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Translating Military Terminology & Experience

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Translating Military Terminology

The OWL provides resources describing the sections of a résumé, as well as how to design an effective résumé, but there are certainly unique challenges that veterans face when writing job documents.

One of the most difficult tasks veterans face is translating military experiences, acronyms, and jargon into civilian terms. As you know, the military has its own terms and acronyms for almost everything, including for specific jobs, documents, clothing, operations, furniture, etc. These terms can vary between branches, making even inter-military discourse difficult!

It is important, therefore, that you “civilianize” your job documents, because you do not want prospective employers to misunderstand your résumé. Résumés that are full of acronyms and military terminology may be seen as incomprehensible by hiring managers — who may simply move on to the next candidate after only a glance if they don’t understand your documents.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help you translate your military experiences to civilian discourse.

First, you will need to describe your job in a manner comprehensible to civilians.


Marine Corps E-2 0311 = Marine Corps Private First Class Enlisted Infantry Rifleman

Civilians who do not understand MOS/MOC codes or military job titles, nor the military pay or rank systems, can at least understand that you were an enlisted member of the infantry who specialized in rifle work. You can then use sub-points to describe your job responsibilities in non-military terms to show how your experiences in the military relate to the civilian work force.

Don’t assume that your audience will have any experience with the military or have any understanding of military terminology and acronyms.

Best Practice: Have civilian friends and family read your résumé and flag anything they don’t understand.

Next, you may want to consult sources that can help you determine the civilian equivalents of your military position. Here are a few resources that allow you to input your branch of service, pay grade, job title, and special training/skills/qualifications in order to either find civilian equivalent job titles, lists of skills, and/or job openings:


a Marine Corps. E-2 0311-Rifleman Enlisted comes up with the following possible skills:
Advanced First Aid
Firearm Handling and Maintenance
Intelligence Analysis
Logistics Support
Message Processing Procedures
Protective Services
Risk Management
Safety and Occupational Health Programs
Skill with Hand Tools or Power Tools
Surveillance Techniques
Surveying and Mapping Methods
("Military Skills Translator" )

While a prospective employer may not know what an E-2 0311 means, they will understand that you have experience with logistics, risk management, and skill with particular tools. This is, of course, not all you must do to “translate” your experiences, but it is an important step.

Translating Job Descriptions

Each entry of your résumé should include a few sub-points that use action verbs to describe your experience in more details. Sources such as the job translator can help you determine what to include in these sections.


2007-2011 Marine Corps Private First Class Enlisted Infantry Rifleman
  • Achieved high efficiency in firearm safety and management
  • Supervised a team of 5 in surveillance techniques and operations
  • Instructed 15 courses of 25 on advanced first aid techniques

This example incorporates civilian-friendly action verbs such as “managed,” “supervised,” and “instructed,” as well as skills from the recommendations.

It is important to keep each sub-point short and to the point. You should also quantify experiences whenever possible. Employers are interested to know how many people you have managed, how many classes you have taught, and what kinds of budgets, supplies, etc., you have handled.


“Headed a team” is far less informative than “Headed a team of 5.”
“Responsible for the budget” is less informative than “Managed an annual budget of $500,000”