TAO Self-help

Title:Four Lessons You Might Not Learn at TAP

Author:© 2015 Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, potomacbooksinc.com.

Date:March 2015


An important step in leaving the military and starting your life as a civilian is the DOD's transition assistance program. Referred to as TAP or TurboTap, or, most recently and more accurately, Transition GPS. A bit confused? Visit www.dodtap.mil for an overview, embedded resources, and links to each service branch's iteration of the program.

When TAP first appeared 20+ years ago it ran for five hours and participation was voluntary. Now it takes a week and attendance is mandatory, although retirees may opt out. The mission and content of TAP is important and the value you receive depends on the trainers at your post or base and the amount of effort you put into it.

Regardless of the quality of the service provided and your participation, you might miss out on some critical information, especially in the job hunting and interviewing components of the program. Here are four important lessons to add to what you already know.

1. Self-knowledge

To interview successfully you must have knowledge about the company and the job. This helps you determine your level of interest and convey that interest to the interviewer. That's not good enough. You must also present yourself so that the interviewer sees you in the job, doing it well and smiling. Your ability to do that depends on knowing who you are and what makes you tick. What are your attributes, skills, traits, and personality characteristics? More importantly, which of these are most appropriate for that particular interview?

In addition to your inventory of skills and traits, you must be ready to discuss specific examples of each. Saying you possess a particular talent is not good enough. You have to be able to prove it and the best proof is an actual story from your life that illustrates that talent or skill and its positive impact on the mission.

You must also be aware of your weaknesses, deficits, failures, and disappointments. Being able to openly and honestly discuss this topic is critical to interviewing success. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has regrets. We all make mistakes. What matters are the lessons we learn, the corrections we make, and the resulting self-awareness. Believe it or not, this touchy subject can have a positive impact on the interview.

2. Interviewing Empathy

A few years ago I was conducting an interview preparation session and emphasizing to the group the importance of presenting oneself in such a way as to be appealing to the interviewer. In mid-sentence one of the attendees interrupted me to say, "Tom, I am sorry, but it sounds like you are advising us to just tell the interviewer what he or she wants to hear and I have a problem with that." I thought about that statement for a moment and replied, well, yes, that is exactly what I am recommending, but with one critical caveat—truthfulness.

Although it is quite easy to identify and focus on what is important to you, for an interview to be successful, you must also remember what is important to the interviewer. What matters to him? What does she care about? What are his priorities? Why is she interviewing? Hitting those hot buttons will contribute to your success. With prior knowledge of the particulars of the job, the company, and the location you should be able to hit those buttons. That is what I call interviewing empathy.

So you can see that, yes, it is essential to tell the interviewer exactly what he or she wants to hear, as long as it's the truth. Consider the converse. What if you fail to emphasize information about yourself that is both true and relevant to the position? That might have been the very piece of information the interviewer needed to designate you as the right person for the job.

3. The Power of Questions

Some of the most powerful tools in your transition toolbox are the questions you will ask throughout the job-hunting process. To understand why questions are such an important aspect of your career transition, let's start with this one—why do we ask them? There are two answers; one is fairly obvious and the other somewhat obscure.

The obvious reason we ask questions is to get answers. In your job search there is much to learn about a potential position and a new organization before you can commit to a new career. Why is the position available? What are the responsibilities of the job? What is the potential for career growth? How is individual performance measured? What is the corporate culture? Will the compensation, benefits, and location support quality-of-life goals? The answers will help you decide if the opportunity is right for you.

The less obvious yet equally powerful force behind asking questions is their ability to convey interest in the opportunity and the company. Conveying interest is critical to successful interviewing. Just because you are in the interview does not mean you are interested in the job. Although you could be the most qualified candidate on the planet, you will not get the offer unless the company knows with certainty that you are sincerely interested. Short of coming right out and saying "I am interested," asking appropriate, timely, and targeted questions is the most powerful way to express interest. Not surprisingly, a lack of good questions is one of the most often cited reasons for rejection in the interviewing process.

4. Selectivity

Career transition, job hunting, and interviewing is hard work, but do not make it harder that is it already is. Consider the adages Don't reinvent the wheel and Chase someone who wants to be caught. You would be wise to apply that wisdom to your job search. Here is where to start. First, understand that interviewing for a job is a form of sales—you are selling a product called YOU to a company called YOUR NEXT EMPLOYER. As any successful sales person will tell you, it is easier to fill a customer's existing and acknowledged need with your product than it is to convince a prospective client that the need even exists.

How does that relate to finding a job? As hard as it may be to convince an employer to hire you, what if you had to first convince that same employer to hire a veteran for the first time? Even if you are successful in educating that employer about veterans and convincing that hiring manager of the potential value added by a veteran, you have yet to convince him or her to hire YOU. This is where selectivity comes into play—you would be much better served to target employers that already value veterans as employees. How do you find these predisposed, military-friendly employers? Here are four ways.

First, take a look at the companies that advertise or are featured in print and digital media that target military personnel. These include Military Transition News, Military.com, GI Jobs, and TAOnline. Those organizations already have YOU on their radar.

Second, take full advantage of government sponsored programs and resources. Check out Transition GPS and VETS. Pay particular attention to the interviewing events and job fairs sponsored by your local TAP office. The companies in attendance are looking for YOU.

Third, find organizations that host job fairs and placement firms that specialize in military-to-civilian transition and employment. These companies have already done the pre-sell, stacking the deck in your favor. Their clients contract with them because they want to hire YOU. To find these organizations, visit rileyguide.com

Fourth, take a look at joint private sector initiatives such as the JP Morgan Chase 100K Jobs Mission and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring our Heroes program. The list of companies that support those initiatives is impressive and they signed up because they want to hire YOU.

Visit out-of-uniform.com for a more in depth discussion of this subject and more about the military-to-civilian career transition process. Thank you for your service and good hunting!

By Tom Wolfe, Career Coach
© 2015; Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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