How to Survive the “Hot Seat”
By Staff Sgt. Denver G. Smith
*Originally published in the Summer 1992 issue.
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You've repeated these words many times in your
mind since being notified. The thought of sitting
in the “hot seat” in front of five senior NCOs
makes you nervous. Relax. This is the normal response,
but you need not keep your stomach in knots.
In the past, soldiers concentrated primarily on
studying the chain of command, marksmanship, drill
and ceremony, and numerous other topics. They took
that knowledge before the board, but the butterflies
in their stomachs kept them from answering the
Learning board procedures helps eliminate that nervousness
and allows you to concentrate on answering
the questions correctly.
Knowing the board’s composition is a great place to
start in your preparation. Most boards have four voting
members (comprised of first sergeants or senior NCOs)
and a president (normally the battalion command
sergeant major). Board members ask several questions
about specific topics. Their jobs are not to belittle or embarrass
you; rather they want you to demonstrate what
you know. Answer the questions honestly.
Before reporting to the board, knock loudly on the
door and enter the room. Choose the most direct route
and march to a point about two paces in front of the
board president. From the position of attention, render
the salute and report to the president. A proper report,
for example, would be: “Sergeant major, specialist Jones reports to the president of the board.” Some units use
variations of this report. It would be wise to research local
board procedures before reporting. Do not drop your
salute until the president returns and drops his salute.
After reporting, the president instructs you to execute
several facing movements. This gives all members
a chance to inspect your uniform and appearance.
When instructed to sit down, glance behind you to find
your chair and sit down. Relax, but don’t kick back. Sit
in a modified position of attention sit up straight, keep
your hands flat on your lap or clasped together.
Eye contact is important when addressing board
members. Unfortunately, this is an unnerving thing
to do. Here’s a simple rule I use which I call “lock in,
lock out.” Once you have locked in the person you
are talking to (made eye contact), lock that person
out. What you are doing is looking through his eyes.
This method still gives you eye contact, but you can
actually “see” your study guide instead of the person
asking the questions.
This technique takes practice, but it is a valuable tool
if used properly. Speak up when answering questions.
Speaking loudly has two benefits. One, it conveys a
sense of confidence and bearing and, two, it helps you
overcome the hesitancy in your voice.
The first question is usually asked by the president.
He usually asks you to tell the members a little about
yourself. They don’t need to know your birthplace or
where you attended grade school. Start with your Army
enlistment and end with your present assignment and
job. Include some personal background, like marriage
and family. Practice your brief biography before you go
to the board to get your dates and places correct.
The president might next ask
other questions or immediately
direct other board members to
begin their questioning. Board
procedures vary slightly, so don’t
get upset if things don’t go in the
order you expected. Address all
board members by their proper
rank. For board purposes, there
are only four ways to address
NCOs: corporal, sergeant, first
sergeant, or sergeant major. Also,
include the question as part of
your answer. For example, if
you’re asked: “Sergeant, the acronym
PLDC stands for Primary
Leadership Development Course.”
Avoid saying “I think,” “uh” or
other verbal pauses. If you have
trouble recalling the answer, silently
pause until you gather your
thoughts. Verbal pauses indicate
indecision and lack of confidence. If you can’t think of
the answer, a simple, “Sergeant, I do not know the answer
to your question” is a better response than trying to
bluff your way through an answer.
Gestures with the hands or body should also be avoided.
These tend to distract board members and can be a minus.
One method for eliminating hand movement is to simply
grip your leg harder (without cutting off circulation).
Some questions may seem confusing. Don’t be afraid
to ask board members to rephrase questions. This will
give you a better chance to answer correctly.
Never argue with a board member over a question. This
is unprofessional and can result in your dismissal from
the board. Simply research the question after you leave the
board. Return to the board president with any documentation
which supports your point of view or the answer.
After the questioning is complete, the president may
ask if you have any questions of board members. Now is
a good time to provide the correct answer for a previously
asked question. If there are no questions, you will be
dismissed. Stand up and render the salute to the board
president. Once again, do not drop your salute until the
president has properly returned the salute. Execute the
necessary facing movements and march out of the room.
Your supervisor will follow you out. Some units require
you to sound off with your unit motto or war cry. This
is unit discretion and you should ask what is required
before you go before the board.
Study habits often make the difference between a
successful or unsuccessful board appearance. I have
included a few methods that helped me.
Alphabetize your study notes. For example, there are
four indicators of good leadership. If you remember the first letters in each word in alphabetical order, it will be
easier to remember the answer. For this question, you
should think C-D-M-P, for cohesion, discipline, morale,
and proficiency. Try this method; I think it will help.
Two categories that are usually problems are the
chain of command and publications. Most people can
remember them in a sequence. This can be dangerous
if the questions aren't asked in sequence. The method
I use is to list the publication numbers on one side of
a piece of paper and the publication title on the other
side. Similarly, write chain of command names on one
side and the matching commands on the other. Cut
these items out, line by line, then cut them apart from
each other. Put these slips of paper in a box. When
studying, pick out a slip of paper. If it has first aid
written on it, then you should say out loud, “the FM
covering first aid is FM 21-11.” If the piece of paper
has AR 600-20 on it, you would then say “AR 600-20
is Army Command Policy.” When you get to the point
where you can go through the entire box in this manner,
you can be sure of answering everything about
the chain of command and publications.
Another effective study method is to progressively
study a list. Go to the first question and learn it. Then
read the second question and dedicate it to memory.
Immediately look at the first question again, without
looking at the answer, and answer the question. Do the
same with the second question. If you can answer both
questions like this, memorize the next question. Add a
question each time through. When you get to the end of
your first page, you will find that at least three quarters of
that page is burned into your memory.
Answering questions out loud while studying is
another helpful technique. Most people can answer the
question in their mind, but when it comes to speaking
the answer, they hesitate.
In the text of one article, you have learned what has
taken me 17 boards to learn. These are tried-and-true
methods and, if used properly, will provide you with
every opportunity to excel at board proceedings.
Good luck at your next board!
Staff Sgt. Smith is assigned to the 208th Support Battalion (Forward), near Baumholder, Germany.
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