Perspectives on the AIM 2.0 Marketplace – A Peek Behind the Curtain

By: Mark Gnodle, Michael Brodka, & John Hermida
Navigating the AIM 2 Marketplace

The AIM 2.0 Marketplace can be daunting even for those who have navigated its changing structure over several movement cycles. It is often difficult to know what a unit is looking for, especially if its dashboard is incomplete. Moreover, junior officers without a lot of experience or those with mentors who have little or no experience with AIM may feel lost or overwhelmed. This article provides information from multiple perspectives and provides a “peek behind the curtain” to help junior officers learn some of the nuances of the AIM 2.0 Marketplace – with the intent of helping you develop your resumes, discover what units see and experience from their perspective, and how to communicate with your units of choice effectively. (Here is a quick primer on the Army Talent Alignment Process)

This article contains three sections: 1) The first section addresses movers and some issues that junior officers should consider and be aware of when navigating the marketplace; 2) The second is section covers advice from an incumbent’s point of view and offers tips on resume development, interacting with your preferred units, and navigating the process from start to finish; 3) The last section includes the perspective from a unit hiring manager and some of the things he saw that can make or break your chances of receiving the coveted one for one match.

Section 1: From the Mover’s Perspective

Current junior officers have more say over their next assignment with AIM than previous generations. However, unless you understand the marketplace and unit hiring practices, you may not have as many choices as you could have when picking your next unit. It is important to note that each officer’s experience is slightly different because HRC does not dictate hiring practices to units; however, we also found commonality between experiences.

What is the mythical one-for-one match?

If you are new to the AIM Marketplace, you are probably wondering what that means. Simply put, a one-for-one match occurs if you (the mover) rank a unit as your number one preference on your list, and the unit ranks you in the same spot on their dashboard. Achieving a one-for-one match can be challenging and requires planning and work by the moving officer.

Moving early on the first day the marketplace opens is a good way to increase your odds of getting a one-for-one match.  Moving early allows you to do some research, rank the units you like, reach out to them, and schedule an interview. If your top units do not choose you as their number one preference, then you have time to continue your job search.

One thing we’ve seen is that movers frequently mistakenly believe that seeing the green satellite image from a unit indicates that they are a one-for-one match.  But this is an incorrect assumption. The unit interest and signal means that you are somewhere in the unit’s top 10 % of currently preferenced movers; it does not indicate that you are a one-for-one match. (You can get more information on the talent alignment algorithm here)

Selecting that dream job in Hawaii

Be careful to choose assignments that provide key development (KD) opportunities if you require one. AIM allows you to preference any job on the board, and if you pick broadening assignments in desirable places that don’t provide KD time, you can hurt your career in the long term (learning the dashboard and how to filter KD positions will help in this specific area).  Ultimately, with significant autonomy comes great responsibility. You become the author of your career, so please choose wisely (having a 5-10 year career plan is useful in this regard).. Engage mentors and your friendly human resources personnel to learn what positions are best for your career. It may be tempting to take that job in Hawaii, but if it does not offer you the positions/opportunities required for promotion, that dream location might end up being a career-ending decision.

You should also make sure to look at everything available on the unit’s AIM profile. At a minimum, they should provide a point of contact. You should ensure you research the installation, the unit, local leadership, and the off-post areas nearby to ensure things are a good fit for you and (if applicable) your family. You can adjust your preferences until the marketplace closes, so you have some flexibility. However, your top choices are transmitted to the units, so they can see if you have an interest. Try not to move units in and out of your top spots often because units may think you aren’t serious with your selections (so while we suggest moving early, make sure you do your research before making your selections so avoid this issue).  Also, some interviewers ask what place they are on your list.  How you answer that question is up to you.  But remember, ranking is important for both parties when trying to achieve a one-for-one match.

Be proactive and court the units you want

Once you know what units interest you, it’s time to initiate contact! As we mentioned previously, units should list a point of contact for the position you’re interested in (f they don’t or if you can’t get in touch with the listed POC, the unit XO is a good person to reach out to).  Reaching out early in the AIM cycle and showing interest cannot be overstated. Likewise, as we highlight in the following two sections, incumbents and hiring personnel also viewed  communication from interested officers favorably (if done properly – more on that later). In one example, the unit point of contact helped prep the interested officer for their initial interview and follow-on board, leading to a one-for-one match. Another officer indicated that engaged officers were moved to the “front of the line” when the unit decided who to interview. The key takeaway here is to communicate your interest directly to the unit. Don’t rely on AIM to signal it for you.

