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Armed and Ready to Recruit: How to Translate Military Resumes

“Military service men and women never have to fill out a resume, never have to explain what they do, never have to search or apply for a job, never have to prepare for an interview,” said Lisa Rosser during her recent presentation at the 2012 Fall ERE Expo.  Rosser was explaining why military candidates have such a hard time communicating exactly how their military skills and experience transfer to the civilian workforce: for many of them, the job search process as most of us know it is uncharted territory.

Rosser, a veteran of the military herself, is the founder of The Value Of a Veteran, where she teaches organizations how to develop military recruitment strategies. For her presentation, Rosser focused on answering the following two questions.

 “How do I understand a military person’s skill set so I can translate a resume and know a good candidate when I see one? And more importantly, how can I align the types of jobs my company has with the military’s skill set so I can fill as many roles as possible?”

According to Rosser, 81 percent of jobs in the military have a very close civilian equivalent (with the other 19 percent – who make up combat forces – in possession of transferrable skills), making the military a rich source of quality candidates. The first step to recruiting these candidates, says Rosser, is figuring out exactly how a candidate’s military skills transfer to the civilian workforce. She then outlined the following approaches to military recruitment: the reactive approach and the proactive approach.

The Reactive Approach to Military Recruiting

The reactive approach comes into play when hiring managers already have that resume in their hands and need to determine how it translates to their organization’s needs. For this approach, there are two things employers need to first ask military candidates: “What is your grade?” and “What is your Military Occupational Code?”

Question one: “What is your grade?” In the military, every service has grades and ranks. The grades are common and all start with a letter (“O” for officer, “W” for warrant officer or “E” for enlisted), followed by a number (1-10, with 10 being the most senior). While grades are common throughout the four military services, ranks on the other hand will differ by service.

For example, someone with the grade O4 in one service will get paid the same and do roughly the same level of work as an O-4 in another service (whether they be a marine, naval officer, etc); however, an O-4’s rank will differ by service, as a Major in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, but as Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Looking at it another way, a Captain rank is common to all four military services; however, in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, a Captain’s grade is O-3, and in the Navy, it is O-6. (To put it in perspective, that’s a difference of about 12 years of experience and $65,000 worth of salary expectations. Kind of a big deal.)

As for the differences between officers, warrant officers and enlisted members, Rosser explains:

  • Enlisted members make up about 75 percent of the military and “are the ones that actually do the work,” explains Rosser. These members typically join the military right out of high school, so while they have a lot of technical expertise, they may not have a bachelor’s degree. (They didn’t need one because the military trained them). “If you’re looking for the hands-on, very technical, actually-knows-how-to-do-stuff [employees], then enlisted members are actually the ones you’re looking for,” Rosser explains.  “If the requirement of a degree is what’s preventing you from being able to hire these people, that’s a conversation you need to have with the hiring manager [to see if that can be overcome].”
  • Officers may not have the same level of expertise enlisted members do, although they typically come out of a college commissioning program, such as West Point, Annapolis or a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, so they typically have their college degrees. Officers have what Rosser describes as “that big picture, project management look at an organization.” They might not know how to operate things, but they know what their organizations are capable of. They are the ‘client-facing’ part of the organization. They’re in charge of making sure the organization is performing efficiently.
  • Warrant Officers are found at higher echelons in the community. They are the subject matter experts, and typically come from the enlisted ranks – with a few exceptions – and are in the technical fields of the military (such as intelligence, telecommunications, logistics, aviation and maintenance, among others). They know the equipment really, really well. They know how to fix and get the most out of that equipment. They’re also the ones who write some of the policy the organization needs to follow.

Check out the breakdown of management experience and education among grade levels here:

Employers can use this “cheat sheet” to get a good picture of where their military candidates might fit into their organizations, based on military grade.

Question Two: What is Your Military Occupational Code? The Military Occupation Code (MOC) is the all-encompassing title across services. Employers can enter this code in the crosswalk page at O-Net Online, the department of labor’s online occupational handbook, to find out how the MOC translates to the civilian world.  This tool will translate the MOC of position title, and the search will return related occupational categories, along with a description of the job, the related skills and even the salary.  ( also has a free military skills translation tool to show how military skills translate to the civilian world.)

Additional resources include,,, and For those job titles that cannot be found on O-Net Online (such as Commander/Commanding Officer/Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, Platoon Leader, Operations Officer, to name a few), Rosser says  Wikipedia can also be a great resource for finding out what responsibilities correspond with these positions.

Something to Keep in Mind when Reviewing Resumes…
Salary and compensation can be another source of misunderstanding between military candidates and employers. A military candidate’s most recent W-2 can be an inaccurate indication of what they should be making. As Rosser explains, the military has an online calculator that enables military candidates to see how much money they should be making. Because this calculator takes into account military workers’ tax-free housing and assistance allowances, free health care and other military-specific benefits, their asking salary may be up to 20 or 30 percent more than their most recent W-2 reflects. When it comes to negotiating salary, make sure you have a number in hand when ready to talk to them, and help them understand that (if) you’re offering benefits beyond base pay, and what these benefits are worth.

The Proactive Approach to Military Recruiting

A more strategic approach to military recruiting, the proactive approach is about looking at the jobs you have to fill at your organization, then figuring out if and how military members will fit into these roles. You can use many of the same resources mentioned above to help you to determine the various grades of the military you should be looking at when recruiting for these positions. O-Net, for example, enables you to enter the position for which you’re trying to hire, and from there, it will generate the military equivalent of that position.

Get More Out of Your Efforts: Call in for Backup

Regardless of whichever approach you employ, Rosser recommends having either a dedicated military recruiting team – even outsourcing these efforts to a dedicated recruiter who specializes in military recruitment – or making military recruitment everyone’s responsibility. Both methods have shown to work – it’s just a matter of finding the approach that’s right for your organization. When employing either of these methods, Rosser suggest enlisting the help of your own veteran employees, who can help you and your recruiting team better understand military candidates and how their skills will fit into your organization.

Finally, remember that recruiting military candidates is a skill that requires training and dedication. “This is something that takes time to learn how to do,” Rosser reminds the audience. “You’re not going to get this overnight.”

See Lisa Rosser’s full 2012 ERE presentation here:

Video streaming by Ustream

Want more insider advice on how to recruit and retain the best military veterans? Download our Mission-Critical Recruitment Guide.

A Guide for Regarding, Recruiting and Retaining Military Service Members

A Guide for Regarding, Recruiting and Retaining Military Service Members

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.


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