Alphabet Soup – Military Language to Civilian Speak

MOS, AFSC, NEC, DMOS, and MOSQ…It’s quite a collection of letters isn’t it?  The question is: how do we turn that into a job in the civilian world?

SC&C Military Resume LanguageChris Mandia of reminds us–Military veterans often have a wide range of skills and talents civilian employers are seeking. But sometimes the veterans and the employers don’t speak the same language.

Believe me, nothing is more intimidating to a civilian employer unfamiliar with military codes than to see a list of them on a resume. Many jobs simply don’t translate to civilian life in their native state. That’s why they invented tools to do the conversion for you. By simply selecting your branch of the service and entering your code, the program can pump out resume-compatible descriptions that will make sense to civilian employers.

Making Your Resume into Civilian Speak

Take O*Net for example. I picked Air Force and tossed in the designation for Bomber Pilot (11B4Z).

Suddenly I have all sorts of useful resume-friendly information. For example:

  • Work as part of a flight team with other crew members, especially during takeoffs and landings.
  • Use instrumentation to guide flights when visibility is poor.
  • Start engines, operate controls, and pilot airplanes to transport passengers, mail, or freight, adhering to flight plans, regulations, and procedures.
  • Contact control towers for takeoff clearances, arrival instructions, and other information, using radio equipment.
  • Monitor gauges, warning devices, and control panels to verify aircraft performance and to regulate engine speed.
  • Respond to and report in-flight emergencies and malfunctions.
  • Steer aircraft along planned routes, using autopilot and flight management computers.
  • Check passenger and cargo distributions and fuel amounts to ensure that weight and balance specifications are met.
  • Monitor engine operation, fuel consumption, and functioning of aircraft systems during flights.
  • Inspect aircraft for defects and malfunctions, according to pre-flight checklists.

It continues by listing Tools and Tech I’m familiar with such as Air Comms, Guidance, Flight Computers, etc. It carries on by listing Areas of Knowledge such as physics, transportation, geography, mathematics, computers and electronics. It lists my Skills such as active listening/learning, critical thinking, complex problem solving, judgment, decision-making, and so on. It then goes on to list Abilities, Work Activities, Work Context, Job Zone, Education, Credentials, Interests, Work Styles, Work Values, Related Occupations, Wages & Employment, Job Openings, and Additional Information.

You can do the same thing at where they’ll list civilian equivalents and show you openings that need your skills. There are more similar sites that aren’t difficult to find.

The Result

This takes away all the scary stuff for the prospective employer (in this particular instance, applying for a job as an airline pilot) so that they know you have the skills. They can confidently conclude that you’ve had the very best training in the world.

And it works for any branch of the service, turning a non-descript Petty Officer into Supervisor tasked with increasing employee long-term productivity which gives you the opportunity to fill in examples. You have to learn to brag significantly on your own behalf. Other service personnel understand what your achievements mean; civilians don’t.

At (Real) Ease—Body Language!

And loosen up please! I don’t mean parade rest, or at-ease. This person is not your C.O. When youre talking to somebody, dont be afraid to break eye contact periodically. While theyre speaking, feel free to touch or even pinch your chin a little. This is body language that tells them that you’re thinking deeply and seriously considering what they have to say. People like it when they know they’re making an impact and that you care about their remarks.

SC&C Civilian Body LanguageNod your head slightly when they make a good point and don’t be afraid to use a very slight quizzical tilt (like a dog that’s trying to understand a human speaking to it). All this reinforces the importance of the things that the speaker is saying.

More importantly, unlike the military culture, civilian culture uses a conversational communication style. While you are more accustomed to the top-down, decision-making process, civilian organizations benefit through contributions from more people. Your success is dependent on helping to arrive at solutions that benefit the organization, not merely executing directives.


In most ways civilians are the same as us. The significant differences are that they are less direct in their speech; decisions are less urgent and take more time; and the structure is far less rigid. As a consequence you must adopt their style, since they will not adopt yours.

  • Learn to speak their language—“Yeah, I see what you mean, Paul. I wonder if we could build on that by…”
  • Learn patience with the slower decision-making process.
  • Take advantage of the less rigid structure by balancing your work time with your life time.
  • But mostly just be good at your job! Don’t make people feel bad if they’re not as capable as you. Simply set a good example and others will follow.

So let’s get out there and get to work. Dismissed!

Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of senior military and other personnel transition their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200 or visit their LinkedIn page at

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