Two Schools of Thought on Military Skills Translation

Military Skills Translator

Want to learn a new language? Before you answer yes, let me explain it to you. This language is spoken by American men and women, but there are five difference dialects. This language is full of acronyms and many of those acronyms are spoken as proper words. Only about 10% of the populations has ever been exposed to this language, and at any given time, only about 1% of the American population actively uses it. Many of the words cannot be found in a Webster’s Dictionary, but are used constantly by those who speak the language. This is not a lost language from a tribe of long ago, it’s the language used by the American military, and each branch of service has its own tongue. HOOAH! (Army word referring to or meaning anything and everything except no)

As a talent acquisition or human resource professional, it’s important that you become familiar with this unique language as you might see it on a resume, or could hear it while interviewing a military veteran. Now, before we proceed, I will openly admit and shout it from the hilltop that we veterans need to do a better job at translating our own skills. We need to do a better job of conveying to you what we bring to the table. At any rate, there are two trains of thought on military skills translation for HR professionals.

Apples to Apples Skill Translation

The first and most widely used approach to transforming military skills into the civilian workforce is to use the various military skills translation tools that are found abundantly throughout the internet. The official Department of Labor Military Crosswalk page, for example, can be found at .

So the way it works is this. The user puts a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) code in the system and it translates that specialty into comparable civilian occupations. Take Field Artillery, for example. First, an EOL Permanent Marker is not something you can pick up at your local office supply store, it’s a point on an orienting line marked by a sharply defined permanent point at least 30 meters from the field artillery orienting station. A Battery Commander is not a person in charge of a cell phone charging station, he or she leads an artillery unit of about 150 Joes (people/employees). A Red Leg is not someone who spent too much time in the sun, it a term of endearment for a field artilleryman. Lastly, XO does not mean hugs and kisses, it’s an abbreviation for Executive Officer.

Now that we have cleared that up, let’s get back the skills translation.   According to the Department of Labor, a well-trained Army Field Artillery Crewman (13B) can function as an operations manager, mechanical technician, radio operator, corrections officer, construction laborer, first-line supervisor, bus driver, and light truck driver, just to name a few.

Pros.   It’s easy. All you need is an MOS code or the title of a military specialty and the internet does the rest. In a split second, a recruiter or hiring manager has a list of comparable jobs.

Cons. It only tells part of the story, and sometimes we need to look beyond titles. Take an Infantryman for example. Over his career, he has led hundreds of people in the most demanding and chaotic of situations imaginable. This person most likely completed a special duty assignment as a recruiter, drill sergeant, or instructor. He might have performed career enhancing positions such as an equal opportunity advisor, doctrine writer, or advisor to a foreign military. He may have even completed congressional fellowships and been assigned to Capitol Hill, or might have even worked on a Commanding General’s staff. He has attended dozens of professional military education courses or even cross trained into other military specialties. He most likely has a graduate degree. This story cannot be told using even the best skills translation software or website.

Broader Job Descriptions 

While it’s important to have a good understanding of military skills and how they relate to civilian careers, it’s not the be-all, end-all solution to veteran hiring. When developing job descriptions, it is important to delineate between what you want and what you need.

Suppose your company is looking for a recruiter and you require oil and gas experience. I will submit to you that any military recruiting professional can easily step into this role without the oil and gas experience. Many of the military recruiters I know have switched from enlisted recruiting, to officer recruiting, to medical recruiting without skipping a beat. Give them the recruiting mission and they will get it done.

By putting that extra requirement of oil and gas recruiting required, two things happen. First, your recruiters and hiring managers automatically dismiss veterans from being considered for that position. Their resumes are shuffled to the trash bin. Second, a recently discharged veteran with applicable experience, but lacking the oil and gas piece may be discouraged from applying to the position in the first place. I am not asking for an organization to lower its hiring standards for our veterans, just to consider how words and phrases on a job posting could create a disparate impact on veteran applicants.

Pros. Posting jobs with broader descriptions can make the position more appealing to veterans and less likely that hiring managers will automatically dismiss veteran applicants for not having a specific certification or certain type of experience.

Cons. You may not find an exact word-for-word skills match, but you are still getting a highly motivated and well-trained veteran applicant. Just remember, recruit for attitude, and train for skill.

Before we Pull Chocks (Air Force Slang for leaving for the day or wrapping it up), consider the many services Forward March Inc., provides companies in developing a veteran hiring strategy. FMI brings a wealth of experience to bear in helping organizations find, attract, and retain top military talent.

OOHRAH!! (Marine Corps term used to respond in the affirmative to a question, acknowledge an order, or generally to express enthusiasm)

~ Article written by Jason Caswell, Forward March Inc – Director of Training and Talent Pipeline Services


If you want to get started hiring veterans Forward March Inc stands ready with a special offer. On November 17th we will be holding our Camouflage to Corporate Conference in San Antonio, Texas. This is an outstanding opportunity for companies and organizations to learn how to get started hiring high quality military talent. The information in this conference has helped many other companies to develop highly successful hiring strategies, military pipelines, and learn how to retain quality military talent. Click here to learn more…

Our Camouflage to Corporate Conference can get you on the fast track to developing a Veteran Talent Pipeline. November 17th, San Antonio, Texas.

Veterans, Transitioning Military Personnel, and their families are encouraged to meet with employers at this free event.

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