Interview experiences and what they mean for you

Not all units conduct interviews, but many do.  Those that did tended to do so over the phone, on Microsoft Teams (MST), or via some other video teleconferencing (VTC) means. Questions and format will vary from unit to unit. Based on what we’ve learned, recent interviewees answered questions about their leadership style, former experiences, situational scenarios dependent on functional areas or branches, and certain portions of their resume. One officer said the questions were relatively open-ended and left space for divergent answers. Some officers interviewed once with the person responsible for hiring (BDE XO, DIV G1, etc.), while others had second interviews, sometimes with different personnel on a panel. The bottom line is most units conduct an interview, and movers need to prepare themselves.

Some advice we received was to ensure you understand the unit you are interviewing with and how they hire. If an officer applies to a battalion S2 position, they may speak with that unit’s S1, BN XO, and commander (varies by unit) for the job advertised. But the process varies. Foe example, logistics officers wanting to join the 4th Infantry Division are all interviewed by the 4th Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade Commander (a logistics colonel).   Make sure you familiarize yourself with the interview process for the units you’re interested in and prepare accordingly. The Center for Junior Officers has created a “Junior Officer’s Guide to  Interviewing.”  We highly recommend you review this document if you are lucky enough to land an interview.

Section 2: Incumbent Insights

Incumbents are the people currently filling the position movers are applying for.  They are also good sources of information you should leverage to ensure you make an informed decision AND they are key “gatekeepers” who can influence the selection process.  Incumbents are usually not the decision-makers for the position you’re applying for, but they are sometimes involved in the process.  While incumbents are often peers, you should keep in mind that their impression of you does matter.  What follows are some tips from an incumbent from a highly sought-after position in a premier location.

Have your resume prepared before the marketplace opens

If you take nothing else away from this piece, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a complete resume. (Use these links to find a series of helpful guides as well as a separate link to a resume guide). To be clear, I don’t believe you have to completely fill each box of the resume, but having well-written statements in each box will immediately signify to potential units that you took the Marketplace process seriously from the start. Different units will have different preferences on whether they would like to see bulletized or narrative-style statements, but you can satisfy any scrutiny that is being given to your writing abilities by ensuring whichever style you choose is carried by grammatically correct writing. Have someone you trust to review what you have written to ensure that it is clear, concise, and to the point. Your resume is one of the few things you own completely, and how much or how little time you take will be apparent in its quality.

A particular piece of advice I gave all of the candidates I spoke to was, “Do not write a love letter in your resume to your number one unit of choice at the expense of all of the other opportunities in your marketplace.” If you have your heart set on commanding at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) and your resume is completely packed with statements that seek only to highlight your overseas experiences, the number and/or types of languages you speak, and your exclusive interest in developing the Soldier Linguists of tomorrow you might be doing yourself a disservice because more than 99% of the units in your marketplace are likely not DLIFLC. A few statements highlighting some of these unique Knowledge, Skills, and Behaviors (KSBs) would set you apart, but they should not noticeably overwhelm your resume.

Take this opportunity to highlight a few of the aspects of your assignments that your ORB simply cannot communicate; discuss unique duties or challenges you had to overcome in certain positions or highlight some of the special skills you acquired after an assignment that you didn’t have beforehand. Units will be able to view your ORB, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to highlight important skills and experiences. For example, you may have been an Assistant S3 in one of the battalions in 25th ID and during that time you could have been the lead planner or assisted in an iteration of Pacific Pathways. The KSBs you acquired throughout that process would absolutely be worth highlighting. As an S4, you may have planned and coordinated for the successful divestment of $2 million worth of excess property leading the DIV throughout your assignment. While serving as the BN S6, you were chosen to backfill the BDE S6 who was selected for a WIAS task and coordinated a new equipment fielding where you ensured all subordinate Battalion S6 shops were trained and certified on the new equipment. The biggest mistake you could make is simply putting “Assistant S3” and then giving a bland, generic duty description of what an Assistant S3 does; tell the units what they don’t know about your experiences instead of reiterating the positions you held.

A very common TTP for marketplace units is to have their functional proponent review the resumes of Officers (i.e., the BDE S2/DIV G2 will likely review MI Officer resumes, the DIVARTY Commander will likely review FA Officer resumes, etc.). This means it is advantageous to highlight the KSBs related to your prospective position with respect to your branch. MI Officers should be highlighting any number of courses available that grant additional expertise in specific areas (ISR, Cyber, etc.). FA officers should be highlighting courses like Joint Firepower Course or how they are Forward Observer qualified. Your functional proponent will have a keen eye and awareness of what KSBs are most desirable for the position you are applying for, so you should strive to highlight those KSBs knowing the person reading them will know and understand their importance.

