By Don Orlando
“Only when the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the aircraft you are ready to fly.” That inside joke tells you a lot about the role of paperwork in the uniformed services. But of all the forms in use today, most military people will tell you one carries uniquely powerful weight. For Navy and Marine Corp members it’s called the FITREP (Fitness Report). The Air Force and Army rely on the OER and APR (Officer Effectiveness Report and the Airman Performance Report). The Coast Guard uses an Officer Evaluation Report. Since promotion boards rely on these reports, and since one “bad” report can ruin a career, it’s natural for your military clients to offer them as tools to help them transition into civilian life. As a careers professional, it’s important you know how to use them well.
Effectiveness reports are written by and for a very informed readership. Their primary purpose is to help evaluate a military member’s fitness for promotion to the next highest rank or grade. I put those words in italics to make two points. First, the services seek to promote those who display exceptional leadership and potential as officers and NCOs, not necessarily the best “pilot,” “carrier air group commander,” or “drill sergeant." Second, most service people serve in a wide array of different career fields. Every supervisor is very aware how few words he’s allowed on a report. So jargon is as useful and necessary for the planned audience as it is confusing and frustrating for civilian hiring officials.
However, you can help your clients get the most from their reports. Obviously, the most recent ones carry the most weight. Beyond that, ask about the highest level at which the report is endorsed. Generally, the higher the level, the greater the quality of the performance. Ask your clients to use their reports as memory joggers so you can capture all their success stories. Because the reports often contain numbers, you can add power by quantifying results. But dig deeper to get the full impact. Was your client new in the career field reflected in the report? Was she chosen “by name”—sought out by a higher ranking officer for special assignment? Did your client serve in a position that called for a much higher rank?
Lastly, don’t be shy about using or paraphrasing quotes from reporting or endorsing officials. Be sure you indicate which level the praise comes from. The endorsers’ name won’t be familiar to civilian hiring officials. But their spans of control can add significant power to a résumé.
Service members sometimes gripe about military promotion systems. But it’s a rare civilian organization that has as many checks and balances in how they promote their best. Now that you know their unique strengths and weaknesses, please use effectiveness reports well to position your client best.