Career Development

By Stephanie Morrison

A successful career doesn't just happen:
you must plan for future success and satisfaction.
-U.S. Coast Guard Career Development Guidebook

Career development as a non-training intervention is essential toward achieving successful careers--both in the military services and the corporate sector. Career development offers motivation to individuals who are interested in achieving long-term career goals and are looking toward the future. Through career development, an individual is able to focus on the path he or she wishes to take. While the corporate world may offer multiple ways to develop careers, the military services provide concrete methods to plan an individual's career through the promotion system, an individual's ability to choose a specific career path, and mentoring.

Career development spans an enormous scope, therefore, this paper will focus on career development-specifically through the use of mentoring--in the military services as a non-training intervention.

What is mentoring?

"Mentoring describes the process that is implemented to deliberately pair two people who have unequal levels of a relevant set of skills and experiences. The objective of this process is to transfer knowledge and experience of these skills from the person who has more of them to the person who has fewer" (Murray, p. 546). Mentoring is extremely useful in any venue, but specifically to the military, as pairing someone by rank, field of expertise, or experiences is relatively easy to achieve.

Figure 1. Consistent framework for mentor terms (Kopser, 1999).

While many people confuse mentoring with job coaching, there is a distinct difference in the military. Job coaching reflects assistance at the task level. Unlike personal development or career sponsoring (the other roles of a mentor), job coaching focuses on the task at hand rather than long-term goals (Steinberg & Foley, 1999). Mentoring focuses on the individual's career development through a long-term approach.

What does the literature say?

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  Figure 2: Essential elements of Mentoring

According to research findings about mentoring in the Army: "The greatest point of difference between the two communities [civilian and military] is the support for the mentoring role of sponsor. While it is clear mentor sponsoring does occur in the military, the Army has not officially embraced the concept as a desirous activity and has not included sponsoring as an aspect of leader development" (Ritter, 1994, as cited by Steinberg & Foley, 1999). However, in opposition to the Army's stance, the Coast Guard has taken a very proactive role in regards to the mentoring program and officially endorses it (U.S. Coast Guard, n.d.).

Kopser quotes Army Lieutenant Colonel Gregg Martin in the break down of mentoring into distinct categories (M1, M2, and M3) in a military context (2002). M1 consists of the traditional teaching, coaching and training that occur in most organizations. M2 is the next level in which long-term personal and professional mentoring takes place. This stage is marked by a two-way exchange of mutual trust and respect and the relationship is at its strongest. In M3, Martin suggests that the mentor begins to "grow and groom future leaders." He feels that more networking takes place in this stage then actual mentoring.

A study conducted by Steinberg and Foley compiled data from 3,715 active Army senior non-commissioned officers and 4,876 active Army commissioned officers who completed a survey asking about their mentoring experiences in the army (1999). The survey results were broken down and analyzed to show what constitutes mentoring, and who mentors and who is mentored. The survey asked the respondent to state whether his or her mentor provided 16 specific behaviors including, "acts as a role model," "demonstrates trust," "provides moral-ethical guidance." On average, 95% of the respondents indicated their mentor provided each of the mentoring behaviors.

Interesting results of the survey showed that there is no basis for assuming that mentors demonstrate different behaviors based on their gender or race. In addition, the research pointed out that those in a command or leadership position did not have as great interactive abilities as those in administrative positions, and therefore, may not have acted as effective mentors.

Finally, in addition to career development, positive outcomes from mentoring were reported in productivity, development of skills, cost savings, recruitment, retention, organizational image, and strategic goals (Murray, 1999).

How has career development through mentoring evolved?

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Mentoring has always been an unofficial method of supporting career development as a non-training intervention for members of the military. According to GS-13 John Mauro, a retired U.S. Coast Guard Masterchief (E-8), mentoring was a huge part of his career development and helped him decide how he would spend his next 25 years in the Coast Guard (J. Mauro, personal communication, February 2, 2004). He tells the story: "I had three uncles in the Navy during World War II; one was a cook, one was a Boatswain's mate, and one was a Quartermaster. You can guess wish one took me under his wing and influenced my career." His chuckles serve as a reminder that he spent a 25 year-career in the Coast Guard as a Quartermaster.

Mauro also pointed out that mentoring fundamentally hasn't changed. While the program was unofficial until 10 or 15 years ago, he feels that had that program been around 30 years ago at the beginning of his career, the same people would have stepped forward to serve officially as mentors.

In his words, "Mentoring works because you legitimately care about the individual…and all aspects of his or her life."


Career development through the use of mentoring works as a non-training intervention-especially in the military--because it serves as a way for individuals to look to the future and develop long-term goals. Through its use, members of the service are able to see a place for themselves in their organization with the assistance of older, wiser, and/or more experienced role models. As a form of motivation, career development instills a sense of confidence and value to military members.


Kopser, G. J. (1999, December-January). Mentoring in the military: Not everybody gets it. Military Review, 40 - 44. Retrieved from EBSCOHost Database February 1, 2004.

Murray, M. (n.d.). Performance improvement with mentoring. In

Stolovitch, H. D. & Keeps, E. J. (Eds.), Handbook of human performance technology (pp. 545 - 563). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Steinberg, A. G., & Foley, D. M. (1999). Mentoring in the Army: From buzzword to practice. Military Psychology, 11 (4), 365 - 380. Retrieved from EBSCOHost Database February 1, 2004.

U. S. Coast Guard (n.d.). The Coast Guard Officer Career Development Guidebook. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.

Author Note


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