Understanding Military Service Members Transition into the Civilian Workforce: A Guide for Career Professionals

By Alex Nguyen

“While most veterans say the military prepared them for active duty, only about half say they were well prepared for the transition to civilian life.” (Parker et al., 2019, para.4). As career professionals, it is important to be multiculturally competent, which includes understanding the unique process that service personnel go through when they have completed their service and are reintegrating into the civilian workforce.

The U.S. Department of Defense created the Transition Assistance Program to provide resources and assistance to military members; “Every year, approximately 200,000 men and women leave U.S. military service and return to life as civilians, a process known as the military to civilian transition” (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d., para. 1).

The Transition Assistance Program

The U.S. Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program is mandatory for all transitioning service members (SMs). This program includes four separate sections, and each portion must be completed by specific dates. Throughout this process service members are completing and collecting Career Readiness Standards (CRS) that are meant to provide tangible resources and information to assist them during the transition into the civilian workforce. Currently, the CRS that all SMs must complete is a gap analysis and a budget. Based on the track the individual selects, they will be required to obtain additional CRS. Most of the information provided to the SMs is condensed into a week of full-day classes. The overall goal of the TAP program is for the SMs to leave with a job offer or an acceptance letter to a college or a training program.

A Breakdown of the Transition Assistance Program:

  1. Individual Counseling Appointment and the Pre-Separation Seminar must take place no later than (NLT) 12-months prior to separation. The goal is to identify what level of transition assistance is needed, to identify their post transition goals, and to provide resources and tools.
  2. Transition Readiness Seminar Core Curriculum is delivered across three days of instruction. This must be completed NLT 12-months prior to separation.
    • Day one is DOD Transition Day, which covers the resilience needed during the transition, translating military experience into civilian language, and provides financial literacy training.
    • Day two is VA Benefits Day, when the Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits specialist discusses eligibility for various benefits
    • Day three is the Department of Labor (DOL) Day, which provides attendees with an overview of the employment process in the civilian sector.
  3. Two-Day Tracks are selected by SMs based on their post-military life goals. This must be completed NLT 12-months prior to separation.
    • The DOD Education Track focuses on how to identify a post-secondary major, how to pick a higher education institution that meets the SMs goals, how to apply to schools, and how to utilize earned military benefits to help pay for school.
    • The DOL Employment Track teaches the SMs how to find a job, how to network, and how to navigate the job search process.
    • The DOL Vocational Track is geared to individuals who are unsure of their career aspiration and/or would like to pursue a career path in the skilled trades field. This course includes assessments and information on skilled trades careers.
    • The Small Business Administrations (SBA) Entrepreneurship Track provides information on starting a business and resources for specific assistance for veterans, including grants and guidance.
  4. Capstone is made up of two parts; the Capstone Review Appointment and the Capstone Unit Level Appointment. These final steps ensure that the SMs CRS documentation is completed, that they have a solid transition plan, and that exiting military members are provided with additional resources as needed. The Capstone Review appointment must take place NLT 120-days prior to separation and the Capstone Unit Level Appointment must take place NLT 90-days prior to separation.

Photo By Jessica Radanavong On Unsplash

How Career Professionals Can Help

A typical career development relationship takes place over months, maybe years, while the TAP process provides the veteran with a plethora of information condensed into a 40-hour week. Due to the condensed timeline, veterans may leave the military overwhelmed by the amount of information and without a full grasp of what they want their life to look like in the future or what value they can bring to future employers. This is when veterans may reach out to you, the career professional, for help! Here are some things that you can do to better serve and assist this population, as well as direct resources to aid your work:

  1. Learn about the military culture and the transition process:
    Uniformed Services University: Learn About Military Culture
    American Psychological Association Services, Inc.: Understanding Military Culture
    U.S Department of Veteran Affairs: Veterans Employment Toolkit
    U.S Department of Veteran Affairs: Your VA Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
  2. Connect with your local Veterans Administration (VA) Center and American Job Center to learn more about upcoming events and resources that are available for your clients.
  3. Ask if your client has their transition paperwork and if they can bring those documents in to show you what they have experienced and what they identified as interests and goals.
  4. Listen to your client's experience to avoid making assumptions and generalizations about military service members.
  5. Spend time helping the client through the self-discovery process by utilizing assessments and one-on-one coaching.
  6. Empower veterans to step outside of their comfort zone through networking and connecting with mentors who are employed in industries of interest that also involve military veterans.


By taking these six steps you can help your clients who are veterans to feel heard, empowered, confident, and hopeful about their future civilian career and life.



Parker, K., Igielnik, R., Barroso, A., & Cilluffo, A. (2019). The American veteran experience and the post 9/11 generation. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/09/10/readjusting-to-civilian-life/

U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Transition assistance program. Retrieved on Oct. 21, 2022 from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/tap



Alex NguyenAlex Nguyen is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She is a Personal & Professional Development Advisor for the United States Marine Corps Community Services. In her current role she assists transitioning service members through the transition readiness program and provides one on one career counseling. Before this she worked at SC Vocational Rehabilitation as a General Caseload Counselor and a Transition Job Coach. She began her career in the School of Business Career Services office at Virginia Commonwealth University. She obtained her B.S. in Psychology from Radford University and her M.Ed in Counselor Education with a Focus in College Student Development from Virginia Commonwealth University. She can be reached at nguyam14@gmail.com.

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