Job-Seekers' Glossary of Key Job-Hunting, Career, Job-Search, and Employment Terms

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The definitive source for learning about career, job-hunting, and employment terms -- from your team at Quintessential Careers.

Accomplishments -- these are the achievements you have had in your career. These key points really help sell you to an employer -- much more so than everyday job duties or responsibilities. In your cover letters, resumes, and job interviews, focus on key career accomplishments -- especially ones that you can quantify. 

Action Verbs -- The building blocks of effective cover letters and resumes. These concrete, descriptive verbs express your skills, assets, experience, and accomplishments. Avoid non-descriptive verbs such as "do," "work," and forms of the verb "to be." Instead, begin each descriptive section with an action verb. Almost every resume book has a list of great action verbs to choose from. 

Assessments -- These tests ask you a series of questions and try to provide you with some sense of your personality and career interests. You shouldn't rely on the results of these tests by themselves, but the results can be a good starting point for discovering more about yourself and your interests and considering careers you may not have thought of. 

Background Check -- Used by employers to verify the accuracy of the information you provide on your resume or job application -- and beyond. On the rise as prices fall on these services. Items checked include: employment verification, educational background/degrees, references, credit history, medical records, driving record, court records, criminal records, and more. 

Behavioral Interview -- See Job Interviewing.

Benefits -- An important part of your compensation package, and part of the salary negotiation process. Note that every employer offers a different mix of benefits. These benefits may include paid vacations, company holidays, personal days, sick leave, life insurance, medical insurance, retirement and pension plans, tuition assistance, child care, stock options, and more. Can be worth anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of your salary. See also Compensation Package and Salary. 

Career Activist -- Someone who is proactive in planning, evaluating, directing, and controlling his or her career rather than simply reacting as situations arise. (Some call this approach career mapping.) A career activist has an enduring interest in understanding and achieving his or her full career potential, while maximizing career marketability. 

Career Assessment -- See Assessments.

Career Branding -- Helps define who you are, how you are great, and why you should be sought out. Branding is your reputation. Branding is about building a name for yourself, showcasing what sets you apart from other job-seekers, and describing the added value you bring to an employer. 

Career Change -- Changing your occupation by devising a strategy to find new career choices. Most experts now predict that the average person will change careers three to five times over the course of his or her work life. Change may occur because you don't enjoy the work as much as you used to. Or maybe you can't progress further in your career. 

Career Coach -- Also called career consultant, career adviser, work-life coach, personal career trainer, and life management facilitator. These professionals have been likened to personal trainers for your life/career, serving the role as your champion, cheerleader, advocate, mentor, partner, and sounding board on all issues related to your job or career search. 

Career Exploration -- The process of finding a rewarding career path, as well as specific jobs within a particular career path. Think of career exploration and planning as building bridges from your current job/career to your next job/career.

Career Fair -- There are many types of job and career fairs -- from those scheduled during Spring Break for college students to industry-specific fairs for professionals -- but they all have a common theme: a chance for a company to meet and screen a large volume of potential job candidates while simultaneously an opportunity for job-seekers to meet and screen a large number of employers. 

Career Objective/Job Objective -- An optional part of your resume, but something you should contemplate whether you place it on your resume or not. It can sharpen the focus of your resume and should be as specific as possible -- and written in a way that shows how you can benefit the employer. 

Career Planning -- The continuous process of evaluating your current lifestyle, likes/dislikes, passions, skills, personality, dream job, and current job and career path and making corrections and improvements to better prepare for future steps in your career, as needed, or to make a career change. 

Career Portfolio -- See Job Skills Portfolio.

Career Research -- See Career Exploration.

Career Vision Statement -- A set of career goals that a job-seeker sets for the long-term, typically five years or more. The purpose of a career vision statement is to give you a clear direction for the future; it is a vision that has been committed to paper to guide you in making future choices.

Case Interview -- See Job Interviewing.

Chronological Resume -- See Resume.

Cold Call -- When a job-seeker approaches an employer (usually through an uninvited cover letter) who has not publicly announced any job openings. See hidden job market and cover letters.  See also cover letters.

Company Research -- See Researching Companies.

Compensation Package -- The combination of salary and fringe benefits an employer provides to an employee. When evaluating competing job offers, a job-seeker should consider the total package and not just salary. See also Salary and Benefits. 

Contract Employee -- Where you work for one organization (and its salary and benefit structure) that sells your services to another company on a project or time basis. Compare to freelancer.

Corporate Culture -- The collection of beliefs, expectations, and values shared by an organization's members and transmitted from one generation of employees to another. The culture sets norms (rules of conduct) that define acceptable behavior of employees of the organization. It's important for job-seekers to understand the culture of an organization before accepting a job. 

Counter Offer/Counter Proposal -- A salary negotiation technique used by job-seekers when a job offer is not at an acceptable level. Almost all elements of a job offer are negotiable, including the salary, non-salary compensation, moving expenses, benefits, and job-specific issues. 

Cover Letter -- Should always accompany your resume when you contact a potential employer. A good cover letter opens a window to your personality (and describes specific strengths and skills you offer the employer). It should entice the employer to read your resume.  See also:

  • uninvited (cold contact) cover letter -- The most common type of cover letter, since such a large percentage (80-95 percent) of the job market is "closed," meaning the job openings are not advertised. Usually part of a direct mail campaign in which the job-seeker is trying to uncover hidden jobs. See a sample letter.
  • invited cover letter -- Written in response to an advertised opening, whether in a newspaper, trade publication, on the Internet, or even on the company's bulletin board. Employer expects -- and even welcomes the cover letters. See a sample letter.
  • referral cover letter -- An extremely effective type of cover letter that springs from networking efforts. The referral letter uses a name-dropping tactic as early as possible in the letter to attract the reader's attention and prompt an interview. See a sample letter.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) -- See Resume.

Declining Letter -- A letter sent to an employer to turn down a job offer. The writer should keep the door open in case he or she would like to approach the employer again someday. See a sample letter.

Degrees & Certifications -- Recognition bestowed on students upon completion of a unified program of study, including high school, trade schools, colleges and universities, and other agencies. 

Diversity Job-Seekers -- Numerous disadvantaged groups -- women and minorities -- often face extra challenges in the job-search. 

Dress for Success -- First coined by author John Malloy in the 1970s, the term Dress for Success signifies tailoring one's attire, grooming, and overall appearance toward making a great first impression in a job interview -- as well as maintaining a professional look while on the job to aid career advancement. Will dressing properly get you the job? Not by itself, but it will give you a competitive edge and help you make a positive first impression. 

Electronic Resume (or E-Resume) -- A resume (see resume) that is sent to the employer electronically, either via email, by submitting to Internet job boards, or residing on their on Web page. Includes numerous formats of resumes linked by their mode of delivery. 

Elevator Speech -- A a 15- to 30-second commercial that job-seekers use in a variety of situations (career fairs, networking events, job interviews, cold calling) that succinctly tells the person you are giving it to who you are, what makes you unique, and the benefits you can provide. 

Email Cover Letter -- A cover letter (see Cover Letter) that is sent to the employer electronically via email. There are different rules that apply to writing these kind of cover letters, though the fundamental principles remain the same.  See a sample letter.

Employment Gaps -- Are those periods of time between jobs when job-seekers are unemployed, either by choice or circumstances. Employers do not like seeing unexplained gaps on resumes, and there are numerous strategies for reducing the impact of these gaps on your future job-hunting. 

Freelancer/Consultant/Independent Contractor -- Where you work for yourself and bid for temporary jobs and projects with one or more employers. Freelancing is not an alternative to hard work, but many people enjoy the freedom, flexibility, and satisfaction of working for themselves. 

Franchising -- A legal and commercial relationship between the owner of a trademark, service mark, brand name, or advertising symbol (the franchisor) and an individual or organization (the franchisee) wishing to use that identification in a business. 

Functional Resume -- See Resume.

Hidden Job Market -- Only about 5-20 percent of all job openings are ever publicly known, which results in about four-fifths of the job market being "closed," meaning you can't find out about any new openings unless you do some digging. Strategies for uncovering the hidden job market include networking and cold calling.  See networking and cold calling.

Home-Based (Work-at-Home) Careers -- Numerous opportunities exist for job-seekers who want more control over time and work, who want job flexibility to spend more time with family -- by working from home. Unfortunately, this area is also one that has the most potential for scams and other fraudulent activities. 

Informational Interviewing -- Just what it sounds like -- interviewing designed to produce information. What kind of information? The information you need to choose or refine a career path, learn how to break in and find out if you have what it takes to succeed. It's the process of spending time with one of your network contacts in a highly focused conversation that provides you with key information you need to launch or boost your career. 

Internships --- One of the best types of work experiences for entry-level job-seekers because a majority of employers say experience is the most important factor in whether you're hired. Internships involve working in your expected career field, either during a semester or over the summer. Besides gaining valuable experience, you get exposed to the business environment and gain valuable references and network contacts. 

Interview -- See Job Interviewing.

Job Application -- Sometimes also referred to as an Application for Employment. Many organizations require you to complete an application (either to get an interview or prior to an interview). Even though many of the questions duplicate information from your resume, it is extremely important to complete the application neatly, completely, and accurately. 

Job Boards -- Also referred to as Job Sites. There are five levels or types of job boards: general job boards (such as Monster.com and HotJobs.com), industry-specific job boards (such as TeachingJobs.com), geographic-specific job boards (such as AtlantaJobs.com), job-seeker specific "niche" boards (such as MBAJobs.com), and company career centers (such as HomeDepot.com). 

Job Clubs -- Sometimes known as networking clubs or job-finding clubs, enables you to expand your network of contacts -- and also serves as a key support group when the job-hunt is longer or harder than you expected. A great tool for job-hunting, and job-seekers can either join an existing club or start your own! 

Job Fair -- See Career Fair.

Job-Hunting Etiquette -- There are certain rules or protocols that should guide a job-seeker's conduct while job-hunting. Some people call these rules good manners, but more refer to them as business etiquette. 

Job-Hunting on the Internet -- Not a magic elixir that will guarantee that you find a job, but still a door to opportunities and techniques not available before the advent of the Net. Most job-seekers should spend no more than about 20 percent of their time and effort looking for a job online, though job-seekers in the technology/computer industry might be wise to spend up to 50 percent of their time looking for a job online. 

Job Interviewing -- All about making the best matches. Both the employer and the job-seeker want to determine if the fit is right between them. First impressions are key (see "dress for success"), and preparation is critical to interviewing success.  See also:

  • screening interviews -- usually conducted by a member of the human resources department, the screening interview is designed to weed out unqualified candidates. Providing facts about your skills is more important than establishing rapport.
  • traditional interviews -- uses broad-based questions such as, "why do you want to work for this company," and "tell me about your strengths and weaknesses." Interviewing success or failure is more often based on the job-seeker's ability to communicate and establish rapport than on the authenticity or content of their answers. 
  • behavioral interviews -- based on the premise that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior and uses questions that probe specific past behaviors, such as "tell me about a time where you confronted an unexpected problem" and "tell me about an experience when you failed to achieve a goal." 
  • panel/group interviews -- uses a committee of people, usually around a table, asking questions. The key to this type of interview is to balance eye contact with both the person who asked the question and the remainder of the group.
  • case interviews -- used primarily by management-consulting firms to determine how well suited you are to the consulting field. Case interviews measure problem-solving ability, tolerance for ambiguity, and communication skills along several dimensions. The idea is to find out how well you identify, structure, and think through problems. 
  • situational interviews -- sometimes also referred to as a scenario-based (problem-solving) interview, where the job-seeker is placed in a hypothetical situation (such as dealing with an irate customer), and is judged by how well s/he reacts to complex information and ability to resolve problem and arrive at solutions. 
  • stress interviews -- usually are a deliberate attempt to see how you handle yourself under pressure. The interviewer may be sarcastic or argumentative, or may keep you waiting. Expect these things to happen, and when it does, don't take it personally. Calmly answer each question as it comes. Also called intimidation interviews. 
  • phone interviews -- have only one purpose: to decide if there is a good enough match to justify a site visit. Make sure to set a specific time for your telephone interview -- not just "sometime this week." 

Job Offer -- See Offer of Employment.

Job Satisfaction -- A term to describe how content an individual is with his or her job. It includes many factors, including the work itself, value to the organization, impact on organization, compensation, and more.When workers are very unhappy with their jobs, they suffer both mentally and physically. 

Job Search Agent -- A program offered by many job boards that allows job-seekers to passively search for jobs by selecting criteria for new job postings. At some time interval, the program emails the job-seeker a list of new job postings that fit the criteria, allowing the job-seeker to decide whether to take any action.

Job-Search Domino Effect -- States that five key phases comprise any good job search, and if you ignore any one of them or conduct one poorly, the likelihood of a successful job search decreases dramatically -- just as if you pulled a domino out of a row of dominos. 

Job Shadowing -- One of the most popular work-based learning activities because it provides job-seekers with opportunities to gather information on a wide variety of career possibilities before deciding where they want to focus their attention. Job shadows involve brief visits to a variety of workplaces, during which time you "shadow," observe, and ask questions of individual workers. 

Job Skills -- The skills you need to do a particular job. For example, an accountant needs to have good math and accounting skills; a doctor needs to have good medical, scientific, and personal skills.

Job Skills Portfolio -- Also referred to as a Career Portfolio, a job-hunting tool a job-seeker develops to give employers a complete picture of who you are, including samples of your work -- your experience, your education, your accomplishments, your skill sets -- and what you have the potential to become -- much more than just a cover letter and resume can provide. 

Key Accomplishments -- An optional part of your resume, but one that is growing in use -- especially with scannable (text-based) resumes. This section should summarize (using nouns as keywords and descriptors) your major career accomplishments. Sometimes also referred to as "Summary of Accomplishments," "Qualifications Summary," or simply "Accomplishments." For more details, see resume.

Keyword Resume -- See Resume.

Keywords -- Nouns and noun phrases that relate to the skills and experience that employers use to recall resumes scanned into a database. Keywords can be precise "hard" skills -- job-specific/profession-specific/industry-specific skills, technological terms and descriptions of technical expertise, job titles, certifications, names of products and services, industry buzzwords, etc. 

Letter of Acceptance -- Used to confirm the offer of employment and the conditions of the offer; i.e., salary, benefits, starting employment date, etc. It is always a good idea to get the entire offer in writing. See a sample letter.

Letter of Agreement -- A brief letter outlining the conditions of employment. Whether initiated by the employer or the candidate, it is always a good idea to get your entire offer in writing. Sometimes is form-based or may even be an employment contract. See also salary and salary negotiation.

Letter of Interest -- See Cover Letter.

Letter of Recommendation -- A letter of support for your skills, ability, and work ethic, usually written by a former boss or co-worker, but could also be from a teacher or personal reference. Good for applying to graduate school, but seen as fairly worthless in job-hunting because no one who would write you a recommendation letter would say anything negative about you. See reference list.

Low-Wage Worker/Low-Wage Job -- Call them low-wage workers employed in low-paying, minimal or no-benefit jobs. Call them exploited or the working poor. Call them living (barely) from paycheck to paycheck with no job security. Call them under-educated, under-trained, and under-respected. Call them job-seekers stuck in dead-end jobs. But, whatever you do, do not call them low-skilled or lazy. 

Mentor -- A person at a higher level within a company or within your profession who counsels you and helps guide your career. Some organizations have formal mentoring systems, while most informal mentoring relationships develop over time. A mentor relationship is one where the outcome of the relationship is expected to benefit all parties in the relationship for personal growth, career development, lifestyle enhancement, spiritual fulfillment, goal achievement, and other areas mutually designated by the mentor and partner.

Moonlighting -- The experience of working multiple jobs (also referred to as dual or multiple jobholding). People working multiple jobs come from just about every demographic group. Appears to be on the rise. 

Networking -- Involves developing a broad list of contacts -- people you've met through various social, professional, and business functions -- and encouraging them assist you in looking for a job. People in your network may be able to give you job leads, offer you advice and information about a particular company or industry, and introduce you to others so that you can expand your network. 

Non-Traditional Careers -- Careers in which fewer than 25 percent of the workforce is of one gender. There are many pros and cons for job-seekers considering working in a non-traditional career path. 

Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, this guide provides detailed information on more than 250 occupations. The Handbook discusses the nature of the work and the typical working conditions for persons in each occupation. In addition, it details the requirements for entry and the opportunities for advancement. 

Offer of Employment -- An offer by an employer to a prospective employee that usually specifies the terms of an employment arrangement, including starting date, salary, benefits, working conditions. Also called a job offer. 

Older (Mature) Workers -- Job-seekers who are older than 45 face more challenges in the job-search than other types of job-seekers.

Overqualified -- A label employers often use on mid-career job-seekers who appear to have one of three flaws: too many years of experience, too much education, too highly paid in current or previous job. 

Passive Job-Search -- A strategy where employed workers stay prepared for new job and career opportunities by maintaining a current resume, continuing to network, staying registered with one or more job-search agents. You are not openly on the job market, but keep an interest in new possibilities.

Personal Mission Statement -- Helps job-seekers identify their core values and beliefs. Writing a personal mission statement offers the opportunity to establish what’s important and perhaps make a decision to stick to it before we even start a career. Or it enables us to chart a new course when we’re at a career crossroads. 

Phone Interview -- See Job Interviewing.

Portfolio Career -- A situation where instead of working a traditional full-time job, job-seekers work multiple part-time jobs (including part-time employment, temporary jobs, freelancing, and self-employment) with different employers that when combined are the equivalent of a full-time position. Portfolio careers offer more flexibility, variety, and freedom, but also require organizational skills as well as risk tolerance. 

