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How to Translate Military Skills to Civilian Terms

Military to Civilian Transition

How to Translate Military Skills to Civilian Terms

One of the primary struggles military veterans face during their career search is how to translate military skills to civilian terms. The experience gained throughout the military such as leadership, teamwork, and mission first frame of mind is not easily transferred into the civilian sector. Throughout this guide, we'll show you how to translate military skills to civilian terms so you can successfully navigate your career search journey.

Military Veterans are from Mars, Civilians are From Venus

As you know, the military is a unique organization that speaks its own language. This is a language that is complicated and confusing for civilians. Although the military speaks its own language, so do civilians within the civilian sector. Essentially, military veterans are from Mars, civilians are from Venus.

When military veterans and civilians meet in the middle on Earth and learn to communicate with each other, everyone wins. Unfortunately, as a veteran, you must be the one to initiate the meeting in the middle by translating your military skills to civilian terms. Here's how to translate your military skills to civilian terms:

Review Your Military Skills

Review all your military skills and compile them into a list.

To create the list, take a pen and paper and draw a line down the middle of the page to form two (2) columns. Your columns will include a header as follows:

  • Military on the left side.
  • Civilian on the right side.

List all your military skills under the military header of your paper. Also, include the job positions you held and even your MOS or specialty codes. Now, you can begin the next process -- decoding your military skills.

Decode Your Military Skills

One of the resources we recommend in decoding your military skills and translating your military skills to civilian terms is the Military Skills Translator from While there are several other translators out there, this military skills translator is the most user friendly.

Use the Military Skills Translator to Decode Your Military Skills

The Military Skills Translator will allow you to translate your military skills, experience, and training. Simply select the military service – Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard -- and enter your military occupation. The translator will locate civilian career opportunities based on your military occupation.

If you're curious, choose all in the service dropdown bar. If you choose all, you'd need to enter a military job title.

Once you click search, use the civilian occupations listed within the translator to decode your military skills. For example, if your MOS was 88M in the Army, you were a motor transport operator. This job title is unclear to a civilian hiring manager who is considering you as a candidate for employment.

After entering the MOS or specialty code, the translator will generate civilian job titles such as delivery driver or truck driver. Review the civilian job descriptions provided by the translator and apply them to your military skills.

How to Decode Your Military Skills

One of the job duties of an 88M is to employ convoy defense techniques.

This military job duty would need to be decoded into civilian terms. On the civilian column of your paper, you should translate the military job description into civilian terms by using a civilian job description that will closely relate to your military skill.

As an example, for the 88M job description referenced above, the civilian translation may look like the following:

Maintain safe driving techniques to ensure efficiency while delivering goods.

Let's take your military performance evaluation to provide real examples of what decoding looks like when you use the translator:

Military : Led 12-person combat infantry team through 4 successful missions.

Civilian translation : Managed 12-person team in a fast-paced environment while meeting all organizational goals.

Military : Served as platoon sergeant for Alpha battery.

Civilian translation : Supervised 35 team members within the organization and successfully trained them on organizational tasks.

Military : Conducted intelligence operations.

Civilian translation : Performed research and gathered information to help the company discover potential threats, opportunities, and save 2.5 million dollars due to the investigations.

Military : Briefed the company on tactical strategy.

Civilian translation : Conducted team meetings on business strategies to increase the company profits.

While translating military skills to civilian skills, it is important to break down all aspects of the term. Squads, flights, platoons, and companies all consist of a unique number of people. You should translate the number of people for civilians as they do not understand what these terms mean.

For example, a company is a military unit consisting of 80 to 150 people. Simply translate company into an 85-member team or organization or division. Think in terms of a business. Businesses have different divisions, teams, and sections. Use the business equivalent of your military term.

Think Outside of the Military Box While Decoding

It is important to note that the military to civilian translation process will not be easy. Some military skills and experiences will easily translate into military terms. Others will be difficult and may require more thought.

According to an article in The Military Wallet, a tip to remember is to think outside of the military box during the translation process. Often, your military experiences will cover many hidden civilian responsibilities and skills.

Think about the 42L or Administrative Specialist. This position wears several hats and will apply to many civilian terms and civilian job duties.

Every military term, acronym, and phrase should be decoded and explained in a way that is easy for civilians to understand. Without the translation, your military to civilian resume will not showcase you, your experience, and achievements in the best light.

Speak the Civilian Terms

Now that you've translated your military skills, experience, and training to civilian terms in writing, it's time to speak civilian too.

You can always keep your military language in your back pocket for gathering with veteran friends, old teammates and other veteran gatherings.

An old but relevant article written by a military veteran in Military Families offers some tips on speaking civilian. The tips on speaking civilian include:

  • Joining LinkedIn

A benefit for any military veteran is using LinkedIn for Networking. With LinkedIn, you can join and be a part of industry-specific groups that are affiliated with career you wish to enter.

You can learn so much just from watching the discussions that take place in LinkedIn groups.

  • Word Analysis

Review civilian job sites for vacancies in the career you want and its affiliated industry.

Take time to analyze the words and phrases so you can have a clear understanding as to how civilian employers speak, and what they are looking for as you pursue career opportunities.

  • Meet and Talk with Civilians with No Military Experience

Military veterans are the minority in society. Most of the civilians you engage throughout your chosen industry will be people without any military experience.

The good news about civilians is that they are willing to share information and give awesome insight.

Learn as much as you can about working in the industry and soak up as much industry phrases, key words, terms, acronyms and lingo as you can.

Communicate: The Bridge Between Your Military Skills and the Civilian Sector

Because the military and the civilian sector are two different worlds, you are the bridge between the two with the way you communicate. Learning to speak civilian requires you to change your communication style and walk the civilian walk.

Civilians frown on the military for its authoritarian approach to communication. As a result, they cannot relate to this approach and don't understand how this approach benefits them.

What worked for you back then in your military days, will not work for you in the civilian sector. To fill the gap in communication styles between military and civilian, do the following:

  • Don't just speak civilian terms, learn the terms and how to apply them

After learning how to translate your military skills to civilian terms, you should not just speak civilian, you should actually learn the terms and how to apply them to your career and personal life as well.

  • Ditch the term civilian when speaking to civilians

Imagine speaking to a civilian and they keep referring to you as a military member. How would you feel?

Using the term civilian while speaking to civilians implies an us versus them mentality. Try using the term we or us and show that you are one of them now.

  • Watch your tone

It's not about what you say but how you say it. Other helpful tips include saying please and thank you when necessary.

  • Be aware of your non-verbal cues

Crossing arms and standing in someone's office when they are sitting can send the wrong message.

Non-verbal cues such as these may not mean anything to you. However, a civilian can paint an unrealistic picture of power in their mind and instantly be put in an uncomfortable position.

Your communication after translating your military skills to civilian terms is where you can integrate both the military and civilian world. This makes you unique as no civilian has this ability.

Once you've translated your skills to civilian terms, the doors to career opportunities that you may have not even considered will fly open. After all, you were once a military member and can adapt, make changes, and adjust to your new environment as a civilian.


When you take time to understand that military veterans are from Mars, civilians are from Venus; and that communication is the bridge between your military skills and the civilian sector, you'll have a better grasp on life as a veteran who is reintegrating back into civilian life.

The ability to properly and effectively translate your military skills to civilian terms and apply them to civilian life will be the defining process of your access to employment opportunities and success in the civilian world.

Embrace the fact that the civilian world is diverse, and everyone has different skills, backgrounds and styles. The more you learn about the civilian sector, the better your civilian experience will be.

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