Why Translate Your Military Skills for Civilian Jobs

(DoD Photo)

It's one of the proud legacies of service in the US armed forces: Your military occupational specialty (MOS). But what does a soldier designated a tank turret mechanic or nuclear munitions specialist do when he sheds his uniform for civilian duds?

Making the transition from military to civilian life is partly about successfully translating the lingo of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines into the keyword-heavy vocabulary of private-sector employment. This transformation is often difficult for the veteran who is seeking private-sector employment.

Luckily, there are experts and tools that can help.

What Does and Doesn't Translate

"Some occupations like doctor and lawyer are exactly the same in and out of the service," says John Bohichik, transition services manager at the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. But others require "degreening," or translation from armed forces' lingo to private-sector employment jargon.

"'Platoon leader' should probably be translated as something like 'general manager,'" says Anne McKinney, author of Resumes and Cover Letters that Have Worked for Military Professionals. In addition to translating job titles, the resume must describe -- in civilian terms -- the candidate's skills, responsibilities and accomplishments in the military.

But this doesn't mean ridding the job application of every trace of military experience. Many firms recognize the value of a military background in the corporate world. "An employer may say, 'Gosh, we don't have guns here, but we certainly do have combat,'" says McKinney.

The bottom line is common sense. "Just make your work understandable to whoever is going to read your resume," says Buzz Buse, a retired Marine Corps colonel and spokesman for the Military Officers Association of America. "When you compete for a job, you work in the keywords the employer is looking for."

From Military to Public Service

Servicemen and women who are considering civil service rather than the private sector should not assume the military and government will speak the same language. Job seekers who have left the military often fail to meet civil service application requirements when they apply for federal jobs, according to Kathryn Troutman, author of “Ten Steps to a Federal Job.”

But it's well worth the effort to learn what's required, says Troutman. "There's a huge, huge push to help military people move into government." For example, under the veterans' preference policy, vets are awarded extra points for their military service when they take the civil service exam.

Many Seek a New Direction

Many servicemen leaving the military are uncertain about their career direction. "Most people at that juncture don't know what they're going to do next," says McKinney.

"When you've been a cook in the service, you can be a cook somewhere else," says Buse. "But you can also do a hell of a lot of other things too."

And since servicemen don't control the path of their own military careers, many new veterans are looking for a change. "Even a person with heavy management experience may say, 'You know, I really hate managing people,'" says McKinney.

Now what if you're that tank turret mechanic and you do want to continue to use the skill set? Consider civilian work as a mobile heavy equipment mechanic.

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