By Janet Farley for

You’ve served your country proudly and now it’s time to move on professionally. More than anything, you want your transition from boots to suits to be a smooth one. You want to land a good job that pays well. The only thing standing in your way? Your so-called resume.

Explaining to would-be employers what you did in the military in a way that makes sense to them can be difficult. Often, skills, experiences and accomplishments get lost in translation or in the lack thereof. This is where the Military Skills Translator comes in, and you must decide what needs to be translated and what doesn’t.

To Translate or Not To Translate:

That is the question to answer before you start drafting your resume. Will you be sending it to someone within the defense industry? Or will you be targeting employers outside of it?

If the answer is yes to the former, then you may not need to spend a great deal of time translating your job titles, descriptions, awards and training into English.

Those within the defense industry usually understand what you are communicating, but not always. Keep in mind that there are a lot of people who work in the industry who have never worn a uniform and may not fully understand what you’ve accomplished.

If you are targeting a job outside of the defense world, then you most certainly need to translate your skills, experiences and accomplishments into the English Language.

It can be challenging, but not impossible.

From Tank To Cubical:

“You have to be patient because there is no such thing as a perfect resume,” said Philip Lapple, a former M1 Main Battletank Crewmember (19K-Armour Crewman) in the U.S. Army.

Lapple wants to switch career gears completely and get a job in business. To reach that goal, he is currently attending the University of Maryland, University College and working on a degree in Management Studies.

“I really don’t think I will get a good job until I finish my degree but I’m trying,” said Lapple.

In the meantime, he is working on creating a basic master resume that he can tailor to individual job opportunities as they arise.

“On my resume, I try to show that I am a well-rounded package of education and expertise,” said Lapple adding that it continues to be a work in progress.

Lapple has attended the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) courses and has also used the services of the local Army Community Service Center’s Employment Readiness Program.

“You’re not going to get it right the first time or the second time you write it,” said Lapple who finds himself revising his resume each time someone else critiques it for him.

Lapple understands that he needs to translate specific words in order to make his resume work. Rather than say he was a tank crewmember, he says that he was a heavy equipment operator.

To highlight his skills without over emphasizing equipment operation, he puts strong emphasis on leadership.

“My latest version shows words like mentoring, efficiency, and work load planning. I also use the word “team” instead of platoon or squad,” said Lapple.

“I am also physically counting and adding up the dollar value of items that I was in charge of in the military and noting the number of people or employees I supervised,” said Lapple.

“Right now, school is my priority. In my case, I feel like my resume has to show not only practical experience but a degree as well,” said Lapple.

Staying In The Same Industry:

“I have a resume but it’s horrible. I want to make it better in order to be competitive,” said Gary Heinstrom, a U.S. Army Specialist who currently serves as a medic with the 554th Military Police Company based in Germany.

Heinstrom is knee deep in the process of transitioning out of the military. He is considering staying in his career field, but he wouldn’t rule out getting his foot in the door to federal employment in any field either.

“I just started the process of getting out and there is so much information coming at me at one time. It’s overwhelming but it seems necessary at the same time,” said Heinstrom.

If Heinstrom does indeed try to stay in the medical field, he may find that the level of translation needed for his resume differs from those needed by Lapple.

In some military career fields, such as those in the medical field, there may not be as strong a need to translate some of the skills, abilities and experiences for the civilian counterpart. In or out of uniform, patient care, record-keeping and specific medical procedures and protocol are universally understood with the career field.

“Instead of saying that I was a medic, I am writing that I was a health care specialist. I am also a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and that is the same in or out of the military,” said Heinstrom.

Heinstrom says that he is also making it a point to quantify his accomplishments and avoid the use of personal pronouns.

For More Assistance:

Translating the military words on your resume into civilian ones can be challenging. You don’t have to do it alone, though.

Visit your transition assistance office or the family services and support center’s employment readiness program. On either doorstep, you’ll find expert one-on-one counseling assistance or available classes, free of charge.

