Understanding Military Rank

Civilian Equivalent to Military Rank

Studies suggest that 99% of the U.S. population does not serve in the military. So if you are a military veteran, you’re truly in the 1 percenters club. After you make the transition into the civilian working world, expect for hiring managers to be unfamiliar with military customs and courtesies such as military rank and how it progresses over time.

Because the lifestyle and culture of the military community is like an island, majority of civilians will have a very limited understanding of where you’ve been and where you come from. Fortunately, you are not alone.

At Empire Resume, a professional resume writing services company, we’ve written thousands of winning resumes that translate military skills to civilian terms and help hiring authorities understand how military rank applies to positions within their companies.

Today, we’ll discuss military rank and compare it to civilian job titles to eliminate any confusion a hiring manager may have about translating military rank into the civilian environment.

What is Military Rank?

Civilian Equivalent to Military Rank

As we mentioned in the difference between a military officer and enlisted article, military rank is a chain of command or organizational structure system that shows authority and responsibility within members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

There are two ways for hiring managers to identify rank:

  • Insignia: Objects on a service members uniform including stripes, bars, stars, eagles, or oak leaves. Enlisted personnel wear stripes on their arms while officers wear bars, stars, eagles, or oak leaves on their lapels.

In uniform, rank insignia can be found on the military cover (hat), shoulder, sleeve, or collar.

  • Pay grade: Classifications that determine a member’s pay across the service branches. These are commonly found on a veteran’s DD-214, which is commonly requested while job hunting, especially jobs with military friendly employers.

Pay grades for enlisted service members range from E-1 to E-9. Pay grades for officers range from O-1 to O-10. The “E” represents Enlisted, and “O” is for Officer. The higher the rank or pay grade, the higher the earnings. Officers are paid more than the enlisted level equivalent. For example, an O-4 (officer) will make more money than an E-4 (enlisted).

Then, there’s warrant officers whose pay grades generally range from WO-1 to WO-5, but the Coast Guard’s warrant officer rank begins at WO-2.

The chief warrant officer rank ranges from CW-2 to CW-5. The Navy and Coast Guard use the abbreviation CWO.

Applying Military Rank to Civilian Positions

Civilian Equivalent to Military Rank

Now that you know a bit about the enlisted, officer, and warrant officer rank structure, comparing military rank to civilian employment is not as difficult as it seems. Always remember, rank progresses by number. 1 means entry level with 9 or 10 meaning supervisory level.

As a general rule of thumb, approach rank from this perspective. Those who carry the officer ranks (O-1 through O-10) are college-educated. Here, it’s safe to compare officer ranks to management and executive positions. Enlisted ranks (E-1 through E-9) are more entry level and specialist type positions.

Naturally, a military member may say, “Oh, I was a Sergeant First Class in the Army.” A Sergeant First Class in the Army is an E-7, which civilian equivalent to a supervisor/manager level.

An E-7 in the Air Force is known as a Master Sergeant. Each branch of the military has a different title for the rank, but the pay grade remains the same.

For example, a pay grade of E-1 is the rank of Private in the Army. But the pay grade of E-1 is the rank of an Airman Basic in the Air Force. Both of these ranks are the equivalent of an entry level position in the civilian workforce.

For a deep dive, take some time to familiarize yourself with the enlisted rank names and the officer rank names for each branch.

Make Military Rank Simple for Civilians: Share the Pay Grade

Civilian Equivalent to Military Rank

So, to make it easier, veterans should share their pay grade. If you’re a civilian hiring manager, don’t be afraid to ask the veteran his or her last pay grade. This will help you better determine which positions may be a fit for the veteran.

We’ve provided a brief comparison of pay grades and common civilian phrases for quick reference when you need to know how to apply rank to a civilian position.

Common Civilian Phrases for Enlisted Rank

  • E-1: Apprentice, Employee, Team Member
  • E-2: Team Member, Support Personnel
  • E-3: Assistant, Aide
  • E-4: Assistant Team Lead, Assistant Trainer
  • E-5: Team Lead, Trainer
  • E-6: Assistant Manager, Assistant Instructor
  • E-7: Team Manager, Instructor
  • E-8: Supervisor Coordinator
  • E-9: Superintendent, Advisor, Chief

Common Civilian Phrases for Warrant Officer Rank

  • W-1: Technical Support
  • W-2: Technical Specialist
  • W-3: Facilitator, Project Manager
  • W-4: Technical Manager, Project Coordinator
  • W-5: Technical Expert, Consultant

Common Civilian Phrases for Officer Rank

  • O-1: Manager, Line Manager, General Manager
  • O-2: Experienced Manager
  • O-3: Administrator, Department Head
  • O-4: Executive Officer
  • O-5: Director of Operations
  • O-6: Program Director
  • O-7: Managing Director, Director
  • O-8: Chief Financial Officer, Vice President
  • O-9: Chief Operations Officer, Senior Vice President
  • O-10: Chief Executive Officer, President, Chairman

As you can see from the chart above, when the number of pay grade increases, so does the responsibility of the service-member.

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We’re an industry leading certified professional resume writing company that offers LinkedIn profiles, cover/follow up letters, and detailed job search guidance. We have a phenomenal success rate landing our clients interviews and offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee!

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for service-members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.

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5 thoughts on “Understanding Military Rank

    • Empire Resume says:

      It looks like a Michigan State Police Detective (Trooper Specialist) 11 is the first level of detective work. This rank would probably be comparable to a Staff Sergeant military rank of E-5 or E-6.

  1. This doesn’t really translate well from what is commonly seen today in the Air Force. Rank and position are not the same. There are bright E-5s holding E-7 billets and E-7s holding E-9 billets.

    This is what’s the most common right now and has been this way for a few years:

    E-1 to E-2 are learning the job
    E-3 to E-4 are team leads and trainers
    E-4 is assistant team managers
    E-5 to E-6 are team managers or general managers
    E-7 to E-8 are the general manager or superintendents
    E-8 to E-9 are department heads or executive officer (works at the same level with O-4)

    O-1 is a team manager in training or team manager
    O-2 is a team manager.
    O-3 to 4 is a general manager or department head
    O-4 is department head or Executive officer
    O-5 is Executive Officer or higher

    I agree with the rest. Just making sure our people aren’t sold short.

    • Empire Resume says:

      I absolutely agree with you Owen. What we wrote in this article is just general military to civilian equivalents.

      When we actually write our military to civlian resumes, we list the client’s job titles (and overall resume title) in civilian terms based on real actual roles and achievements taken from the military evals. How you listed everything is pretty on par for what we write for military clients in practice.

  2. I used my resume. And listed my job title and position I held in the Army. And te person/supervisor that interviewed me said I was more qualified for position then she was.

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