The way the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) executed by Department of Labor which is responsible for training those leaving the military is not without it’s criticisms. I found my experience to be extraordinary oriented towards the sort of job hunting that is generally proven to be the most difficult i.e. blindly submit your resume to companies and hope they call you back. It did very little to help you understand the language of corporate America or teach you about leveraging networking opportunities.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the class didn’t consistently try to sell itself as being more than it actually is. It’s a one week course (with some additional follow-on training) in how to make sure you apply for your government benefits and practice the blindly applying job hunting formula. During my experience the instructor repeatedly stated (at least 7 times an hour) that this “was a congressionally mandated training that you must participate in in order to separate from the service.” As one of my buddies put it, “I don’t know any congressman who’s going to care if I miss a few hours.” Reminding me that I being forced to be there didn’t exactly make me want to be there.
I was also a bit unique in the audience. Most of them were separating after 4-6 years. I was finishing out 20. In general a job for them would be a fine place to land after service. I needed to start my next career. I wasn’t a good fit for the class, and it wasn’t a good fit for my needs. It has a lot of potential, but the top-down nature of the program limits the instructor’s ability to make the program better from the ground up.
There is no measurement to track its effectiveness that I’m aware of. Like many things in the government, it just merely exists.
And I don’t bring this up as a rant, but without understanding the environment by some brief description it will be difficult to understand how grateful I am for the American Corporate Partners (ACP) program.
ACP is this wonderful partnering and mentoring program that allows qualified transitioning service members to be able to pair up with a mentor usually from a Fortune 500 company. It requires a brief application that can be done in a couple of hours (if you’re starting from zero–much faster if you’ve got a resume ready) and it gives you access to someone who is already working in the career field you want to be working in.
In my case I wanted to do IT Project Management and I was partnered with a work-from-home IT Project Manager from Wells Fargo. His name was Gore and he and I would talk about every two weeks from the time I started the program until I transistioned.
During our conversations we’d discuss what his work day looked like. We’d talk about projects we were proud of. He and I spent several sessions having me be a ‘junior PM’ on a fictitious project at Wells so I could get the feel for how to work a project through that organization. Gore was such a good representative of his company that I applied for several positions at Wells Fargo.
I learned a lot of the little things you can’t learn any other way. During our chats Gore would say something that would open a window to how projects work in his environment, at that scale, and with those types of stakeholders that I didn’t even think to consider. We discussed things like balancing between policy requirements and stakeholder demands, necessary skills for success, and approaches for difficult circumstances.
When the mentorship window officially ended I was in the midst of applying for jobs. I didn’t have anything I could concretely say at the time about how much the program helped me transition–because I hadn’t found where I was transitioning to yet. A few weeks later I landed the best job I could have asked for. I wanted to write and tell ACP and Gore how much it meant, but I jumped into long days and didn’t have the perspective to know if I was going to be successful long-term. Now I do.
We’re just about to wrap up Wave 1 of a very large project. I was put on the most difficult track and managed it and the stakeholders well enough that I’ve been asked to conduct training on my techniques and best practices. I also got personally invited to help manage Wave 2 and I’ve had a few supervisors send my boss extremely positive feedback about my performance.
Now that I have the perspective to know how valuable this program is, I want to take the time to say thank you. Thank you Bernard for matching me with Gore. Thank you Gore for helping me how things work, and to the unnamed people who created this program in the first place. Thank you for filling the gap to help veterans. Thank you for making your program nimble to our needs.
Lastly, if you’re transitioning TAP class will tell you it’s mandatory to do various things (they have a checklist). Talking ACP isn’t mandatory, but it’s one of the smartest things you could do as you’re preparing to leave the service.
Over the years I’ve gained a wealth of experience in the military that can benefit whatever organization decides to hire me when I take off this uniform. The big question is how do I let them see my talent and desire to contribute to their organization?
Compared to life in a uniform these are new challenges, but I’m quickly learning how the military experience has helped prepare me to overcome them. I didn’t see how much it had prepared me on my own. I needed help. I love writing using first hand sources. In fact, I nearly got in serious trouble as an undergrad for doing first had research. It certainly surprised several of my teachers, but the result was I learned how to get certified to do the research and I got published in an academic journal.
For this project I contacted the local HR department at Scentsy, a privately traded company in the area and asked for a chat. They agreed, and so last week I sat down with Angie and Michelle over a ginger ale (my favorite) and had a wonderful chat.
When the conversation ended there weren’t any specific life changing oh-wow moments. That’s mostly because the oh-wows were happening in my head. Their polite conversation helped me to connect crucial topics I have read about in a way translated to a coherent plan for my transition moving forward. It was really had to keep myself from chicken scratching logic diagrams that were quickly swimming through my mind and focus instead on the conversation at hand.