Reach out early

I absolutely encourage everyone to reach out to units they are very interested in; I would recommend the units in your top ten are worth the time sending out an email to the listed POCs. As the marketplace continues to develop with each iteration, there are bound to be some changes along the way that pull units out of the marketplace or drop new opportunities into it.

Reaching out early can ensure you obtain accurate information with enough time to adjust your plans if needed.  Consider this, in some instances, requisitions listed in the marketplace may display one duty title, but you may not actually be competing for that position.  Rather, you are competing to simply join the unit.   This is most common with KD positions, as they are often filled internally by officers who are already assigned to the organization.  Units are still learning the system. Hop hopefully, this becomes less of an issue as time goes on, but reaching out early and asking questions can help address issues like this and allow you to adjust your plans if necessary. 

Find the right balance between being too passive and too aggressive

This is arguably the single most difficult piece of advice I have to offer, and it is simply more art than science at this point. The marketplace is still too new, and there are still too few written rules about how movers are expected to conduct themselves. At best, you’re more than likely relying on the best advice of your mentor(s), your supervisor(s), and articles such as this one. I wish there was a one-size-fits-all way to give this piece of advice, but there simply is not –  you have to figure out how much is too much or too little with each unit you reach out to.

At a minimum, I would recommend an introductory email to the listed POC as a good way to initiate a conversation. At this point, you must remember that the listed POC is more than likely not the person who is selecting you for the job and that he/she has a job they are doing that isn’t focused solely on answering your questions –  so you should not feel free to bombard them every few days with new questions or to provide them an extremely detailed account of why you are the best candidate for the job (e.g., attach your entire history of OERs to substantiate your claim, etc.).

We are fortunate these days to have accurate unit POC lists easily searchable on Google, but I would advise against being so aggressive as to email the unit’s entire chain of command. I believe the listed unit POCs in the marketplace should be your first and only inject point unless he/she tells you otherwise. This is the loosest piece of advice I have to offer because this may not hold true 100% of the time.

Section 3: Unit Hiring Practices

There is not a standardized hiring practice across the Army, but many units use a similar methodology, including resume review, interviews, and OMLs. This section provides some insight from the hiring manager’s perspective and offers advice on how to prepare for engaging prospective units.

Make a strong first impression

The first thing you can do to make a good first impression is to have a strong opening sentence in the first line of the summary section on your AIM resume. It is the first thing a unit sees when they open an  officer’s profile. Too often, I saw placeholder phrase (such as “insert later”), or a poorly thought out, generic opener like, “I graduated from West Point and commissioned as an artillery officer.” In the case of my unit, those three were automatic disqualifiers because they immediately showed us the officer did not take the time to write a well thought introductory sentence. You must sell yourself in your first sentence! The opening line of the summary section is your first shot to separate yourself from your peers.

The second thing we looked for after reviewing the list of officers who preferenced out unit was an introductory email. Like resumes, the emails I received varied significantly. In general, you do not have to give your whole life story in the first one, but we want to see that you take time to introduce yourself, explain why you are interested in the position, and a short blurb and how you think you would bring value to the team. The email is your second chance to distinguish yourself, so ensure you proofread it and have someone else look at it, too. Simple spelling errors and grammatical mistakes could place you lower than someone else with similar qualifications. That seems nitpicky, but when you have dozens of highly qualified officers applying, every little thing begins to count.

The third item looked at was the resume itself. Multiple people heavily scrutinized it. I will not rehash resume writing, but I will provide insight into what items benefited candidates and which ones did not. To begin, I echo the importance of having a complete resume. Understandably, some company-grade officers do not have much information to put in some sections, but at a minimum, provide insight into your background and experience relating to the section. I often saw blank or poorly articulated civilian experience sections. The great part about this section is it is so broad. Use that to your advantage. Brag about earning Eagle Scout. Talk about a volunteer experience, internship, or summer job that taught you a life lesson. We want to know who you are as a person as well as your abilities. Many units care about culture and want to see that you are a good fit for the team.

Likewise, leaving the education section blank or regurgitating what is on your ORB is frowned upon. We understand that most junior officers likely do not have master’s degrees, so we recommended applicants provide short, intermediate, and long-term education goals. These goals should be civilian (degree, certification, etc.) and military. Highlight any branch-specific or broadening schools you would like to attend, and in the long term, what your Intermediate-Level Education program choices are. In the end, units want to see that you have personal development goals.

