- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Spouse Series: Lost in Translation

by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Groendyke

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You may not wear the uniform, but you’re married to it. On top of that, you may work in or around the DOD. That means you can effectively communicate in a world that believes everything should have an acronym ASAP.

Can you, however, communicate what you do to those who are not fluent in our coveted milspeak? Will potential civilian employers, for example, understand what you’re saying on your résumé? Perhaps more important, how can you do that?


Making The Transition From A Military-Related Job To A Civilian One

Whether you’re updating your own résumé or helping your spouse create his or hers, make sure others outside your camouflaged bubble can understand the true scope of your skills and abilities. In other words, don’t let your résumé languish in the “lost in translation” pile of a would-be employer’s stack of applications.

The following steps can help you and your soon to be civilian avoid such a résumé road kill dilemma:


Write or revise your résumé in your own words first. Use the military words you’re comfortable using on a daily basis and get them down on paper. This is key. You have to capture your skills before you can translate them.

Identify the civilian industry you’re targeting. You have to have at least a basic idea here. You can have multiple industry targets, but focus on one at a time for this exercise.

Search for civilian jobs in that industry and print out multiple leads. It doesn’t matter where they are located. You may not even apply for them. The point of this drill is to gather a representative sampling of jobs that you would ideally like to call your own.


Highlight the keywords in each job lead. It doesn’t matter whether you understand them or not at this point. Say unfamiliar words out loud to hear how they sound. Consider starting a laundry list of the new terms. Go all middle school on yourself and write out the definitions of the unfamiliar terms. You are, after all, in learning mode right now.


Connect the dots. Closely analyze the keywords found in the job leads and the words on your résumé. Can you see the relationship between any of them? Does one military skill sound similar to a civilian one?


Get help. If you’re struggling with connecting the dots, visit your transition or family center employment readiness program manager and get some assistance. Those are valuable resources available to you, as a spouse, as well as to your uniformed loved one.


Lurk and learn. Visit professional online forums and soak in the discussions that are happening in your targeted industry. You’d be surprised how much you can pick up by just stalking conversations. If you’re feeling brave enough, participate in a discussion or two. Take the concept offline as well, and study up by reading professional journals and related trade publications.


Get a civilian mentor. In addition to doing your own keyword analysis, consider obtaining a civilian mentor. Try to find someone who has already walked the military-to-civilian career transition path successfully and who knows what terms mean in both worlds. If you’re lucky, you can find someone who will be happy to share his own transition experience with you so you can learn from him.


Making the transition from a military-related job to a civilian one can be scary. For some of us, it’s going to happen whether we want it to or not, so just keep moving forward. Feel the fear and embrace it. You know how to do that better than most.


Janet Farley is a career strategist, a workplace consultant, and the author of “The Military Spouse’s Guide to Employment: Smart Job Choices for Mobile Lifestyles” (Impact Publications, 2013). Janet blogs at Life’s Too Short to Hate Your Job.


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