For your own research the following websites offer excellent military-to-civilian translation tools:

Here are some word for word common translation examples:

Job Titles Examples:

You can also get ideas on how to effectively translate your military experiences by looking at the civilian job descriptions or vacancy announcements for the jobs that interest you.

  • Commander = Director or Senior Manager
  • Executive Officer  = Deputy Director
  • Field Grade Officer = Executive or Manager
  • Company Grade Officer = Operations Manager or Section Manager
  • Warrant Officer =Technical Specialist or Department Manager
  • Senior NCOs = First-Line Supervisor
  • Infantry = Security Force
  • First Sergeant = Personnel Manager
  • Squad Leader = Team Leader or Team Chief
  • Supply Sergeant = Supply Manager or Logistics Manager
  • Operations NCO= Operations Supervisor

General Terms Examples:

  • AI= additionally skilled in
  • combat = hazardous conditions
  • company = company, department or section
  • medal = award
  • military personnel office = human resources
  • mission = task/function/objective
  • military occupation specialty/classification = career specialty
  • squad/platoon = team or section
  • reconnaissance = data collection and analysis
  • regulations= policy or guidelines
  • security clearance= security clearance
  • service members = employees
  • subordinates = employees
  • TAD/TDY = business trip

Next Steps: Finding The Right Job:

Ready to polish your resume, and connect with employers looking to hire veterans? Join our Job Board today!

Do your military skills translate into real life? They most definitely do. Every job in the military has components that transfer over to the civilian job market. Whether you were in the infantry or you were in an administrative position they both can get you into your next position and here is how.

  • Changing your Military Resume
    • You may be thinking, if I knew how to do that then I may not be reading this right now. But don’t be intimidated it is actually quite simple! First you start but listing the skills you have from your time in service. The next step is just changing the key words so that they can match civilian jobs. You have to ask yourself, “What did I do? Who do I lead? How many people was I in charge of? What did I add value to?” For example, an infantry man who served 4 years was a platoon sergeant that was in charge of 30 soldiers and had to manage all of them and their gear. So, this would be translated as: Supervised, trained, and evaluated 30 personnel, that supported the local population of 3,500, while maintaining a inventory list of 800 items with assets valued at 3M. This shows leadership, quantifiable data, and management of assets.


  • What Employers Want to See
    • Technical Skills: Employers want to see the technical skills that closely relate the job you are trying to obtain. Jobs that are in the medical, engineering, truck driving, and mechanical fields have skills sets that can easily be added. For the jobs that aren’t as easy to translate, it is important to focus on the example above.
    • Retention: Most contracts in the military are for more than two years. This looks great on a civilian resume. When you are able to stick to the commitment of being in your role, it shows that you will have longevity with the company. Companies are always looking to reduce turnover so as to not have to reinvest in a new employee. Most companies would rather get the fit right in the beginning, and reward you for staying.
    • People Skills: One of the most common phrases we hear these days when it comes to hiring people is, “Is this person a good ‘culture fit’ for this company?” This may not make sense if you are coming out of the military since every one just has to get along regardless if they want to or not. But companies actually look to see if you have the right interpersonal skills, demeanor, even attire to fit in at their company. Then of course as mentioned above, it is important to point out your leadership skills. This is important because management will want to see that you were coachable and able to grow at your last place of employment.


  • Get Your Education
    • Regardless of what branch of the military you served in, you may have access to amazing educational benefits. So use them! The Post 9/11 GI Bill, Tuition Assistance, Vocational Rehabilitation, and more were all created to help further the education of military members so as to have them get better jobs when they get out. Some of them will actually help support you while you are receiving your education, like the GI Bill. They will pay the tuition, your BAH (housing based on the zip code your live in), books, supplies, and so much more. By going back to school you can add more value to your resume, so you can grow at the company you are at or get a different job. School can be the gate way to a better position and an easier transition into civilian life.

Transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce can be like going from one world to another, but it is possible. It doesn’t matter what job you did, your skills can be bring value to an organization.

Remember people have done it before you, so you can do it too!


Denise Berry