How to Make the Most of TAP for a Successful Military Transition and Job Search

Posted by Ashley Jones

Attention transitioning military—answer honestly. Are you prepared for your impending civilian job search? If you’re retiring or separating from the military in a couple of years, it’s time to start planning for the future by making use of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) sooner, rather than later.

If you’ve already started the process, you know that military transition is a huge life event with tons of moving parts. From understanding your VA benefits to learning about higher education avenues, preparing for your job search is just one piece of the TAP puzzle—albeit a very crucial piece if you plan to continue supporting the mission by pursuing a security-cleared career.

So whether you’re preparing to start TAP, you’re actively in the program, or you just need a refresher since you last participated, get the most out of TAP and set yourself up for a successful transition and cleared job search with insights from:

Tim Winter, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the Director for Transition Assistance Programs for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Bryan Acton, a U.S. Marine Corps and Army National Guard veteran, and Peraton’s Military and Veterans Talent Leader, who presents job search advice to TAP classes.

Some of ClearedJobs.Net’s veterans who have made the transition, including Tracy Mitchell, Yvonne Reza, and Bob Wheeler.

Go Early, Go Often

Start the process as early as you possibly can,” urges Tim Winter. “When talking about TAP, the Army likes to say, go early, go often.”

While unanticipated short-term separations may not have the luxury of starting the program early, it’s recommended that retirees begin the process at least two years before retirement, and separating service members start a year out from transition. “And that can depend on the service, so they can start earlier than the 365 days before transition,” explains Tim Winter.

It’s helpful to attend TAP twice, or as many times as needed, which was allowed for the Air Force,” shares Yvonne Reza. “If I could do things over again, I’d do TAP at least a year out and then again six months out.”

“The main thing was going over what our plans were once separated, finding a new job/career—and then the VA is another beast,” adds Yvonne Reza. “That’s why I’d recommend getting an overview on the first go around at TAP, then really paying attention to those details the second time. I was in for four years and I would still recommend doing TAP as early as one and a half years out.”

While starting early is largely recommended, we understand the urge to procrastinate. Remember when we asked if you’re prepared for your impending civilian job search? It’s just that — impending, approaching, looming — and the clock will run out before you know it if you don’t have your eye on it. So start now, because it may be more difficult than you anticipate.

“The TAP program has greatly evolved since my exit from the Army,” says Tracy Mitchell. “I was truthfully not prepared for the civilian side even though I thought I was. How hard is it really to get a job?! But you don’t know what you don’t know, until you realize you don’t know it.”

As a veteran, I had NO idea what was truly involved in a job search,” admits Tracy Mitchell. “I didn’t even start looking until I dropped my paperwork – a huge error on my part! TAP is vastly different now and you can start early. The earlier the better, which is a huge benefit, creating a less stressful exit, better knowledge base, and more tools in the toolbox.”

Do Some Deliberate Career Exploration

The big question is, what do you want to do next? Don’t worry if you haven’t got it all figured out just yet. It’s okay to be uncertain – many service members are. But that’s why you need to start early.

“It’s a key issue for most service members,” shares Tim Winter. “I got out in 93, but it’s one of those evergreen — I won’t say problems, but — service members don’t know what they want to do when they get out. And they haven’t necessarily made a deliberate effort in doing the exploration.”

You need to focus on what your next steps are going to be because nobody else can do that for you,” says Bryan Acton. “I’ve talked to a lot of transitioning folks who have 10 different things they’re thinking of doing next because we all had such a variety of skills we obtained while serving. But when you transition, there’s no job like that where you do 10 different things.”

“So do some deliberate career exploration,” advises Tim Winter. There are several ways you can get started, including the DOL’s two-day Career and Credential Exploration Workshop offered via TAP. You can take it in the classroom at your installation or online through the DOD’s Transition Online Learning Management System.

“The workshop takes you through some deliberate career exploration, which is one of the more useful exercises a service member can go through,” notes Tim Winter. “Sit down and take the time to get an idea of what you want to do, what matches your interests, skills, abilities, and work-related values. Starting early and doing some deliberate career exploration is the best way to get prepared for your transition.”

Leverage All Available Resources

Military transition isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all process. You get out of it, what you put in – but luckily there are a lot of people, programs, and resources available to help you along the way.

Make sure you’re connected with your transition office and the transmission personnel at your installation, so you can make use of every resource that’s available to you,” suggests Tim Winter. “There’s a lot of good work done at the local installation level, from monthly job fairs to workshops.”

Attend the workshops, even if they’re waived based on policy within your particular service,” urges Tim Winter. “Especially take advantage of the two-day career track workshops,” like the Employment workshop and the Career and Credential Exploration Workshop.