When the conversation concluded I started working. While I wont share everything that clicked in one post, I can share a few things I’ve learned now.
1. It’s on you. If you’re not going to use a recruiter than it’s on you. The HR folks at most businesses are too busy to translate your military career to what they’re looking for. They have plenty of other qualified applicants that speak their language. They’re not there to hold your hand. That shouldn’t come as a surprise or a big deal. You’ve owned your PT score and everything else about your career up until this point. Owning yourself now shouldn’t be new, even though the processes are different.
2. Consider the transition a deployment. Prior to deploying the military training gets more and more intense. It includes rehearsals and rehearsals with scenarios. Rehearse for your separation and rehearse different scenarios. We often got new uniforms issued prior to a deployment. This time your new kit is going to come off the rack at a store and you’re going to get to try it on before being expected to wear it.
One scenario I’ve wondered about is where the company I want to work for has an opening, but doesn’t have the job posting I want once I become available. What I needed to own is being financially prepared for less pay for the duration in between. But I also needed to know if it was a good plan to get the job that gets me in the door. Personally campaigning to shift from one area in the Army to another is often viewed as disloyal and generally frowned upon.*
When talking with Angie and Michelle they explained how someone willing to take a job that’s available (and do it well) usually land the job they want. Sometimes rather quickly. They emphasized that doing well where they are is key. Personally campaigning (applying) for a job in another department is approved and encouraged where they work. Good to know!
3. Learn the rules of civilian life. Oh, yes. It has rules. They’re sometimes more subtle and they vary between organizations, but there are certainly rules. My recommendation, learn the communication rules first.
Learn something about design & typography. You’ve learned how to read and use regulations that specify fonts and formats. Study some of the design and formats that major companies use. You’ll find style guides for organizations and universities make this easy. You’ll learn a lot about the company by learning how they want to be perceived.
Study Fashion. Learn whats appropriate for where you’re headed. You do get treated differently depending on how you dress. While you may consider it obvious, if you’d like to enjoy some commentary on the subject you can read this reddit post (caution language—but it’s reddit, I shouldn’t have to put a language warning on this).
Learn how to introduce yourself. You have too many cool stories to tell to try and share them all at once. So, start the conversation off right so you can share the ones that are important and keep your audience listening.
4. Build an amazing resume. You’ve managed to learn all the nuances of formal evaluations so taking those skills and putting them into a resume isn’t hard, but it does take work. Under your experience a good resume will have a blend of responsibilities and accomplishments. How you word it is up to you, though I will warn you of some red flags I’ve seen:
Using only military jargon. OCONUS, MEDCOM, NETCOM, etc., these terms don’t mean much. When you’re asking someone to read this you’re asking them to read another language. Put it in English. No one is going to Google Translate your resume but you.
Not getting to the point. If you’re not writing the “so what” when you’re working on your resume then you’re not writing much of importance.
Copying and pasting your evaluations. I literally had to read a resume where someone just copied the last 15 years of NCOERs into his resume. He didn’t get hired. Communication is so important as a scoring factor for me that the length worked against him even though he’d accomplished things worth noting.
Only using the web form. Lots of businesses will use a web form for hiring, but also give the applicant an opportunity to post their resume. The form version of you comes out in a terrible font and doesn’t show any elegance. Always post the resume.
Times New Roman. This font may be standard, but among designers and HR folks it’s known as the sweatpants of fonts. If you plan on showing up to the interview in sweatpants…
Only posting your responsibilities. Yup. You were in charge of something. What did you do with it? Responsibilities show the level of trust. Accomplishments tell the reader what you did with that trust.
5. Take a good professional head shot and make sure it’s on all your social media. These photos usually cost about $100, but they’re worth it.
Not everyone gets to sit down for 45 minutes with an Angie and Michelle. I imagine that there are plenty of people you know who’d be willing to help you develop your transition plan if you take the time to seek them out and ask. Friends who’ve already made the transition can be among your best resource. Once again, the military has prepared you for success. When you’ve needed help before you learned how to find a battle buddy. Finding one now is no different.
You’ve had a training plan for every deployment you’ve gone on. Now is your time to work on the training plan for your last deployment. Good Luck!
* I was entering the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill Oklahoma and while entering one of our classmates raised his hand to ask a question. He wanted the commander to approve him taking a language proficiency test. He explained that he spoke three languages used in the Middle East fluently and that crunching numbers to put artillery rounds on target might not be the best use of his talents.
His comments were met with ridicule and derision. This was 2008. I’m sure that there were folks who could have used his expertise as a linguist during the surge.