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How to translate your military career to a business audience

At Freshminds we meet a lot of veterans who are at various stages on their transition to civilian life, whether that be into the private or public sector. Something that is often mentioned is that people wish that someone had sat them down at the beginning of this journey to help explain and conceptualise their military careers and put them into the right words to transfer into the civilian work environment.

No matter how prestigious and successful the military career, it can be incredibly daunting to then be faced with the very different world of civvy Street. We have met with many ex-service people who have even begun to be afflicted by self-doubt, undermining the inherent value of years of their successful and impressive track record and thus discrediting what are usually incredibly valuable and transferable skills.

As such, ex- RAF and now BCG consultant, Charles Sudborough, has a first-hand insight and shared with us his top tips for veterans in the commercial world. Alongside the recruitment advice we often give to ex-services, here is hopefully a useful tool to explain how to approach things like writing your CV and cover letter and translating experience into terms that are relatable to the business world. 

Businesses value of military skills

Veterans will have lots of skills that readily transfer to a business career, but sometimes it can be a little difficult to know how to articulate these. Here are some key things to include:

  Military Skills   Indicative value to business
Team Work Nearly all military personnel work with the assistance, coordination and awareness of teams   Companies have a clear desire to enhance the effectiveness of senior management teams—this issue is in the top 5 items of the executive agenda
Leadership Military personnel are trained to accept and discharge leadership   Companies devoting significant time to leadership outperform those that do not – typically by 150% more revenue
Adaptability  Military individuals must be flexible and adaptable to meet the constantly changing needs of the situation or mission   Highly adaptive companies have outperformed un-adaptive ones—by 4x in the last decade
Planning Many military personnel serve as team leaders where they have analysed situations and options to make appropriate planning decisions   Organisation design efforts are more likely to be successful when there is clear and contextual planning—by a ratio of 4:1


Civilianise your career - How to translate your military career to the civilian world

The aim is to translate your experiences into plain, easily understandable language so that someone with no military knowledge can understand the value that you can bring. Getting to grips with how ‘business’ operates as an overall model is vital. Knowing what is on the radar of people in different industry sectors, and how you could shape your skills to become an integral part of that world is very valuable.

After a military career, it is likely that you have a deep familiarity with Military language, TLAs (three letter acronyms) and terminology; however, civilians don't.

That said some things are slightly easier to translate:

Before   After
Commanded = Led, Supervised
Colonel = Executive Vice President, CEO 
Squadron, Battalion, Ship = 150 personnel
Operation HERRICK = Afghanistan conflict
Red Teaming = Problem Solving


Aside from this, it is always worth asking your friends and colleagues who may have already made the transition to review what you write.

Leverage career workshops which are often available to military leavers. Aim to provide business like measures in support of your achievements:

  • Quantifiable               -           Managed material assets valued at £100M
  • Qualitative                 -           Significantly improved team performance

Differentiate between "me" and "we"; the commercial world needs to know what you did and what you achieved during your career.

Remember you are not alone

Most veterans face the same challenge, so don’t be afraid to reach out to other ex-services who are already in business. The vast majority will remember their journey and be very willing to help with advice and support.

Examples – below are 3, admittedly truncated, ways at looking at military careers to set you in the right direction:

Background Translate into business environment
8 years serving
as a Nuclear Submarine Officer
  • Technical skills: Managed nuclear power plant in $2B submarine
  • Leadership: Developed and pitched an innovative $1M project to the Navy's CEO
  • Management: Supervised complex logistics and training for over 30 US and foreign warships
6 years in
the Infantry
  • Negotiations: Worked with 12 different nationalities to agree challenging operational ramp down on time and budget
  • Planning: Planned dozens of contingency operations in austere environments
  • Project management: Supported new multi-million pound weapon system development and implementation
5 years in the Air Force as an aircraft engineer
  • Integrity: Trusted with a high level of UK government vetting to handle highly confidential and sensitive information
  • Teamwork: Increased morale and team performance, reducing team voluntary churn by 20%
  • Leadership: Led a team of 50 professional technicians to maintain a fast-jet squadron with £1B of assets

Once you have started thinking along these lines it is important to find companies or environments that are of interest. To do this it is important to:

  • Understand which particular industries, jobs or opportunities inspire you.
  • Understand what your target organisations/environments problems are, what needs to be solved, and what you could offer.
  • Create a robust understanding of what a typical career path might look like over 10 years and how you could develop on said trajectory.

Then, once you have potential targets in mind, it is time to assess your background against the core job skills required, whether outlined in a full job spec, by your friendly recruitment consultant or in an advert.

There are a wide range of areas it is important to consider when assessing your background, including but not limited to:

  • Skills needed
  • Leadership
  • Technical 
  • Teamwork
  • Passion
  •   Analytics
  • Strategy
  • Loyalty
  • Resilience


If you cannot think of where examples of these skill sets could lie, remember that they can come from 3 main areas:

Your military career   Your personal life   Your extra-curricular activities


It is then time to fully develop your CV and cover letters accordingly and without going into an exhaustive guide on the pros and cons of different ways of approaching this, some core things to bear in mind might include:

  • Use your background assessment to tell a story that aligns with the needs of the organisations /environments that you want to work in.
  • Give a focused and accurate picture of your experience.
  • A CV will either be chronological or functional, chronological is the most common - research the most suitable for the specific role you are applying for.
  • A Cover Letter should ideally cover
  • You (the opportunity)
  • Me (how you are a great candidate)
  • We (how you will work together)
  • Keep all applications short and to the point (ideally CV and cover letter each 1-2 pages).

So there are many transferable experiences which are valuable when articulating your skills when making the career journey from the military into the commercial world.

Jon is the Head of the Experienced / Executive Hire Team at Freshminds.

If you would be interested in finding out more about how best to draw up your CV and cover letter, or are interested in discovering what type of applicable opportunities for ex-services then please do get in touch to find out more.