Career Glossary: 40+ Job Terms, HR Vocab & Employment Words to Know

Our career glossary defines the most important work words and phrases, employment terms, job-related jargon, and office lingo. Whether you're a job seeker or company hiring manager, this glossary of career terms is sure to have what you're looking for!

Are you a recent graduate or young professional just getting into the wonderful world of work?

Or perhaps you’re an HR professional needing to brush up on modern office jargon?

This career glossary is just for you!

In this post, we’ll give you all the common job vocabulary, career terms, HR phrases, and employment lexicon, as well as some lesser-known vocational words and phrases, as well.

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Here is our glossary of career terms and workplace vocabulary to know:

Applicant – An applicant is a job seeker who has applied for employment at a company.

Applicant Tracking System – An applicant tracking system (ATS) is software employed by hiring managers and human resources employees to assist in filtering out candidates based on resume keywords, specific skills, and other variables designated by the operator.

Application – An application is an official request from a job seeker to be considered for employment given to a company or recruiter. A job application may be a simple email with a resume or cover letter attached to it, or it could be on a proprietary company system.

ATS – See “applicant tracking system.”

Background Check – A background check is a review process performed by a company on a particular job applicant to determine if they are qualified, legitimate, truthful, and whether there are any items in their past which could harm the company were it to hire the applicant.

Benefit – Benefits are items and services offered by a company on top of monetary compensation (salary). Common employer benefits include medical insurance, dental insurance, retirement benefits, disability insurance, and paid time off.

Branding Statement – A branding statement is a short summary describing a job seeker efficiently and effectively to prospective employers. It could be a few words long or a paragraph of a few sentences in length. 

Career – A career is a person’s life-long journey through the world of work unique to that person. It typically lasts many years and may contain many related jobs or promotions. A career tends to be in one particular industry, although it might also be a string of jobs related in another way. 

Career Change – A career change is when a person in one field, industry, or line of work switches paths to be outside of their current employment trajectory. For example, a person working their way up the legal career path from law assistant to paralegal makes a career change when they decide to leave law and head into marketing. Learn more about careers here: What is a Career?

Cover Letter – A cover letter is an employment document that a job seeker writes to formally state their application for a job, explain why they’re qualified, and detail why they’d be an ideal candidate and future employee, if hired. A cover letter usually accompanies a job resume and is attached together in an email as a job application. Read our cover letter tips to make sure yours is perfect!

Curriculum Vitae – A curriculum vitae (CV) is an application document detailing a candidate’s work history, personal information, skills, academic qualifications, degrees, awards, publications, achievements, and other pertinent information. In Europe, a CV tends to be similar to a resume in the US. When a CV is required in the US, it is usually a much more comprehensive account of a person’s academic and professional background than a standard employment resume.

Elevator Pitch – An elevator pitch is a short speech meant to persuade someone to take an action or consider an idea proposed. The goal of an elevator speech could be just about anything, from getting a CEO to consider someone for a job to pitching a million-dollar idea to a Silicon Valley investor. Learn more about elevator pitches here: How to Create an Elevator Pitch in 5 Easy Steps

Employment – Employment is the relationship between a worker (employee) and a hirer (employer), usually a company or a private client. Employment most often involves the employer compensating work performed by the employee in monetary terms. 

Employment Gap – An employment gap is when there is a significant space of unemployed time a person has between two jobs. Sometimes, an employment gap may lead to additional scrutiny by hiring managers during a job application review or interview.

Employment Website – An employment website, also known as an online job board, is a website where job seekers can search for available opportunities and apply for jobs. There are many employment websites available, including niche ones, such as job boards for remote work and job boards for creative professionals, but check out Goodwall Opportunities for our version, which we think you’ll love 🙂

Experience – In the career world, experience is the combination of skills, knowledge, and practice someone gains through working. Experience can also be known as work experience, work history, job experience, job history, or employment experience. 

Family Leave – See “parental leave.”

Full-Time – Full-time refers to employment at or above a certain number of hours. In most places full-time work means either 30+ or 40+ hours per week. Anything under full-time employment is considered part-time employment.

Hard Skills – Hard skills are skills and abilities which are able to be taught and quantified, for the most part. Hard skills are usually learned in a classroom, via an app, or through work experience, and it is able to be quantified through testing or surveys. The opposite of hard skills are soft skills, which are more difficult to evaluate and usually learned throughout one’s life. 

Hiring Manager – A hiring manager is a company representative responsible for recruitment and employment efforts, including posting job advertisements, reviewing resumes and cover letters, calling candidates, and interviewing prospective applicants.

Human Resources – Human resources (HR) is a company department which is responsible for managing affairs related to employees, such as company culture, performance, training and onboarding, compensation and benefits. Often, a hiring manager may be part of the human resource department, and HR tends to also be responsible for hiring, firing, job interviews, and exit interviews.

