Translating Your Skills for a Post-Military Career

Translating Your Skills for a Post-Military Career
About the Author

COL (R) Terri Coles served over 20 years in the U.S. Army as a Signal Corps officer, serving in a wide range of command and staff assignments including postings in Korea and Germany and command at both the battalion and brigade level. She also served on the Department of the Army staff as an Inspector General and culminated her military career serving as a division chief in the Command, Control, Communications and Computer-J6 Directorate, on the Joint Staff, Pentagon. 

After leaving active duty, Terri became active in the local Frederick, Md., community and was selected as a member of the board of associates for Hood College, where she worked to nurture strong relationships between the student vets on campus and the greater Frederick community. 

Terri joined MOAA in 2012 and served as Deputy Director in the Career Transition Center before assuming her role as Senior Director in Council and Chapter Affairs. 

She is a native of Philadelphia and holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Villanova University and a Master of Arts in strategic studies from the Army War College Pennsylvania.

One of the biggest résumé challenges veterans transitioning to a post-military career face is translating military skills into language civilian employers can understand. You might think the breadth and scope of authority and responsibility required to command a Navy ship or lead an Army brigade is similar to the skill sets of a chief executive officer (CEO). Well, not so fast. Before adopting the title of CEO for comparison purposes on a résumé, know that leading large and often complex military organizations certainly demonstrates marketable skill sets, but they are not necessarily equivalent to those of a CEO.

So what's the difference? Duties of a CEO include but are not limited to:

  • generating revenue and business development; 
  • reporting to a board of directors and stakeholders;
  • identifying quarterly profits and losses;
  • leading marketing and sales; and
  • formulating and implementing a company's strategic vision.

The use of the CEO title on a résumé as a substitute for a commanding officer could do more harm than good. Corporate recruiters and hiring managers without a good understanding of military organizations might interpret this as embellishing your experience level; conversely, use of the CEO title could suggest you are over-qualified for a position.

With careful research on military-to-civilian job translation, you should be able to articulate clearly your duties and responsibilities to an employer. Remember, when highlighting your experience on a résumé, it's not so much what you did but rather how well you did it that's important to an employer. Include significant accomplishments and results achieved in the position under your watch. A great way to help potential employers understand your level in the military is to list the number of people you supervised and the size of the budget for which you were responsible. These indicators require little translation and readily convey the scope of your authority and the type of supervisory functions you performed.



Military Résumé Samples

PREMIUM and LIFE MOAA members making the switch to the civilian workforce can access our Marketing Yourself for a Second Career guide to view example military résumés, cover letters, and more.