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Translating Your Skills From Military Jargon to Civilian Language

Kate Lorenz, editor

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Figuring out how to translate your military skills to a civilian job is perhaps the biggest obstacle for people looking for a job who are leaving the Armed Forces. You have the experience, but you just don't know how to communicate it without using military jargon.

"Chances are that most civilians reviewing your resume will not be familiar with 'military' language, abbreviations and acronyms," write Wendy S. Enelow and Louise M. Kursmark in "Expert Resumes for Military-to-Civilian Transitions" (Jist). "It is critical that you translate your military language into civilian language that everyone in the civilian workforce can understand."

Step One: Identify What to Market
Write down all your specific accomplishments and accolades from your military service. This also should include skills, qualifications, accomplishments, experiences, education, credentials, volunteer work and membership in professional or civic associations.

Step Two: Match Your Skills
"One translates his or her military skills by using a military occupational classification (MOC) to identify similar civilian jobs in the civilian workforce," Vann says. "For example, if a military officer was a budget analyst or cost analyst in the military they can easily translate these duties to a financial analyst in the civilian workforce." Janet Farley, author of "The Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Guide," suggests going to O*NET OnLine Web Site, which is "a great tool that can help you capture the civilian essence of your ever-so-military job." First, go to Just enter your DOT or MOC code and you'll receive equivalent job titles and descriptions that will fit with the skills of your military position. For example, if you were an electronics mechanic in the Marines, you would type in "828.261-022" in the DOT code field. Click on your job title and you get your job translated into civilian language. What do you get? A wealth of information related to your skills and experience, including:

Sample civilian job titles:

  • Industrial Electrician

  • Electrician

  • Instrument and Electrical Technician (I&E Tech)

  • Control Technician

  • Electrical and Instrument Technician (E&I Tech)

  • I&C Tech (Instrument and Control Technician)

  • Electrical Repairman

  • Electronic Mechanic

  • Hydro Maintenance Technician

  • Hydro Plant Technician


  • Perform scheduled preventive maintenance tasks, such as checking, cleaning, and repairing equipment, to detect and prevent problems.

  • Examine work orders and converse with equipment operators to detect equipment problems and to ascertain whether mechanical or human errors contributed to the problems.

  • Set up and test industrial equipment to ensure that it functions properly.

  • Operate equipment to demonstrate proper use and to analyze malfunctions.

  • Test faulty equipment to diagnose malfunctions, using test equipment and software, and applying knowledge of the functional operation of electronic units and systems.

  • Repair and adjust equipment, machines, and defective components, replacing worn parts such as gaskets and seals in watertight electrical equipment.

  • Calibrate testing instruments and installed or repaired equipment to prescribed specifications.

  • Advise management regarding customer satisfaction, product performance, and suggestions for product improvements.

  • Inspect components of industrial equipment for accurate assembly and installation and for defects such as loose connections and frayed wires.

  • Study blueprints, schematics, manuals, and other specifications to determine installation procedures.


  • Troubleshooting -- Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.

  • Repairing -- Repairing machines or systems using the needed tools.

  • Reading Comprehension -- Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.

  • Installation -- Installing equipment, machines, wiring, or programs to meet specifications.

  • Active Listening -- Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

  • Operation Monitoring -- Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.

  • Coordination -- Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.

  • Equipment Maintenance -- Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.

  • Critical Thinking -- Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

  • Active Learning -- Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.

Related occupations:

  • Computer Support Specialists

  • Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts

  • Electronics Engineering Technicians

  • Calibration and Instrumentation Technicians

  • Data Processing Equipment Repairers

  • Office Machine and Cash Register Servicers

  • Central Office and PBX Installers and Repairers

  • Electrical and Electronics Repairers, Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay

  • Electronic Home Entertainment Equipment Installers and Repairers

Additional information provided includes tools and technology used, tasks, and wage and employment information.

Step Three: Use Your "New" Skills
Now that you've figured out what civilian lingo relates to your experience, you can turn that language into keywords to search for jobs online and incorporate into your resume. Keywords are specific words or phrases that job seekers use to find jobs suitable for them by searching online, just like doing a search engine query. Use them in your resume, and you're more likely to be picked up by an applicant tracking system (ATS) and on an employer's or recruiter's must-call list.

Bottom line: Understanding how your military duties translate to civilian jobs is essential to your post-military job search. "Transitioning from military to civilian employment is a snap as long as the former military understands job expectation is completely different in the private sector," Vann advises.

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 03/09/2009 - 4:27 PM

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