One of the last remaining hurdles between you and your well-earned DD214 is five long days of congressionally mandated PowerPoint torture, or so you’ve heard.
Don’t let the naysayers convince you that the Transition Assistance Program is a waste of your time. The information provided is extremely important, but you may need some additional guidance in order to maximize its impact.
For Starters, What Is the Transition Assistance Program?
A major part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work and Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (also known as the VOW Act) requires all separating or retiring service members to attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The Department of Labor (DoL), which facilitates the largest segment of the program, helped to develop its curriculum. TAP must be completed within 180 days of separation or retirement.
What Will I Learn?
You can expect to cover the following subject areas:
- Pre-separation counseling
- Relocation assistance
- Employment and career workshop
- Searching for a job
- Building a resume and cover letter
- Translating your skills
- Current labor market statistics
- Interviewing techniques
- Employability evaluation
- Veteran benefits workshop
- Education and training
- Health and life insurance
- Transition financial planning
Service members that are separating with a confirmed service-connected disability can choose to attend the Disabled Transition Assistance Program instead, which includes all TAP content, but is targeted to support any additional special needs of the service member. You can also elect to attend an optional two-day curriculum supplement program called Training Tracks, which allows transitioners to delve deeper into one of three subject areas: accessing higher education, career technical training, or entrepreneurship.
All service members regardless of branch begin their transition process by filling out the DD Form 2648, “Pre-Separation Counseling Checklist,” after which you will make an appointment with a transition counselor. For branch specific information, click the links below:
There is an abundance of information to cover and not nearly enough time allotted to get through it all. This can often result in a crash course, death-by-PowerPoint vibe.
Do I Really Have to Attend TAP?
Yes, you do. Feel free to refer to Public Law 112-56 and Department of Defense Instruction 1332.35 if you don’t believe me. If you are lamenting the prospect of an entire week of classroom instruction, consider this: the Transition Assistance Program could justifiably be 3-4 weeks long. There is an abundance of information to cover and not nearly enough time allotted to get through it all. This can often result in a crash course, death-by-PowerPoint vibe. As an aside, the DoD/DoL should really look into switching from PowerPoint to Prezi, for goodness sake.
What Should I Do Beforehand?
1. Get your resume in tip-top shape. Your resume needs to be at a standard that you are comfortable with, populated with up-to-date information, now. Do not throw it together the night before the DoL employment workshop. Send it to at least three mentors that you respect for feedback, ideally people who hold jobs outside of the federal government. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on civilian resume tips.
The resume portion of the DoL employment workshop needs to be approached with a healthy amount of skepticism. My resume guidance included gems like “make sure to use bigger words; grab a thesaurus if you need to” and “don’t forget to brag about being a good multitasker.” Turns out those are huge resume no-nos. I truly had no idea, so I took the advice without question. The executive summary in the first draft of my post-service resume literally said I was a “sagacious multitasker.” It makes me cringe just thinking about it. Luckily my wife (and editor extraordinaire) told me my fancy language made me sound like a pompous know-it-all, so I changed it. My personal experience appears to be uncommon, however. The employment workshop participant guide from the DoL is spectacular, so my facilitators must have gone rogue.
My resume guidance included gems like “make sure to use bigger words; grab a thesaurus if you need to” and “don’t forget to brag about being a good multitasker.”
You will also spend an afternoon doing mock interviews with peers. Take this seriously. Come prepared, provide constructive feedback, and take all honest comments to heart. My class did not, and it ended up being a big joke for some and a frustrating experience for others.
2. Get your LinkedIn page set up and start making connections. The good thing about getting your resume together is that you will have most of the information you need compiled for your LinkedIn profile. Do not skip this step; if used correctly LinkedIn will be one of your most valuable networking tools. Some preliminary LinkedIn advice for veterans, based on common mistakes:
- Don’t use your military photo, or any photo in uniform. Invest in a good professional headshot. This could potentially cost between $150-$300, depending on how many different images you buy the rights to. Get over your sticker shock; it is worth every penny.
- Focus on celebrating what you bring to the table. Don’t advertise that you are “looking for the next opportunity” or “in transition.”
- Avoid acronyms and military shop talk.
- Make meaningful connections; do not send connection invitations to everyone you can see. Always be sure to send a personalized message with your connection request.
Stay tuned for a future article dedicated to your post-service LinkedIn profile. In the meantime, feel free to connect with me and peruse my LinkedIn profile for some ideas. Don’t forget the personalized connection request!
Finally, I suggest following Wayne Breitbarth, who is widely regarded as the undisputed LinkedIn expert. His website powerformula.net has an abundance of valuable information. Sign up for his mailing list, buy and read his book, attend a seminar, and/or sign up for a one-on-one consultation (which can be done remotely from anywhere in the world). I have done all of the above and strongly recommend doing them as well.
3. Order business cards. Yes, you still need some analog networking tools, but don’t break the bank. Most employers will give you some when you start your new job anyways. You probably won’t need more than 100, and if you take advantage of some coupon codes they probably will not cost more than $15. Don’t forget to pick up a metal carrying case, an inexpensive yet essential item that will ensure you always hand out a crisp, flat card.
4. Assess your wardrobe. Most branches’ TAP programs impose a civilian business casual dress code. You will need a week’s worth of collared shirts or blouses, slacks or skirts, ties, etc. If you don’t have a civilian business casual wardrobe and at least one dressier outfit, it is time to go shopping (while you are still receiving a steady paycheck). You will almost certainly need it all for the next phase of your career, and more importantly, you will need to have a sharp outfit ready to don for a short-notice interview. Be on the lookout for a post on the horizon detailing cost-effective ways to build your civilian wardrobe.
5. Be prepared to listen carefully to every word of the benefits briefing and take detailed notes. In fact, I would suggest digging into the “VA Benefits I and II Participant Guide” in advance and come armed with questions. There are hundreds of resources and benefits available to you as a veteran at the federal, state, and local level. There is also support from private entities and non-profits. In some states you won’t have to pay for a fishing licence. In others, depending on your disability rating, you can even be exempt from paying property taxes. VA educational and disability benefits are abundant, too. Take full advantage of every well-deserved benefit out there.
6. Be well-slept, caffeinated, positive, and ready to learn. This is not the time to zone out or coast because you are on the home stretch to freedom. Though you can almost taste the sweetness of your DD214, hang in there. This may very well be the most important week of the next chapter of your career/life.
7. Keep all of your materials. Need I say more?
Remember, you are always networking. Make sure you’re “on,” and do not forget to maintain a positive attitude. One of your contemporaries attending TAP alongside you may very well be a connection to your next career. If not, at least it is good practice.
Your personal experience will depend heavily on the quality of your facilitators, as well as your branch of service. Future TAP-attendees, do you have any questions or need further clarification? Veterans, what was your TAP experience like — any additional advice for future attendees? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.