You’ve completed your service. While you were on active duty, you learned or improvised many skills, whatever was needed to accomplish that day’s mission. Now you’re back in civilian life, looking to apply those unique skills to the everyday working world.
The good news is that many skills learned or honed in the military can be applied to all kinds of civilian jobs. Your service itself is a testament to your mental toughness, your reliability and your perseverance. You are a team player, you understand your place in the hierarchy, and you probably developed a uniquely military vocabulary and sense of humor.
And that is the challenge. Reentering civilian life means learning not just how to use your skills in new ways but how to explain yourself and your ideas to employers and supervisors who wouldn’t know a Burn Bag from a Twidget. As Paul Newman famously said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” You can’t let that interfere with your future career. Fortunately, there is plenty of help available for the transition from the military to civilian jobs.
Adding Military Skills to a Résumé
A good place to start a job search is with companies or organizations that need skills and characteristics similar to those required by the military. There are ready answers to the question, “What does my MOS/AFSC/Rating translate to in the civilian world?” The National Security Agency has a translator that can help connect those dots for you. The Dept. of Veterans Affairs does, as well. These are especially useful if you’d like your civilian career to continue your service to your country.
“I’ve worked in an international $20 billion, 200,000-person company where I was often the only go-to person for veterans,” Brig. General Allison Hickey said, according to the VA. “Trying to translate their military occupational series, or MOS, and other specialty codes into civilian job skill terms. So, I know the VA for Vets Career Center services are going to be a great resource for our total force veterans, National Guard and Reserve members here at VA.”
The most important communication with a potential employer, and even a current employer, is your résumé. Crafting a strong résumé is a challenge for anyone seeking a new position or a new career. There are books and websites and college classes devoted to the art of producing an effective résumé that will grab the attention of a recruiter or employer. The process is the same for military veterans, but some of the specifics can be unique. The most important task is telling a potential boss who you are, what you’ve done, what you know, and how you can grow in a new environment. Don’t hesitate to seek help with your résumé as a veteran.
The goal is to impress, not confuse, an interviewer. Civilian companies generally look for employees who are responsible, well-trained, able to solve problems whether by the book or by innovation, and able to lead or work as part of a team. Those are all traits required during military service. Your resume should show you have those skills in terminology that makes sense to the civilian who will be sorting through a stack of resumes.
Translating Military Jargon to Civilian Jobs
That means speaking the language of the potential employer, not the language and jargon that got you through your military service. If you’re an excellent mechanic who kept complicated vehicles running under difficult conditions, it is better to say that than “I cannibalized some FUBAR Humvees in the Iraq sandbox and restored enough meat wagons to accomplish the objective.”
Whenever you find yourself explaining an experience or a skill in military terms, take a pause and try to translate the information for a civilian who didn’t spend two years in the service. Remember, you are not the first person to face this challenge. So, there are places to find advice for transitioning from military to a civilian job. The VA also has resources to help with the transition to the civilian working world.
Similarly, your military experiences and skills can count as real-life education. Get advice for transferring military experience to college credit.
There is an alternative route. Rather than tailor your résumé for civilians, seek help from organizations built to aid veterans, such as Hiring Our Heroes or Hire Heroes USA.
Military Skills Translator Tool
Try out using a military skills translator tool. These tools try to match your military skills and experience to job openings. Here are two options:
About The Author
Phil Sheridan writes about military benefits for Military Money. Phil spent over 30 years learning about labor negotiations, salary caps, stadium negotiations and a lot of other finance-related matters as a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN.
- Thompson, Evan (2022, September 9) How to Translate Military Skills Onto a Resume. Retrieved from https://thebestschools.org/resources/military/how-to-translate-military-skills-onto-a-resume/
- Howington, Jessica (ND) Translating Military Skills to Civilian Jobs: Tools and Tips. Retrieved from https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/3-tools-to-translate-military-skills-to-the-civilian-job-market/