Don’t blow it on the interview

We chose the top candidates for interviews, with my unit conducting two rounds. Each unit varies with this (some units have required three rounds of interviews). Whether over the phone or via video, the advice remains the same: prepare. You do not need to know everything about the unit, but at least learn the basics (again, the interview guide provided by CJO is a good resource).

The last point is to remain professional. Again, that should be self-explanatory, but some officers on video interviews presented themselves poorly. If not required to be in uniform, dress professionally. If the unit requires a uniform, make sure it is worn correctly and not just thrown together. Everything is assessed so small details matter. Preparation, or a lack of it,   can mean the difference between getting hired or the unit moving on to another (better prepared) choice.

Getting the one-for-one

Each unit determines the OML by its own criteria and one-for-one matches may change before the marketplace locks due to several circumstances. Generally, a unit ranks its preferred officers on the OML and notifies them of their standing. The unit requests those officers that mirror the unit’s preference in AIM (e.g., 1 – 1 or 2 – 2, etc.), the marketplace closes, and the algorithm works its magic to match the officer to the assignment. However, specific considerations may affect officer moves, so it is important to mention them because one-for-one does not always guarantee selection.

For example, our top candidate was in the MACP, and she selected my unit as her top choice. Her husband was unable to secure a spot on the OML for the limited units he was eligible for at our installation, so she chose to rescind her candidacy. Likewise, as a BDE S-1 explained, a unit may have a one-for-one match with a mover, but another officer who is in the MACP or who has an extenuating circumstance (like a family member in the EFMP) can break a one for one match. You may be the unit’s top choice, but another officer needs an assignment due to the MACP or EFMP, so HRC may choose to fill your preferenced position with an officer with one of those two priorities. The last circumstance that can change the marketplace is nominative positions that, once filled, create gaps. You may notice some jobs disappear, and sometimes they were ones you ranked or even interviewed for. Conversely, an officer that was a one-for-one match gets selected to a different position, and now the unit scrambles to fill that slot.

The OML is fluid for these reasons, so the mover needs to maintain contact with their preferred unit, and the unit should provide OML updates as they occur. In the end, consistent communication and honesty about your timeline, reasons for applying to the unit, and how you can bring value can help you be more successful. 

Conclusion

Hundreds of officers competed for assignments in the summer 21-2 movement cycle. Those selected as a one-for-one match knew how to distinguish themselves from their peers and articulate their value to interested units. Unfortunately, a single methodology does not exist for AIM success, but leveraging mentors, Army programs, and resources like this article can give you a great shot at to achieving your desired unit and position of assignment.  Put time and thoughtful effort into your resume before the marketplace opens, and do not be afraid to talk to several units. Your first choice may not choose you, but do not let that get you down. Persevere, and you will find the best match for you.   

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CPT Mark Gnodle is currently the Charlie Company Commander for the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC). Prior to his time as a Company Commander, he served as an assistant S2 for the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment and platoon leader for the military intelligence company for 1BSTB, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team at Camp Hovey, ROK, aerial reconnaissance liaison officer for 1st Battlefield Coordination Detachment in support of the 432nd Aerial Expeditionary Wing (AEW) at Creech, AFB, intelligence officer the the 311th Signal Command (Theater), battalion intelligence officer in 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment (WOLFHOUNDS), for 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

CPT Michael Brodka is a military intelligence officer currently serving as Chief of Branch, Plans and Exercises in the intelligence directorate at Special Operations Command Korea. He possesses more than 13 years of experience across the infantry, armor, and logistics branches, including a combat deployment to Iraq and two operational deployments to Kuwait and the Republic of Korea. CPT Brodka is an MPS in Applied Intelligence candidate at Georgetown University; he also serves as a researcher for the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs and Editorial Assistant at 9DASHLINE. CPT Brodka recently navigated the AIM 2.0 Marketplace as both mover and unit hiring manager.

MAJ John Hermida is an Adjutant General Corps officer, and currently serves as the Deputy Division G1 of the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, Colorado. He was the primary coordinator of the AIM 2.0 Marketplace for the 4th Infantry Division for the recent 20-02 movement cycle. He has served in various command and staff positions in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and the 4th Infantry Division, deploying multiple times to Afghanistan, Djibouti, Kuwait, and Iraq. He holds a Master’s in Military Operational Art and Science, a Master’s of Science in Political Science, and a Bachelor’s of Art in Political Science.