TAP also has an Entrepreneurship workshop and an Education workshop. Tim Winter adds, “I would highly recommend that you attend at least one workshop—or all four if you’re able to.”

Another resource to leverage is the Employment Navigator and Partnership Program (ENPP). Piloted three years ago, the program is now available at 30+ installations. “The Employment Navigators work one-on-one with service members and spouses on career exploration, writing resumes, translating your military experience into civilian terms, and employment assistance,” shares Tim Winter.

Employment Navigators can also refer and connect you to partners within the program who can help in specific areas. Tim Winter notes, “We have 59 non-governmental partners that are part of the program that can provide employment placement, networking, resume assistance, training opportunities – a number of things.” If ENPP is available at your installation, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the program.

Key Job Search Tips to Take Note Of

As you go through TAP and try to soak in all the tips that will prepare you for your job search, be sure to pay close attention when it comes to the resume and networking pieces of the puzzle. These are two key elements of any successful job search.

1. Writing Your Resume

When it comes to working on your resume, you need to do some deliberate career exploration first. “Once you know what you want to do, having that focus will then help you put hard skills on your resume,” explains Bryan Acton. “So lay the focus of the future. It’s okay to adjust it, but at some point, you have to be laid into what’s next and build everything around that.”

When you put in the effort to do that deliberate career exploration and learn how to translate your military experience into civilian terms, “It all builds on itself,” says Tim Winter. “Putting the work in helps you write your resume, helps you introduce yourself, and helps you interview.”

“So don’t rely on a tool that will supposedly write your resume or your personal introduction for you,” warns Tim Winter. “When you do the work and fully know what you’ve put into that resume, you can speak to it.”

2. Networking

When asked what he hopes someone will take away from TAP the most, Bryan Acton responded with networking. “I go to TAP classes and I tell people to network,” says Bryan Acton. “I bring my LinkedIn right there with a QR code that says, connect with me. And in a class of 20, I might get three requests to connect.”

Similarly, Tim Winter shares, “One of the most important things is networking, but it’s something many don’t take to heart right away because it’s a little bit alien to the military culture.”

Networking may likely be outside of your comfort zone, but it really is fundamental to a civilian job search. “The vast majority of jobs are found and job offers received through a networking contact,” explains Tim Winter. “My daughter is a perfect example. In the Navy Reserves, her drill weekends were like big networking events. And that’s how she landed her first big job out of college – through the network of that reserve unit.”

“Networking is a key part of career transition and job search,” adds Tim Winter. “You can just send out applications, but there’s a better return on investment by doing the networking part.”

If you’re still hesitant to network, think of it like this. “You’ve actually been doing it your whole career, you’ve just been missing one step—finalizing the connection,” says Bryan Acton. “How many times have you been out somewhere talking to people and you ask, ‘What do you do? I do this…Oh, that’s cool, man. So nice to meet you.’ And then you leave and you never see them again. It takes three seconds to add somebody on LinkedIn. So it’s creating that final step – the networking connection.”

Take Ownership of Your Transition

“In the end, successfully landing a job and hopefully starting a new career following the military is a responsibility that falls on you,” says Bob Wheeler. “The transition programs cover a lot of information, some of which may be relevant to one person but maybe not another. And the opposite can be true as well. The sooner you start thinking about your future life after the military, the more prepared you’ll be for the transition program experience and it’ll be easier to identify the topics and experiences offered that can really help you succeed.”

It all comes down to taking the reins and owning your transition. “It needs to be your transition because that’s what it is—it’s yours,” urges Tim Winter. “When it ultimately comes down to it, you’re the only one that is going to truly care about it more than anyone else.”

And finally, “realize your job search and your career transition now becomes your full-time job,” says Tim Winter. “If you can get into that mindset and take ownership, that will go a long way to help you persevere through what might be a difficult transition.”


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

    Ashley Jones [email protected]
This entry was posted on Monday, April 29, 2024 6:38 pm

3 thoughts on “How to Make the Most of TAP for a Successful Military Transition and Job Search”

  1. Great info for #TransitioningMilitary with excellent success tips. Note the critical elements of taking ownership of your transition and on the value of networking. The assumption that you will be hired just because you are a vet or a company will figure out a job for you are great ways to be jobless for a long time. And all of us who work with military in transition can tell you how few follow up or use their connections because they do not understand networking’s process or value.

  2. Excellent article. I would also mention that a critical step to take while transitioning towards a future career is to do a CSP or SkillBridge internship because, 93% of the time, they lead to employment. Even if you are laser-focused on a particular career, learn a trade while still AD to have a Plan B in your pocket.

  3. Great article with up-to-date information. The reputation of TAP suffers from veterans who transitioned prior to 2020 talking about their experiences as if today’s TAP is the same as it was in 1995. So much has changed and this article highlights some of the positive changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation