Translating Military Experience to Civilian Terms

High-stress situations. Quick decision making. Teamwork. You make a fist; thrust your hand up high, and dozen a United States Marines snap to attention behind you. Reacting accordingly, the squad makes for cover, concealment. Moments later you’re on the “comm,” summoning the local Explosive Ordinance Disposal team, and posting security… Members of the United States…
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High-stress situations. Quick decision making. Teamwork.

You make a fist; thrust your hand up high, and dozen a United States Marines snap to attention behind you. Reacting accordingly, the squad makes for cover, concealment. Moments later you’re on the “comm,” summoning the local Explosive Ordinance Disposal team, and posting security…

Members of the United States Armed Forces encounter situations like these on a daily basis. The adroit leadership, stony nerve, strong interpersonal skills, and high-stress decision-making exhibited by our service members, mirrors that of top CEOs’. With that being said, many a service person transitioning to the civilian sector, fails to convey their military experience into civilian terms. Soldierly jargon tends to get “lost in translation,” so-to-speak. Nevertheless, interpreting skills gleaned from your enlistment/commission is imperative when seeking gainful employment. Thankfully, all it takes is some creative thinking and a few online resources.

How to Translate Your Military Skills into Civilian Terms

Military veterans often have a wide range of skills and talents civilian employers are seeking. But sometimes the veterans and the employers don’t speak the same language. Today, we are going to show you a few resources you can use to help translate your military service into terms civilian employers can better understand – making you more valuable as a potential employee, and potentially helping you more easily get a job.

Skills Translation Example – Infantryman

The term “Infantryman,” covers a fairly broad category, encompassing several definitions, and a plethora of responsibilities. As a service member, how do you translate your wholly unique set of skills to civilian employers? Well, if your military occupational specialty is infantry, you can convert that into a civilian-friendly summary of qualifications. Instead of simply denoting yourself as an “infantryman who shot machine-guns,” take a second, grab some water, relax.

Very few employers are enamored with machine-gun management. They are, however, more apt to entertain the idea you “operated equipment in high-stress situations.” Think outside the military “box.” Deconstruct your responsibilities, pulling from individual acts, instead of an all-encompassing billet denoted by the Department of Defense.

Putting Your Skills in Civilian Terms

Continuing with the theme of “translation,” and DOD billets, it’s time you civilianize your job title. Let’s face it, as a “Company Gunnery Sergeant,” you basically managed a group of pugnacious young men, keeping them on schedule and saving their hides’ on a regular basis – essentially a high-level “Supervisor.” Similarly, a “Commanding Officer,” in the Air Force is responsible for scheduling training, directing operations, and a host of other executive decisions. In the civilian world, “Operations Manager,” parallels that of “Commanding Officer.”

Also, when compiling your resume, stay away from acronyms and abbreviations. We veterans may know what you’re saying, but the rest of America doesn’t. Translate them into layperson terms. Military training/schooling should be simplified into the real meaning of said education. For example, the job qualifications of a Naval “EMN ET” are rather intense, involving some of the most comprehensive high-tech training available in the world. If you gained certification as a “EMN ET,” explain the hodgepodge of letters (Electricians Mate [Nuclear Field]) and the months of cutting-edge schooling you endured. And don’t forget to spell-check – it’s there for a reason!

Tools to Help Translate Your Skills

The military has a host of jobs which don’t exist in the civilian world, and putting the skills you learned in those positions may seem difficult, and it can be if you are starting from scratch. Thankfully, there are a few online tools which you can use to help craft a civilian resume that will attract attention, regardless of your former military position.

  • O*NET, the Occupational Information Network. This tool was developed for the U.S. Department of Labor and helps military members translate their skills into civilian terms. Simply enter your MOS, AFSC, Rating, or job title and the database will return a summary of your military job and some examples of skills you can use on your resume.
  • Military.com MOS Translator. This tool works the same way as the above link. Simply enter your military job and you will receive a synopsis of skills learned on the job.
  • Texas Veterans Commission Skills Translation. This page lists several additional resources which work the same way as the above two tools. There are several similar tools to be found online, and once you learn how to use one of them, they should all be somewhat similar in function.

There is also a list of new career resources for veterans on this site which can point you in the right direction.

Preparation is Key

When it comes time for the interview, don’t forget what they taught you in boot camp – look sharp. Dress in clothing appropriate for the job-type you’re applying for. Don’t look too fashionable, it’s a job interview, not a catwalk. Harkening to your days on Active-Duty, always prepare yourself. You get one chance at a first impression – do your recon (review the company’s website), take notes (write down questions you’d like to ask), analyze the data (review your resume and the company bio). In some aspects, hunting down a great job is like pursuing a cunning enemy – the better prepared you are, the more likely you’ll succeed.

Ultimately, equating your military experience to civilian terms can be a challenging task. It is an act that must be undertaken if employment in the civilian sector is your goal. Fortunately for this current generation, there are numerous resources available for transitioning service members.

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About Chris Mandia

Chris Mandia is a Southern California writer who writes on military issues. Serving two tours in Iraq as a Marine machine-gunner, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2007 and studied at the University of Southern California's graduate film program. You can find out more about him at ChrisMandia.com.

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  1. Nardo says

    Yeah this is great stuff! Those links and advice are really good intel.
    I would also add, that if you have your own website/online portfolio, that would help set you Above and Beyond the competition.

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