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Getting Good at Military Skills Translation

Apr 30, 2008

One of the specific challenges recruiters face is how to translate a candidate’s qualifications from their military job, Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) or Military Occupational Classification (MOC), to the civilian title.

It takes some education and understanding of the military lingo, occupational specialties, and career progression within the military structure to fully understand whether this person can fill your specific need.

Here is the scenario:

You’ve posted a position that will require, from the best-qualified candidate, a demonstration of their ability to lead diverse teams of people. The technical aspect of this role is easily taught in this situation and it is a mid-level management role with four to seven years of management experience expected from your candidate.

Before we look at a sample military/veteran resume, let’s clear our minds of the following recruiter inner voices:

Why didn’t this candidate translate their skills for me? Why does this candidate use all the acronyms? I don’t like the format. They misspelled a word. Why don’t they just tell me what I am supposed to be looking for from their last 20 years in the military. This is too much work!

First, take a deep breath. Second, take a look at this resume:


Deputy Training Support Officer, 2003-2008

Navy School of Music, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk, Virginia

Managed 14 personnel in the daily operations of the school’s facilities, technical training equipment, safety programs, and security. Responsible for developing, evaluating, monitoring, and analyzing military training support programs, interpreting results and publishing written reports. This position also included the development, supervision and management of a $400K annual budget, including procurement of supplies and training materials valued at over $10M

Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor, Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist 2001-2008

Navy School of Music, Marine Detachment, NAB Little Creek, Norfolk, Virginia

Responsible for drug and alcohol abuse case management, treatment referral, and aftercare monitoring. Developed, evaluated and implemented drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs and education. Provided classroom training, needs assessment, program analysis, and collaborated with community leaders

Head Library Media Division 2001-2005

Navy School of Music, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk, Virginia

Supervised library staff and the daily operations of three separate libraries, the Media Library, Text Library and Music Library. Developed, supervised, and managed the libraries annual budget including procurement of computer software, training material, and supplies

Professional Training

  • Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Abuse, Prevention Specialist Course, US Navy
  • Alcohol and Drug Management for Supervisors Facilitator Course, US Navy
  • Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor’s Course, US Navy
  • Strategic Management Overview, US Navy
  • Staff Non-Commissioned Officers Academy Advanced Course, US Marine Corps
  • Ceremonial Conductor/Drum Major Course, US Navy
  • Staff Non-Commissioned Officers Academy Career Course, US Marine Corps
  • War Fighting Skills Program, US Marine Corps
  • Simplified Acquisition Procedures, Defense Acquisition University
  • Basic Musicians Course, US Navy

As a recruiter who routinely deals with active and prior military, my first thought is that I have a seasoned leader who may just fit the profile I am looking for. This person has a diverse and multi-faceted background in the Marine Corps outside of their MOS, which was playing in the Marine Corps Band. If I wanted to translate a position title from this resume, such as Ceremonial Conductor, or their collateral job assignment, Training Support Officer, where would I go?

There are resources out there to assist in skills translation for the recruiter without the background and understanding of military career progression through the ranks. One such resource,, is funded through the U.S. Department of Labor and The President’s National Hire Veterans Committee. The website offers an Employer’s Zone that takes the recruiter or hiring manager to the Department of Labor’s Occupation Network, O*Net OnLine.

Additionally, a simple Google search (keywords: military skills translation) brings back several sites that also focus on assisting the veteran and the employer.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times said that 76% of military service members did not know how to translate their own skills in the military into civilian positions. That is a staggering number and one that transition-assistance-program managers for the military should note.

But as recruiters we have a unique opportunity to bridge this gap and really provide value to these men and women who have so unselfishly served our country.

Those recruiters who are up for the challenge and can see the long-term benefit of such a strategy for their business will find value in this extra effort through a network of men and women who value relationships and camaraderie.

Military and veteran candidates are often diamonds in the rough. They have leadership skills in diverse, fast-paced, stressful environments along with being able to adapt to an accelerated learning curve in various environments. The resources are out there, the candidates are out there, and the next step for companies who will truly take the lead in innovative recruitment will be to go after this candidate pool.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Joshua Letourneau

    It’s good to see that ERE is pursuing more military-related articles as a result of many of the discussions initiated here regarding our returning veterans. I started quite a few in the past to raise the profile of this societal issue and continue to do so in other places on the web as well.

