Just be Yourself – A Message in a Bottle.

In a couple of days’ time, I and several hundred other British Army Warrant Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers will discover whether we have been successful in the Late Entry Commissioning process with the publication of the Commissioning Board results. For those of you unfamiliar with the Commissioning Assessment Board (CAB), I thought I would use this, my first blog since August, to outline my experience on the CAB. I hope, like a castaway tossing a bottle in the sea, that one of you might find my observations helpful in your own commissioning adventure.

Be Yourself, Be Yourself, Be Yourself

The first piece of advice is to be yourself. If you choose to put yourself through the process of commissioning you will be in for a long road, in the case of my choice, the Educational and Training Services branch of the Adjutant General’s Corps, the road begins with the previous year’s Appraisal Report in June. There is no room for adopting an officer-like persona, the Board have all your Appraisal Reports – there is nowhere to hide. That said, it would be foolhardy to project the complete you, after all there are secrets and skeletons which no one needs to see at a job interview. In short, be the best version of you, the version your chain of command already knows and with which it is more than happy. Open, honest, and robust are the watchwords.

Once the annual appraisal is complete, there is a four-month long wait for the instructions for Late Entry commissioning to be produced. take this time to familiarise yourself with the key political themes of the day, current international relations topics, and to improve your image – in my case lose some weight. Once the instructions are released the first interview will be with your Commanding Officer, this should, all things being equal, be a formality, after all he has seen your work and knows you in detail. The second set of interviews are more tricky, you will need an interview with your One-Star; if you are lucky, the Brigadier will know you or your reputation, but it is here that your current affairs and military knowledge preparation will come in handy. Over ten years ago, I was a Staff Assistant in an Army medical directorate when a prospective commissioning candidate, in answer to a question about his opinion on the best British General of the Second World War answered with unswerving confidence, ‘Rommel, Sir’. I think we can all guess what happened next…

The final interview will be with a designated Field Officer in your chosen Branch (if you are seeking to transfer into another part of the Service); again be yourself, do your homework and try to squeeze in all you feel they need to know to create the best picture of you as a person. I say person because they are not looking to just give a Sergeant Major another 12 years of pension, they know you can be a Non-Commissioned Officer, you may have over twenty years of evidence of that, rather they want to see that you have the qualities of an officer – intelligence, capacity for hard work in a challenging environment, calm, charisma, and leadership. It is easy to neglect the importance of these interviews, but remember Late Entry Commissioning Assessment is a process, not an event; each part is vital.

Following the interviews, there is a considerable period of wait and a filtration process. In July you will be given joining instructions for the Late Entry Commissioning Board, this contains perhaps the most vital part of the process, as with most things it looks innocuous, but is the cornerstone of your performance on the LE CAB: your personal statement. As with all the foregoing, be yourself, talk about your motivations and why you are a good candidate for commissioning, it is not a biography or a CV, this is where you get to display your humanity, professionalism, and intelligence.

LE CAB Day One

The most important part of the process is the Late Entry Commissioning Assessment Board usually held in August or September in the year after the appraisal report which recommended you for commissioning. Every part of this event is important, the first day is largely a registration and briefing procedure, the real work begins after the parade (don’t worry drill is not a pill!!) where you are greeted by the Corps Colonel. You will be placed into a syndicate and allotted to a four-person assessment team: a Colonel and a Lieutenant Colonel who carry out the formal assessment, a Major who is in administrative command of the syndicate, and a Captain who is the educational advisor. The two assessors are invariably stony-faced throughout the CAB, do not expect to see any reaction whatsoever; in many ways this is the most unnerving part of the exercise.

LE CAB Day Two

The first serial is treated as an icebreaker; your syndicate of around six applicants is given a number of topics to discuss, the important thing to remember here is to be collegiate, working collaboratively will create a better impression. A detailed understanding of current affairs is useful but not obligatory, that is not to say you should ignore the subject, you do not need an intricate understanding of the day-to-day events under a topic, rather you need to understand the underlying themes. Let me offer an example, a detailed knowledge of the Test and Trace debacle is unnecessary, but an understanding of attempts to control Covid-19 would be important. You will be discussing themes and trends, a well thought out point showing you have listened to your peers is the best approach – don’t deal in hackneyed opinions, be a reader of the Financial Times not the Daily Express.

The second serial is a ten-minute presentation. You will be given twenty minutes to put it together from some key themes on your personal statement. It is impossible to second-guess these topics, but be sure that whatever you choose you can achieve your aim inside the time and leave a little time for questions. A plan is essential for this presentation and will be assessed later so make it legible, detailed, and with timings. Your peers will be given an opportunity to ask questions, once again be collegiate, give questions which help the presenter; with LE CAB so in life: don’t be a dick! Be prepared for some questions from the assessing staff, you will feel pressured, but most of this stress is self-produced.

The third serial is a test of English language and mental arithmetic. The English test is an essay, once more on a theme in current affairs with which you must be familiar. The maths test is not difficult, but you must be confident in your mathematical ability. If you have been away from numeracy and literacy practice for some time, I would strongly suggest you approach your local Army Education Centre for some assistance; you don’t need to be Rainman but you shouldn’t need to take your socks off to do long division!

By far the most stressful part of the process takes place in the afternoon and evening of the first day: the formal interview. You will be surrounded (literally) by assessors who will pick your personal statement and reports apart, the tone of questioning differs from candidate to candidate but if you expect Bad Cop, Worse Cop you won’t be far off. Expect a further rapid fire metal arithmetic question and to have deeper questions on your motivation. In my case, I was challenged on the honesty of my motivations, the amount of time I would stay if selected, and whether. a commission was just another accolade. Be honest, rebut where necessary, and be yourself.

LE CAB Day Three

Day Three contains what were billed as the most important elements of the LE CAB: the Planning Exercise and the Command Tasks. The Planning Exercise happens. first thing in the morning and it is essential that you have an understanding of the Distance-Speed-Time equation and read the scenario carefully. It is equally important to remember names and details, these will be tested later! After a short break, you and half the syndicate will be called in to defend your solution; intricate questions will be asked, including mathematical questions and alternative solutions to the problems raised by the scenario. In the afternoon, there are a series of command tasks, one leaderless, and a command task for each syndicate member. It is essential that a collegiate approach is adopted, let the leader lead, approach every exercise with a team spirit and sense of urgency, and don’t see this as an opportunity to show up the lacunae of your peers.

Message in a Bottle

As I prepare to cast this message into the azure main, I would like to reemphasise three points: be yourself, don’t be a dick, and don’t use words like lacunae outside an academic environment. Keep your fingers crossed for me on Thursday!

Have a great week,

Barney