What's the Wave?

Translating your Military Experience for a Civilian Resume

One of the most challenging parts of my transition from active service to civilian employment is figuring out how my time in the Military fits into the civilian world, and then I still had to find something I wanted to do, a whole different challenge.  We’ve all had the conversation with our friends who don’t serve where they ask “So, what do you guys actually do?”  That’s a hard question to answer, because it could be as simple as spouting off a few of our organization’s favorite buzzwords, and hopefully they get it, or we have to figure out how to put it into terms that a friend at your 10-year reunion would understand. Creating a civilian resume is a lot like the second one, only we have to sound a little more professional. I’ve put together some tips from experience and research to help make that a little simpler.

Be realistic about what your position actually was (looking at us Officers, but we’re not forgetting about some of our Sr NCO partners). Yeah, we might have been Commanders, Officers/Noncommissioned Officers-In-Charge, or a section leader, but does that actually translate to upper management, director level, or even C-suite in a corporate role?  Take a good hard look at your service and figure out where you probably fall, it can feel a little shocking with all the work you’ve put in. Here’s a little cheat sheet on position titles from Military.com.

Job Title Translations

Company Commander = Senior Manager

BN/BDE Executive Officer = Deputy Director

Field Grade Officer = Executive or Director

Company Grade Officer = Operations Manager or Section Manager

Warrant Officer =Technical Specialist or Department Manager

Senior NCOs = First-Line Supervisor

First Sergeant = Personnel Manager

Squad Leader = Team Leader or Team Chief

Supply Sergeant = Supply Manager or Logistics Manager

Operations NCO= Operations Supervisor


Not every job specialty in the military translates to the civilian world perfectly. The finance guys will probably be able to fit into the finance/payroll/accounting world pretty nicely and MPs will probably be able to translate skills to civilian law enforcement. However, some roles don’t translate as well and you will have to look deeper into your role to highlight what is most important to a civilian employer. Think leadership experience, logistics management and organizational skills.


Unless you’re planning on staying in federal service or transitioning to a role that is responsible for a lot of equipment, nobody really cares about the millions of dollars of equipment we’ve all been in charge of. Maybe talk about managing the maintenance of that equipment to highlight your organizational and logics management skills.


My final tip is to be honest. If you didn’t follow the advice from earlier in the article, and you talk about all this director level experience but only have 6 years of experience on your resume you’ll come across overqualified for the jobs you actually qualify for, and miss that shot, while also being blown out of the water by people who actually do have that experience.


If you’re getting out, congratulations on a great career, and thank you for your service.  Employers are chomping at the bit to bring in new employees and they know how valuable Veteran experience is.  If you’re trying to figure out your next step please shoot me a message on LinkedIn or visit our jobs page to see our current openings. Good Luck!

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