the commander gave me a homework assignment. My assignment was to type a brief paper which answered the question, “Why do you want to be an officer?” My commander also talked me to send him 5-10 of my proudest accomplishments throughout my career. Both of these assignments caused me to do some soul searching and completely revolutionized my perspective of officer leadership.
During our second meeting I asked my commander how he wanted to do the interview and his answer was the above homework assignment. He told me we had basically already done the interview so I was very relieved I would not have to endure a formal reporting situation. I can’t promise this is how it will go for everyone, but I will point out this is just one way of many in which commander’s can accomplish their taskings for your application.