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Issue 420 – November 4, 2014


The Chicago Area Council’s annual University of Scouting is coming up on Saturday, November 15th. It’s going to be held at the Veterans Memorial Campus, 4248 West 47th Street, Chicago. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m., and the program kicks off at 8 a.m. sharp! I’m honored to be the Keynote Speaker, and I’ll also facilitate a couple of sessions during the day. So c’mon out if you can! For more info, check out:
Be Prepared…for Your Eagle Board of Review!

Having sat on close to two hundred Eagle boards of review, I’ve had Scouts, from time to time, ask how they should prepare, and what they should wear. I’ve taken most all of their questions, and my answers, and put them together here. This may not be 100% complete (I’ve found, over the past couple of decades as a working commissioner, that just when I think I’ve answered every possible question on a subject—you guessed right!—a new one’s asked that I hadn’t thought of!). So here are my best guesses about what a Scout would want to know ahead of time, to Be Prepared. Let’s roll…

As a Scout, you’ve already participated in five boards of review, so your sixth should be a no-brainer. But Eagle’s a bit different. It’s the highest, most prestigious, and certainly the most well-known rank in Scouting. Plus, this time the folks who show up to have a chat with you may not all have been Scouts, or even current Scouting volunteers.

So let’s start with who will be sitting in. This particular review might include a representative of the council or district advancement committee, perhaps a few non-Scouters such as your school principal, or police or fire chief, town mayor or other elected official, or even a member of the clergy. Maybe it’ll include a representative of your troop’s chartered organization. Or maybe even a former troop member of a few years ago. These folks will probably be somewhere between ten and fifty years older than you. They’ll be seeing you through their own eyes; not yours. Their values may be different from yours—likely more a bit formal and perhaps less casual. Importantly, what they see in the first ten seconds—when you first walk in—will often play a part in the outcome. (The entire remainder of the time will be spent either confirming their instant gut reaction, or trying to refute it.)

Even if they’re not a current BSA member, don’t assume they’ve never met a Scout before. There’s a good chance they’ve met a Scout, perhaps even a more-or-less scruffy one—the kind of guy who wears jeans or baggies with his shirt instead of a full uniform, for instance. Since they might be making at least some part of their decision based on their preconceived notions of what a Scout looks like, be sure you walk in looking like the Eagle Scout you’re about to become! After all, you’re going to be presenting yourself as a guy who’s ready to advance to Scouting’s highest rank. So plan to walk in looking like you already have the rank; not like you’re “hoping” for it.

Here’s what to do…

If your neckerchief’s trail-worn or stained, invest a few bucks in a new one. Or learn how to iron the good one you have. Make sure it’s folded right (not twirled, which never looks sharp) and be sure to have a slide (no rubber bands or overhand knots!). Same with socks. Make sure they’re BSA-issued and don’t wear the anklet version; they need to be at least calf-height if you’re wearing long Scout pants, or knee socks if you decide to wear Scout shorts. And make sure those pants or shorts are pressed with a crease. If you don’t have a BSA-issued belt, go buy one. (Philmont leather belts are absolutely “legal,” and can be worn smartly.) Then, double-check your uniform shirt against your handbook or the BSA Uniform Inspection Sheet. Are all your badges where they should be? If not, fix that. Are you wearing stuff that shouldn’t be there (like “Totin’ Chip” or “Firem’n Chit” flap-shaped patches, which are for collecting but absolutely not for uniform wear)? Get them off your shirt.
Leave your OA sash home (but do wear your lodge flap or the ribbon-and-arrow pendant). Wear your merit badge sash if you like, and be sure it’s up-to-date (wear it over your right shoulder; don’t drape it over your belt).

“But what if I don’t fit in my uniform anymore?” you might ask. Not a problem! There’s no BSA rule that says you absolutely must wear a uniform. If it doesn’t fit, or if you actually don’t own one, then look sharp by wearing a jacket, dress shirt and pants, and a tie (it would be wise and proper to alert the review chair in advance that you’d going to do this).

Get a haircut two days before the review date. Tell the barber, “I need a haircut that doesn’t look like I just got a haircut—it’s for an interview.” He’ll know what you mean.

Leave your sneakers and hiking boots home. Wear shoes, and be sure you polish them that morning.

Re-clean your fingernails. (Yes, I really mean it!)

Shave. Yes, shave. Even if you think you don’t need to. Shave the morning of the review, or that afternoon at the latest. (You do this in advance, not right before you leave for the review, so that if you nick yourself you can fix the cut so it doesn’t show.)

Consciously and ruthlessly eliminate the word “like” from your vocabulary. Practice till it’s effortless. Then practice some more. Same with “Uh…” and “I mean…”

The day of your review, set your watch 10 minutes ahead of local time. Plan to arrive 10 minutes before the time you’re given to arrive.

Bring your handbook.

Why go to all this bother? The first reason is simple: Person-to-person communication is 80% visual and first impressions always count for 90% of the complete impression. The second reason is so that the wrong stuff doesn’t attract attention away from why you’re all there. You want these folks to focus on you and not get distracted by scruffy sneakers, dirty fingernails, wrinkled neckerchief, or badges in the wrong places. Yes, this stuff shouldn’t matter, but the cold fact is this: All these things do matter, whether you want them to or not!

Now about the actual review…

If the first question somebody asks you is one that could have been answered by reading your application, life statement, or service project workbook, one of two things is going on: Either (a) he or she hasn’t read your materials, or (b) he or she thinks that asking you a question you can readily answer will put you at ease. Since you don’t know which dynamic is operating, answer as if the second option is in play, smile, and relax.

In conversation (which is what this is intended to be; it’s not an “inquisition”) it’s okay and not phony at all to be deferential… After all, they have a bit of control over your future. Using Sir and Ma’am isn’t dumb or lame; it’s smart!

If you don’t understand a question, it’s okay to say (exact words here), “I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re asking me…can you ask me that again, but another way?”

It’s okay to “take a beat” before you respond to a question. And be sure to not interrupt the question before it’s concluded.

When answering a question, don’t feel that your job is to now fill the air with words and keep filling it till you’re interrupted with the next question. Give your reply, then stop talking.

When you’re speaking, your first eye contact is with the person who asked the question, but not to the exclusion of the others in the group. Let your eyes go to each one in the room for a second or two as you’re answering.

That’s it. The rest is up to you. But, the nice thing to know is that, with this stuff taken care of, the only thing you’ll need to focus on is what they have to say, what you have to say, and what vibes you’re picking up. You’ve taken care of everything else.

Oh, one more thing… In case you haven’t figured it out by now, this is exactly the same process that you’ll follow when you’re interviewing at a college or for a job (except you’ll leave your uniform home).

Congratulations! You’re going to be an Eagle Scout!

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 420 – 11/4/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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