8 Ways to Get Promoted in the Military: From a Fast-Tracker

There is no doubt that the military offers a great career opportunity for high school graduates. There are great benefits, job security, and plenty of opportunities for advancement. Obviously, the faster you get promoted in the military, the more pay you will receive and the better your quality of life will become. Here are some of the ways to get promoted faster in the military.

Get promoted in the military

Contract PFC (E-2)

There are three ways you can earn a promotion before you even go to recruit training: You can either have 15 college credits, refer some friends for enlistment, or become an Eagle Scout.

Earning 15 college credits and becoming an Eagle Scout is pretty self-explanatory.

The referrals are a little less understood. Basically, if you have friends who are interested in the military or have no idea what they plan on doing with their lives, you can give their information to your recruiter or bring them into the office to sit down with him/her. If they decide to enlist, you will earn a promotion to E-2 (once they survive MEPS).

Fast Track LCpl (E-3)

These are some of the ways you can get promoted to E-3 really quickly.

The first is by graduating as the Company Honor Graduate. That means you are the number one recruit in the entire group of people at recruit training. This isn’t easy, but it is attainable.

You need to stand out as a competent leader and become the Guide for your platoon. Then, if you can remain in that position for the entire time, you will be eligible to compete against the other guides in order to become the Honor Graduate.

You can also become an E-3 by referring people to your recruiter after boot camp. This is one of the easiest ways to get promoted in the military.

Once you’re a Marine, they can reward you with a promotion to E-3. If you’re already an E-3, referrals can earn you points towards your next promotion or recognition letters in your official military record to help with future promotions!


A good way to ensure you’re always ready for promotion is to maintain your level of fitness. The military is all about ensuring you maintain a solid “fighting weight” and remain as healthy as possible throughout your entire career.

Some people have pointed out that it can seem as though the military puts almost too much emphasis on physical fitness. They say there are times when it appears that a physically fit service member will get promoted faster regardless of competency. There is a simple solution to worrying about this: be the person who is in great shape!

Seriously, if you maintain peak physical fitness, you will be healthier, feel more confident, look highly competitive for promotion, and be able to lead physical training. What’s not to love?

That being said, the military does understand that you may get injured from time to time. However, they will still expect you not to just let yourself go.

“Message to Garcia”

Message To Garcia is a widely distributed essay written by Elbert Hubbard in the late 1800s. This essay has even made it onto the professional reading list of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The message of this book is simple: “Accomplish the mission.” Yet many struggle to understand this concept. The book discusses the idea that if you are given a task, you need to exhaust every possible means of accomplishing it. Rather than going back to your boss and asking him to help you solve problems that arise, become resourceful and solve the problem yourself.

For example, if you are tasked to go pick something up from supply but you don’t know where supply is…Google it. If Google doesn’t work, ask somebody and figure it out. Don’t simply quit and wait until your boss asks about the task to say, “I didn’t know where Supply was”.

You need to think in terms of, “How can I possibly get around these obstacles in order to accomplish this mission?” rather than letting obstacles stop you in your path. Too often, service members (and people in general) will run into an obstacle and then use it as an excuse for not accomplishing the task. That is the wrong mindset, and you need to change it.

A service member who can problem solve and accomplish any task without supervision is a servicemember who will find themselves getting promoted quickly.

Extreme Ownership

Jocko Willinks’ best-selling book Extreme Ownership is a book you need to read, read again, and implement in its entirety. The main premise of this book is that as a leader, everything is your responsibility. You need to take ownership of everything that happens to you, because of you, or around you in order to lead successfully.

Undoubtedly you have had a leader who would throw their subordinates under the bus when something goes wrong but has no problem taking the credit when a subordinate does something well. These weak leaders are not looked upon too fondly. You need to avoid falling into this trap by owning problems and taking full responsibility for everything around you.

One of the examples in the book is that of a service member who is late to work because of traffic. The unusual traffic may not have been the servicemember’s fault, but it is his responsibility to ensure it doesn’t happen again. How, you ask? Leave home earlier in the future in order to give yourself a buffer in case of traffic.

That is the mindset of extreme ownership, and it is incredible how much better you feel and how much more your subordinates will appreciate you as a leader if you can take ownership of everything around you.

Find more of my recommended reading here.

