How to Convert Military Rank to Federal Civil Service

Saluting military woman
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There is an official federal government conversion between the military and civilian rank systems, which is helpful in interactions between military and civilian departments and agencies, but if you seek civilian federal employment, you won’t necessarily start at a rank commensurate with the one you held when you left military service. Your civilian rank will depend on how your skills and experience stack up against the requirements of the career track you choose.

1 Converting Senior Ranks

Senior Executive Service officers are the civilian equivalent of generals or admirals. Civil service, however, has six senior levels, compared to only four in the military, so there isn't a direct, one-for-one correlation. Brigadier general or rear admiral lower half, for example, equates to SES-1 and SES-2. Major general or full rear admiral translates to the SES-3 and SES-4 levels, but SES-4 also overlaps with the next military level. Lieutenant general or vice admiral corresponds to SES levels 4 and 5. Admiral or general is the equivalent of SES-6 in the civil service.

2 Converting Military Officer Levels to the GS Ranks

If you were an officer at the level of colonel or below, your military rank will convert to the General Service scale in the civil service. Full colonel or naval captain translates to GS-15. Lieutenant colonel or commander is equivalent to GS-14. Major or lieutenant commander translates to GS-12 or GS-13. Captain or naval lieutenant converts to GS-10 or GS-11. First lieutenant or naval lieutenant junior grade equates to GS-8 or GS-9. Second lieutenant or ensign is the same as GS-7.

3 Converting Non-Commissioned Officer Levels to Civilian

Warrant officers at the W-1 and W-2 level also are equivalent to GS-7, but the W-3 and W-4 levels translate to GS-8. Non-commissioned officers at the E-7 through E-9 levels are all equivalent to GS-6. Sergeants, staff sergeants and petty officers second class are the same as GS-5, and privates, petty officers third class or seamen translate to the GS-1 through 4 level.

4 Translating Skills

One of the challenges in applying for a civilian job is that the language related to skills and duties is different from the military vernacular. Certain jobs, like medical corpsman, translate easily into the civilian world, but a job like artillery commander is harder for civilians to assess. To overcome this hurdle, make a list of the skills you learned in each of your military assignments, then use a military to civilian skills translator, such as the one provided by Feds for Vets, to learn how to describe these skills to a civilian audience so that you get credit for what you've learned -- and potentially a higher rank.

5 Lobbying for a Higher Step to Increase Pay

Each GS level has a pay range divided into 10 steps. If you receive a job offer with a grade lower than you believe you deserve and the hiring manager tells you a higher grade is not possible -- usually due to required experience in the career track -- you can lobby for a higher step to bring the salary into your target range. In general, two steps equate in pay to one full grade. For example, if you left the army as a lieutenant colonel and you expect the civilian equivalent of GS-14, but you receive an offer at the GS-13 Step 5 level, you could counter with a request to be brought in as a GS-13-Step 7, which is a slightly higher pay than the starting salary for a GS-14.

A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.