Getting Good at Military Skills Translation

Apr 29, 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.

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