Recently, I spoke with a Military-to-Civilian Recruiter who remarked, "Military people in transition simply need to learn to speak English again!" Learning to speak English again is a skill any Military Spouse or Uniformed Spouse must master, especially in a job interview. When was the last time you spoke in plain English? Think about it.

For example, if you say:

"I need to top off the POV after I leave HQ, then change out of my Class As and LPCs. It's about 10 clicks away so I'll stop by the BEQ before we link up and go get chow!"

You might totally understand this if you're in any way associated with the military. That's just the way military folks communicate with each other. Consider yourself uniquely qualified to speak this way!

However, most Civilian employers would not understand that what you really meant to say in plain English was:

"I need to get gas in the car after I leave the office, then change out of my work clothes and work shoes. It's about 7 miles away so I'll stop by my apartment, and then come get you so we can go eat!"

You see, military people have their own way of saying things. This is accepted practice in the military circles. You learn the lingo, the jargon, and become "streetwise" very quickly or else you simply learn the hard way. Anybody ever hear of a new lieutenant being sent to get a "Box of Grid Squares," a "Sky Hook," or a "Can of Squelch"? Ever have some friends or relatives look at you funny when you say you need to go to the BX, TAP, or MWR?

Of course, each branch of service has a long list of common words and phrases known only to those within the group. But, what happens when you're in an interview situation?

Military Jargon, three-letter acronyms, and other words & phrases unique to the military have little to no place in a civilian interview (unless of course you're interviewing with a company or entity that works extremely close to the military). You need to be careful in how much "military-speak" you use. You need to know when it's appropriate to "talk the talk". Be wise. Know your audience.

You may occasionally run into an interviewer who is a former military person. You may casually say something "military" in the interview, the interviewer picks up on it, and then off you go! Before you know it, you had a great time, understood each other, told some great stories, and the interviewer recommends you for the next interview. In your mind, everything is going great!

You go to the next interview pumped up and ready to impress. The next interviewer mentions something on your resume that deals with military, and off you go again! You're talking as fast as a scared recruit does push-ups on the first day of basic training! Only this time, you don't pick up on the fact that this next interviewer has extremely limited knowledge about the military. Maybe they saw that the previous interviewer circled something that's military-related on your resume. Or, maybe they have a distant cousin who served and once mentioned something about; PT, POVs, BEQs, BX, PX, Class VI, C-Rations, MREs, or whatever. You jumped to conclusions too quickly and thought this person knew more about the military than they actually did.

So, now you have a situation where you're all excited about sharing all of your military "head knowledge" with a person who has no clue what you're talking about. Now confused, your chances of getting this civilian opportunity are becoming slim to none. If you were to ask this next interviewer how the interview went, they would have a brand new acronym for you called M.E.G.O. which stands for My Eyes Gloss Over! You've put them to sleep and confused the person who could have moved you closer to the civilian career opportunity by not making it a point to learn to speak English again.

Don't let this happen to you!

It will take a little practice to get used to speaking in plain English. The closer you get to interviews, the better you need to be at this. You probably got some practice on "speaking civilian-ese" when you worked on your resume, but this is where you learn to verbalize your value to a company - in terms most civilians understand.

So here's an exercise I created so you can use to help yourself learn to speak plain English again.

Get an empty jar or bowl. Put a sticker or a label on it that says "JARGON JAR." Each time you catch yourself saying something in military jargon, put a quarter in the jar for each word you say that is a military term. You can use the money to buy coffee for civilian people you network with, or you can challenge another trusted Military Spouse or Buddy to get their own jar. Pick another Military Spouse or Buddy who plans to make a military-to-civilian career transition as well. Set up weekly goals and maybe even a contest to see who puts less in the "Jargon Jar."

You might even use the money to buy each other coffee or lunch or dinner. Anytime you can get together with people who can encourage you during your job/career search is a good thing!

You can even raise the stakes and create a monthly contest in which the person with the most money in their "Jargon Jar" (used more military jargon that month) has to buy coffee, or lunch, or steak for the person with the least (used less military jargon that month). To make this more interesting, the loser has to drink water, eat salad, or eat hot dogs while the winner eats or drinks the better meal!

Have fun with this! And, in between bites of your celebratory meal, take some time to discuss the progress of your military-to-civilian career transition and future success!

By the way, everything I'm talking about here happened to me! (Everything except the "Box of Grid Squares," a "Sky Hook," or "Can of Squelch" stuff mentioned earlier. I had some great NCOs that looked out for me and made my life as a young Officer a successful & memorable one. And, these NCOs got a few well-deserved laughs on my account too!)

In a matter of a few weeks, you will find yourself fluent in the plain English language once again! You have now learned a valuable new skill that will help you succeed in an interview and all of your interactions with civilian employers. Now, go forth, get lots of interviews, and speak plain English!

1 Comment
Tara Crooks
Limitless Contributor
I can completely see this as a challenge. Last night hubby came in and spoke in another language to me. I turned to him and said "civilian-ize that for me please". :)