    Let me know if you need some intel from actual disabled-vets (and regular vets) about how they are being handled upon returning home. It’s nice that we’re initiating conversation from our side of the fence, but it would also benefit for us to hear from them as well.

    This way, the conversation isn’t just one-sided as our vets have a great deal to teach us as well.

  2. Bethany Salter

    I wanted to share a web site that you may or may not be familiar with that can be a good resource for these folks. It is This site contains career opportunities nationwide for returning service men and women. Thanks for your article!

  3. Steve Delaney

    Enough cannot be said about this subject.

    US Business is figuratively ‘shooting ourselvs in the foot’ for not taking advantage of the training and leadership these young people have received.

    For practical and pragmatic reasons alone we should be fighting over this wellspring of talent.

  4. Mark Bartlett


    Great article. As a former Naval Officer (10 years) and now a full time staffing professional (3 years) I appreciate and support your comments. During their transition period, many military personnel struggle with their ability to translate their own skill set to a corporate equivalent. In addition, they face huge challenges making the cultural shift from a strictly autocratic structure to one that provides less direction and more flexibility.

    Once an ex soldier, sailor or airman has crossed the bridge successfully, they can be a great asset to any team providing demonstrated leadership and management experience and being very decisive with regard to making key decisions in high pressure situations (as you stated in your piece). The tough thing is for them to ‘release’ themselves from the military state of mind and embrace their new found ‘freedom’ in the corporate world. Once this is achieved, and employers truly understand their potential, they can add great value to any organization.

    Obviously, I recognize that I coming from a position of bias!


  5. Samson Blackwell

    I agree with nearly everything you say. My one question is this: if we understand that we must ‘translate’ the resumes of military personnel, and therefore that their resumes don’t necessarily sell their strengths, why don’t we approach other resumes in the same way?

    I have quite a few friends who are excellent employees, and who have sub-par resume skills. Should we hold them accountable for learning how to create a great resume, or should we give them the benefit of the doubt and set up a phone screen?

    This points up the larger issue of resumes in general: are the REALLY an accurate indicator of someone’s employability? How much ‘translation’ do we need to do to find the ‘true’ person? And, as anyone who has actually done textual translation will bring up, another major problem arises: how much of ourselves do we interpret into the text?

  6. Samson Blackwell

    Not to belabor the point, Carlos, but if we give military personnel a break for being stuck in their MOS, wouldn’t it make sense to give a steelworker a break if he’s trying to ‘translate’ his experience into another profession? Isn’t it discriminatory to give preference to one ‘type’ of person over another?

    You expose a contradiction when you indicate that civilians should be accountable for doing research and ensuring that their resumes demonstrate their qualities while military personnel for some reason should not. Are military personnel not to be held accountable for doing research and demonstrating their skills and abilities? They have access to the same resources as civilians.

    I’m not advocating against giving military personnel a break. However, I do think we have to be very careful that we apply such breaks fairly and evenly across a spectrum of professions, not just the military. Others deserve the same consideration.

    Which returns me to my problem: how DO we determine who gets the breaks, and how do we avoid pure subjectivity in our appraisals?

  7. Carlos Morgan

    I think that we should hold those who are civilian business professional accountable for having good resumes. They know what their skills are and they know what they have accomplished; so it is entirely up to them to do some research and dedicate some time to making sure that their resume is an accurate representation of their skill sets, eye for detail and communication skills. Whereas those who are transitioning out of the military simply don’t have enough business etiquette(which can only be acquired through experience)to know what employers are looking for or even what skills to put on their resume that will be beneficial to them. I was at one point a transitioning combat veteran and if you see my resume now to what it was than, you wouldn’t even think it was the same person. Now that I know what employers are looking for and what expectations they have of a candidate there is no reason why I cannot take the time to vigorously revise my resume over and over until it is as close to perfect as possible.
    The difference between a civilian resume and a military resume is EXPERIENCE and KNOWLEDGE. So, please do give the military service members the benefit of the doubt and I will guarantee that they will not dissapoint.

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