Internship – An internship is a temporary work program offered by an organization to an individual, often a student or recent graduate, looking to build experience or skills in a particular field. A person accepted into an internship program is called an intern.

If you want to learn more about internships, read our guides: 

Interview – An interview is a meeting between a job candidate and one or more company representatives for the purpose of determining whether the candidate would be a good fit as a potential employee. Read our interview tips to ace your next meeting!

Job Board – See “employment website.”

Maternity Leave – See “parental leave.”

Minimum Wage – A minimum wage is the lowest monetary compensation legally allowed in a particular locale. Usually a per-hour amount, companies are not permitted to pay their employees less than the minimum wage in a given area.

Onboarding – Onboarding is a post-employment process an HR representative guides a newly-hired employee on to bring that employee up to speed as far as the company history, culture, ways of the office, and any other knowledge an employee might need to be able to be proficient at their new job. 

Overtime – Overtime refers to an amount of work performed by an employee which is greater than the normal amount of working hours. Overtime may be set at a company level, city level, or national level, and it usually involves a higher rate of compensation for the extra time (above normal working hours) worked.

Parental Leave – Parental leave is a benefit offered by companies, sometimes required by law, which allows an employee to take time off from work for paternity, maternity, caring of elders, caring of children, caring of ill family members, and other related parental circumstances. Depending on the company and the local and national laws, parental leave can range in time and in compensation, being both paid and unpaid.

Part-Time – Part-time refers to employment which is under a designated time, usually meaning either under 30 hours or under 40 hours per week. Any more than this is considered full-time (or overtime). 

Paternity Leave – See “parental leave.”

Portfolio – A portfolio is a collection of materials and examples of past work a job seeker compiles to showcase their skills, talent, and experience to prospective employers.

Pounding the Pavement – The term “pounding the pavement” is an idiom used to describe the act of diligently and vigorously searching for employment. Job seekers pound the pavement when they are eagerly and constantly looking for their next dream opportunity. If you want help pounding the pavement, check out our best job search tips for great advice!

Promotion – A promotion is a company action which involves advancing an employee to a higher rank in the organization. Many promotions involve more responsibilities and may include an increase in benefits and perks.

Recruiter – A recruiter is an agent who locates qualified candidates for job openings or ideal employment opportunities for job seekers. Most recruiters are usually not affiliated with a company, often working solo or part of a recruitment agency. These recruiters are compensated when a job seeker signs a contract by either the company or the job seeker, depending on who sought out the recruiter first. 

Resume – A resume is an employment document a job seeker creates detailing their work history, academic achievements, skills, certifications, awards, and any other relevant information. A resume is less extensive and comprehensive than a CV. Read our top resume tips to make sure yours is on point!

Skills – Skills are the knowledge and abilities a job seeker has to perform particular tasks or actions. Skills are very important during a job search, as employers search for candidates with certain skills, and candidates attempt to correctly identify the skills they have to match.

Soft Skills – Soft skills are talents and abilities that are harder to assess or quantify and usually learned throughout a lifetime, especially those involving relationships, social intelligence, communication, character, emotional intelligence, and personality. The opposite of soft skills is hard skills, which are able to easily assess, learn, and quantify.

Startup – According to Steve Blank, entrepreneur and developer of the customer development method, “a startup is a temporary organization in search of a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model.” According to Quantic, this means that “startups are adaptable organizations whose primary goal is to find a business model, not execute one.”

Transferable Skills – Transferable skills are those talents and abilities that are used or acquired at one job which are also able to be utilized at another job. For example, when one improves their communication skills by working at a PR agency, that skill is transferable to a job in marketing.

Unicorn – A unicorn is a young company, such as a tech startup, which has been valued at over $1 billion (USD).

Web Profile – A web profile is a Goodwall member’s main page, used as a personal portfolio of their achievements, experiences, skills, academic history, and ideas in order to showcase themselves in the best possible way to prospective employers and for college applications. 

Learn more about the web profile, how to use it to land a job, or how to use it to score a scholarship.

WFH – WFH is the acronym for the term “work from home.” WFH programs increased in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic. To learn more about WFH, check out these articles:

Work-Life Balance – A “work-life balance” is the ability to tune the time you spend on your professional and personal lives in order to find a healthy medium that enhances your quality of life. To have a good balance between work and your personal life, you need to know when to work, of course, but you also need to know when to take time for yourself, as it’s important for your mental health, physical health, relationships, and career. Learn more about what is a work-life balance, or read our top work-life balance quotes for inspiration!

Well, that’s the end of our career glossary for now, but we’ll keep it updated by adding new job-related vocabulary on a regular basis. Got any questions, feedback, or other career words or phrases to add to this guide? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Kyiv, Ukraine after living in Warsaw, Poland for the past 4 years. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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