Lara's husband may be transitioning out of the Marine Corps early next year. "He has one chance at the board, and if he doesn't get it, we're out," she tells us. "So I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the career assistance stuff on base? Is it good enough?"
Good enough? In one sentence, Lara got to the heart of every concern transitioning (or potentially transitioning) families face. Is the career counseling we are getting good enough?
We know that for the service member, all that goes into transitioning into civilian employment can make for a tremendous amount of stress and pressure. As military spouses ourselves, we know the other truth: It is a tremendous stress and pressure for you, too. After all, all your eggs are in one basket. Theirs.
So how can a supportive spouse like Lara help her transitioning service member find the career advice he needs?
Step One: Start With TAPs
"I keep hearing that TAPs doesn't do its job very well," Lara confesses. Mixed reviews of TAPs abound, but we keep hearing one thing in particular: If it is going to be worthwhile, you need to start the course as soon as possible.
"That's our main criticism," said Christie, a recently transitioned Army wife whose husband now serves in the Guard while balancing a full time job in operations management. Her husband took the class just before he got out, and they are both confident that the class would have been better if they had been able to apply its lessons over a longer period of time.
"It's like everyone in there had either never written a resume or never thought past a low-wage hourly job. Everyone was way behind in their [job] search and with how soon he was out, [he said it was a] waste of time."
While you are at TAPs, expect to spend time working through your benefits, learning the basics of the VA, discussing your resume and interview tactics, and looking at USA Jobs.
For some people, many of those activities will feel like a rudimentary overview of the help they need and far from enough. For others, it will be the jumping off point for thinking about their job search, resume, and future career.
Wherever you fall on that spectrum, TAPs is a mandatory part of your transition out of the military, and it is a great opportunity - if you make the most of it. Begin the class as soon as you can, and come armed with a resume ready for edits as well as questions about job searching resources available to you.
While you are there, seek out someone in the classroom who is looking for a similar kind of career. This person should be one with whom you can bounce ideas as you go through the exercises of the course. Their support, understanding, and guidance will help you get the most out of TAPs.
Step Two: Look to Other Free Military Resources
The good news: two of the most powerful tools to help you during your transition are free. The bad news: You have to use one of them within 180 days of when you get out.
Military.com's Skills Translator stands out as a great resource you and your spouse can access whenever you need it.
"We went through it together at dinner. I would ask him questions and put everything into the system," Christie remembers. "Finding a way to explain how valuable this [military] experience is to a civilian in HR is a real challenge." The Military Skills Translator completely changes that. "Doing it together was fun, too," Christie says. "It made it less stressful."
Military OneSource offers a fantastic transition tool for families that you, the spouse, can access yourself. From financial planning to help you anticipate what your service member's income means on a civilian salary to career resources that will help you build a resume, research potential occupations, and build a career plan that can actually help you get from dreaming of a job to real employment.
Walking through these programs with your spouse can be both a support to him in his transition and a relief to you.
"The idea that we could do something together makes me feel better," Lara admits. "I know he has this under control, but just being there with him while he's doing it helps relieve a lot of the tension in our house. That's why I'm the one asking for help. I just need to do something to help."
Tools like these - and those offered by the Veteran's Career Transition program (now open to spouses), the Veterans Employment Center, and Transition GPS -- are more than just the building blocks for a good transition. They are a way to empower your family with the knowledge you need to overcome the emotional toll of transition.
Step Three: Connect!
"However good all those resources are, sometimes you still need more help," says Kayla, a Navy wife in Tampa. Kayla's husband is getting out mid-career, and with twelve years under his belt in the military, she is worried that the free tools available to them will undersell her husband in the job market.
"They can be great if you are young or haven't hit this career point," she says. "Our civilian friends are all senior-level managers now or lower-level executives. He has comparable experience, but he doesn't have the career advice he needs to show that on a resume."
For service members transitioning later in their careers, the stress level can be all the higher for the spouse.
"If you're like us, you're a mom, your kids are older, and income is really important. You can't just get an hourly job and make ends meet. We have to pay for our kids' college somehow,” says Kayla.
For Kayla, helping her husband find the career counseling meant putting on her thinking cap. "I kept thinking, I need someone who has done this before to help me through it! I need a wife who has handled this stress and didn't lose her mind!"
Then she realized that what she was looking for was a mentor. Almost immediately, she realized that is what her husband needed, too. "It was like - duh. Of course. Someone who has done this before."
Kayla thought long and hard about where they might find someone willing to fill that role, and eventually, she says, she just started going through her address book to see if someone might fit the bill.
"There was a family at church that we sort of knew but not really," she says. "But I knew he was also a former Marine and might have some advice for my husband." She says that while his family transitioned over a decade ago, she knew he would still have valuable advice. "He has a great job and is well-respected in the community," she says.
"My husband asked if he would look at his resume, and he really has become a huge advantage to us in this transition."
From resume help to networking assistance, Kayla's husband's mentor has been a huge help. "His wife has helped me, too," she says. "It's like having our hands held by people who have gone down this road before."
Look for mentors in all your social circles. From congregations to alumni groups, former veterans abound and many are eager to lend a helping hand to a fellow service member. As members of the civilian workforce, their career advice can be priceless. After all, when it comes to making a successful career transition, they have already been there and done that.
"At least you know their advice works," laughs Lara, who is trying to get a head-start on career planning for her family's transition. "There are so many resources out there, and finding someone who has done it is such a good idea, no matter where you are in the process."
With all of the resources out there, there is help no matter where you are in your process. As for whether or not those tools are good enough?
"Only time will tell," Lara says. "But I think the message is it's all in how you use what's out there. Like it's our effort that actually needs to be good enough."