Know your $hit

You need to be competent. This sounds like common sense, but it can be surprisingly simple to hide in the shadows in the military. If you are average at your job, you may be able to just skate through life continuing to be average. You may get promoted, and you may feel like you’re doing all right.

The reality is that you’re slacking, and you need to improve. If you aren’t in an occupation where you want to keep learning more and more until you’re the subject matter expert, you should be looking for a career change. Even if you’re in a job you don’t love, you should become an expert in that field.

If you’re the go-to guy/gal in your shop, when opportunities for promotion come up you will come to mind immediately. The more you stand out as somebody who can accomplish any mission and somebody who people come to for advice, the faster you will get promoted.


The military thrives on dependability. If you can’t trust that the people to your left and right will accomplish the task(s) they are given, your unit cohesion will suffer. For this reason, it is paramount that you accomplish any and all missions with which you are tasked.

The more reliable you are, the more trusted you will be. If your leadership trusts you, they are much more likely to give you additional responsibilities. If you prove to be dependable in these billets too, your evaluations will reflect it.

Ultimately, if your leadership knows that you are capable and competent, you will have much better opportunities to get promoted in the military.

Above and Beyond

All of the above advice should afford you the opportunity to compete for meritorious promotions. You may find, however, that it isn’t enough to get you promoted. The competition for meritorious promotion is stiff. You will want to stand out as somebody who performs above and beyond in all aspects of life. Here are some ways to help yourself stand out:

1. Volunteer hours 

This is one of the things that every meritorious board considers. They want to see that you are giving back to the community and helping represent your branch of service in a good light.

You should start volunteering for events through the opportunities your base presents. If your base doesn’t have any listed, you can volunteer as a coach for local sports teams or at events like 5Ks and other races around town.

Not only will volunteering make you more competitive for getting promoted in the military, but it feels really good and will improve your quality of life! You will likely meet some really cool people through volunteer events too.

2. College 

This should be obvious. The military wants competent, educated leaders. Therefore, taking college classes will make you appear much more competitive for promotion. Sure, having an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree will make you very competitive, but even if you don’t have a degree (yet), simply taking classes will make you appear highly eligible for the promotion in the military.

3. Military Education 

In the Marine Corps, we have these things called “MCIs” that are continued education courses you can take online. These courses cover everything from physical fitness to automotive mechanics. They have advanced education courses for your MOS, along with math, spelling, or almost anything you can think of.

The more of these courses you complete, the more motivated you will appear to the meritorious board. This will show you have a lot of initiative and a desire to grow as a person. Even better, a lot of these MCIs count towards your college degree. I began my associate degree, and already had a large number of required credits completed due to the number of courses I had completed!

A surefire way to get promoted in the military is to show a constant desire to become more educated.

4. Additional Billets

There are all sorts of additional jobs you can have in the military. You can become a safety representative, a financial planner for your command, continual systems improvement rep, and much more. Volunteering for additional billets in your unit will show that you are hungry for more leadership opportunities. This will help you stand out as an obvious choice for promotion.

5. Collateral Duties

Collateral duties are those special duty assignments (SDAs) like becoming a recruiter, drill instructor, combat instructor, MOS instructor, etc. The Marine Corps also offers the opportunity to become an embassy guard as a collateral duty!

These collateral duties will not only make you extremely competitive for promotion, but they have a higher amount of allocations for meritorious promotion every year. If you volunteer for an SDA and do exceedingly well at it, you will be a shoo-in for promotion.

Here is a brief overview of each of these collateral duties:

  1. Recruiter – Finding the next generation of service members. You will learn about networking, sales, communication skills, and public speaking.
  2. Drill instructor – Training the next generation of service members. You will learn leadership, time management, mentorship.
  3. Combat instructor – Training infantry and combat arms MOS’s. You will hone your skills as a combatant, leadership, and mentorship.
  4. MOS instructor – Training new service members in your MOS. You will gain a lot of MOS proficiency and credibility, leadership, teaching, and speaking.
  5. Embassy duty – Guarding United States embassies around the world. You will learn leadership, security, become familiar with different cultures, and get to see the world!

Volunteering for these challenging duties will also show that you can perform well outside of your MOS. Being able to adapt to new challenges successfully is a trait that will certainly help you get promoted in the military.

Get Promoted in the Military!

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