How to Translate Your Military Skills to Civilian Terms

Posted on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 by Jessica FenderNo comments

Every year, thousands of personnel exit military service. They do so because their commissions have ended, for medical reasons, redundancy, or retirement. If your term of service has recently ended or is looming in the near future, you may be concerned about what happens next. Where will you live? What about the benefits? Most importantly though, how do you land a job after leaving the military?


Fortunately, there are organizations to help you through this process, such as the CTP, but it is up to you to understand how to best present your military skills in a way that civilian hiring authorities see value in your abilities. The following will help you accomplish that.


Think About Your CV First

When it comes to translating your military skills into civilian terminology, you already have a helpful road map. Just take a look at a good CV template. This has all the elements that hiring managers want to see. Your job is to fill in your own information in a way that a civilian, personnel manager can understand. Here is each element of a CV along with instructions on how to translate your military skills and experience for each of them.


Personal Statement or Summary

This is a brief statement that details what you do, and why you would be a great fit for the job. Here, you should provide the civilian alternative of your military profession if there is one. Otherwise, just use the job title from the job listing. Here’s an example for an army nurse looking for a position at a hospital:


‘I am a nurse with 6 years of experience providing treatment to patients in both clinical and emergency environments. I have led teams of up to 10 nurses and other medical professionals. I am well-versed in all aspects of patient care’


Sometimes, your military career won’t be an exact fit. Imagine that you have worked as a tank crewman. There may not be a job that is an exact fit, but you can still leverage your skills to create a civilian friendly personal statement, like this:


‘Heavy equipment operator with 3 years of experience operating and maintaining a large track-wheeled vehicle. Experienced with troubleshooting mechanical problems, maintaining vehicle maintenance logs, and operating equipment in less than optimal weather and terrain.’


Keep in mind that there are academic writing services that offer CV, resume, and cover letter assistance. They can help you build a CV that best translates your employment goals.


Employment History

Most employers are appreciative of military experience. They understand that those who serve in the military often emerge with hard and soft skills that are needed in the civilian sector. List your military experience in your employment history. Include information such as your deployments, skills used and developed, duties, and most importantly your accomplishments.


For example, if part of your duties included delivering supplies to troops stationed in Afghanistan, describe that with the end results in mind:


‘Ensured the delivery of necessary medical supplies to ground troops in Afghanistan.’


That reads much better than, ‘Drove a medical supply truck.’


As you describe your duties, keep in mind that you’ll have to change your vocabulary a bit. For example, commanding should be changed to supervising and leading. Anything related to using weapons could be broken down into skills such as:


  • ●Cared for and maintained complex equipment.
  • ●Learned and followed safety protocols.
  • ●Assisted others in the use of complex equipment.


You can also refer to combat as working in hazardous or unpredictable conditions.



Military personnel often go through very valuable training. They learn things that are applicable in the civilian sector. However, this training must often be translated into civilian terms.


It would be virtually impossible to list each type of training along with its civilian alternative. Instead, consider the following questions as you write your CV or prepare for an interview.


  • ●If I took this training at a university, how would it be described?
  • ●Are there civilian alternatives to the skills I learned through this training?
  • ●How would somebody use the training I received in the civilian sector?


Don’t forget to include any certifications or honours that you received during your military training and education.



The interests that you include on your CV should be curated very carefully. They should be chosen in order to highlight the skills or personal characteristics that you most want hiring authorities to associate with you. For example, if you want to show that you are capable of thriving in a more casual work environment with less structure than in the military, you might focus on interests such as playing sports, dancing or listening to music. These are humanizing interests that can show that you are capable of letting loose and enjoying yourself.


A Final Checklist

Once you have written your CV with an eye towards translating your military career into civilian terms, it should be clear how your skills fit into the civilian workforce. Below is a checklist of sorts that you can use to ensure that you have covered all of your bases:


  • ●Know the career you want to pursue as a civilian and define that objective clearly.
  • ●Use the civilian equivalent of your technical skills using the most up to date terminology.
  • Quantify your accomplishments to showcase the results of your efforts.
  • ●Modify military ranks and titles to their civilian equivalents (manager instead of troop leader).
  • ●Don’t use military lingo, acronyms, or abbreviations. Spell things out and provide civilian alternatives.
  • ●Explain medals and commendations.
  • ●Ask a friend or family member without a military background for insights into your CV.
  • ●Don’t summarize your career in the military. Instead, delve into the duties you executed in a way that they could apply in the civilian sector.
  • ●Write with the needs of the employer in mind.
  • ●Stick to what is relevant to the position you are pursuing.
  • ●Use civilian equivalents to military terminology.
  • ●Be careful with references to combat and weapons that could be distracting.
  • ●Describe coursework and training in civilian terms.


Chances are, your military experience is quite valuable to potential employers. All you have to do is describe that experience in a way that employers find relatable, and applicable to their needs.

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