Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. -- If you're sitting down to watch a football game and the announcers say, "This is a match-up that looks great on paper," you don't really know whether you're in for a good game or a yawner. Every sports fan knows that football games are won on the field, not on paper.On the other hand, if you're a sergeant or above and you look great on paper, odds are very good that you will get a promotion. The reason is simple. When you're in the running for a promotion, your record - NOT you - goes before the 21-member board.This is where the Enlisted Career Counseling and Evaluation Unit can help you. They can advise you on what you should do to improve yourself as a Marine. Just as importantly, they can advise you on how to make sure your record reflects all of your strengths.Indeed, the focus at the Enlisted Career Counseling office in Quantico, VA is on building your record. When career counselors are advising, they blot out their impressions of a Marine and look purely at the Marine's record, said Gunnery Sgt. Anil Lund of the counseling unit.Though seemingly a simple notion, it's one that many Marines don't properly appreciate. They tend to form their own impressions of their work, and they tend to gauge their contributions by how their superiors treat them."They think they know themselves," Gunnery Sgt. Lund continued. However, their records might not convey the same image."If your record is competitive, you are competitive," Gunnery Sgt. Lund said.The word "competitive" is a key one to consider, Gunnery Sgt. Lund noted. It's not enough to be good. A Marine must be good in comparison to other Marines. After all, there are more people eligible for promotions than there are actual slots.Because a Marine's record is so important when boards are pondering promotions, the first order of business with the career counseling office is to make sure a Marine's record has everything it's supposed to have.Whether it's a Physical Fitness Test score, a rifle range score, or height and weight information, you don't want any blank lines or misinformation. Once the completeness and accuracy of the record has been confirmed, it's time to look at the quality of the record.If you haven't met the necessary Professional Military Education requirements, for example, the advisers will tell you to correct that. Of course, there are a lot of issues that aren't so obvious."Always accept more challenging billets," said Gunnery Sgt. Tom Moyes, another counselor with the unit. "You can't get complacent."Also, don't settle for just meeting the PME requirements, Gunnery Sgt. Moyes said. Seek additional education.As Gunnery Sgt. Lund said, "A record doesn't get built overnight." Building a competitive record takes time.That's why it's almost never too early to contact the counseling unit and seek advice."We recommend that you call us two years before coming into the zone," said Gunnery Sgt. Gail Horn, a counselor with the unit.Counselors can advise Marines on whether a career move is wise. Also, Gunnery Sgt. Horn said, "We can counsel them on when is the best time in their career to make that move."Even if you can't make any dramatic changes in your present situation, counselors can advise you on how to "grow where you're planted," Gunnery Sgt. Horn said.Sometimes, a Marine's record has a rough spot, but it's something that can be explained. Here again, counselors can help. It's possible to write an explanatory note that can make the promotions board aware of extenuating circumstances. Gunnery Sgt. Horn said counselors can help ensure that the explanatory note is "explaining and not complaining."Long-range planning is always preferable to last-second preparation. However, Gunnery Sgt. Horn said, "We never say it's too late. We're not going to dwell on the past. We're going to look forward."The Enlisted Career Counseling and Evaluation Unit encourages all sergeants and above on active duty to contact the unit in person or on the telephone. The unit's toll free number is 1-800-833-2320, and the DSN number is 278-9241.If you can't make it to Quantico, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to opt for telephone counseling. Counselors frequently make trips to training schools and various units. Check to see if counselors will be in your area.If a counselor is going to be in your area, order up your Official Military Personnel File four weeks ahead of time. That will enable the counselor to give you the best possible advice.For more information, visit MarineLINK at www.usmc.mil. Go to "Information," then go to "Career Information," then go to "Military," and finally go to "Enlisted Career Counseling."