Quarterlife Crisis -- A period in your twenties marked by high anxiety about your career -- and finding your “true” career, multiple job and/or career changes, fears and self-doubt about achieving career and personal goals, depression, and feeling lost or adrift. Experts say that the crisis hits folks in their twenties, because after years of learning the system of how to succeed in school, college grads are thrown into the world of work with no real understanding of how to succeed in it. 

Recruiters/Headhunters/Executive Search Firms -- Professionals who are paid by employers to find candidates for specific positions. They often recruit candidates, but job-seekers can also approach them. Often specialize by industry or geographic region. Avoid any firms that require you to pay for their services. 

Reference List -- Sometimes also referred to as a Reference Sheet. Simply a listing -- with key contact information -- of your references. Never include references on your resume or cover letter; they should be listed on a separate references sheet that matches the look of your resume. Never provide a list of references to an employer unless you are requested to do so.  See these sample reference lists.

References -- A group of people who will say good things about you and who know specifics strengths that you offer. Can include work references (current and past supervisors), educational references (former teachers or school administrators), and personal references (who can speak of your character). Always ask people before including them as a reference for you. 

Researching Companies -- The process of gathering information about a company, its products, its locations, its corporate culture, its financial successes. This information is extremely valuable in a job interview where you can show off your knowledge of the company, and can also help you in writing your cover letter. 

Resigning/Resignations -- When you decide it's time to quit your job (also referred to as giving notice), it's always better to submit your official resignation -- with your industry's customary amount of notice. Whenever possible, do not leave on bad terms with your employer. 

Resume -- A key job-hunting tool used to get an interview, it summarizes your accomplishments, your education, as well as your work experience, and should reflect your special mix of skills and strengths.  See also:

  • chronological resumes -- a resume organized by your employment history in reverse chronological order, with company/job titles/accomplishments/dates of employment. 
  • electronic resumes -- see electronic resume above.
  • functional resumes -- a resume organized by skills and functions; bare-bones employment history often listed as a separate section. 
  • keyword resumes -- an e-resume typically identified by a keyword summary (and heavy usage of keywords throughout resume) that emphasizes key nouns and phrases. See keywords above. 
  • scannable resumes -- a resume that has been prepared to maximize the job seeker's visibility in an electronic resume database or electronic resume tracking system. Becoming somewhat less important as more and more companies simply request electronic versions of resumes. 
  • text resumes -- also referred to as text-based or ASCII resumes, a resume that has been prepared to maximize the job seeker's visibility in an electronic resume database or electronic resume tracking system. 
  • Web-based resume -- a resume that resides on the Web. A Web-based resume can range from quite ordinary to very elaborate. Fundamental principles of good resume writing, content, and design apply. 
  • Curriculum Vitae -- also called a CV or vita and similar to a resume, but more formal, and includes a detailed listing of items beyond the typical resume items, such as publications, presentations, professional activities, honors, and additional information. Tends to be used by international job-seekers, and those seeking a faculty, research, clinical, or scientific position.  Review some Sample CVs.

Salary -- Financial compensation an employee receives for performing the job, and part of your compensation package. Can be determined by hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Also can include overtime pay, bonuses, and commissions. See also Benefits and Compensation Package. 

Salary History -- Some employers will request that you submit a salary history. A salary history tells them the level and frequency of your promotions. It should be separate page from your resume or cover letter. Be sure to include the full compensation you received in each job, not just salary information. By providing a salary history, you sometimes place yourself in a precarious position of either pricing yourself out of the position or appearing to be at a lower level than the company seeks. 

Salary Negotiation -- An extremely important process in which job-seekers attempt to obtain the best compensation package possible, based on skills and experience, the industry salary range, and the company's guidelines. See also Benefits, Compensation Package, and Salary. 

Salary Requirements -- Some employers may ask you to state the salary you require for a specific job opening. You've got to be careful here. If your salary requirement is too high, you won't get an offer. If it's too low, you won't get what you're worth. The best strategy is to state that you're open to any fair offer and are willing to negotiate. 

Scannable Resume -- See Resume.

Situational Interview -- See Job Interviewing.

Stress Interview -- See Job Interviewing.

Summer Jobs/Part-Time Jobs for Teens -- Whether it's to gain experience, earn some spending money, or save for college, getting a summer or part-time job is almost a rite of passage for most teens. Teens are often limited to certain types of jobs and hours worked per week. 

Survival Job -- Typically a low-end, low-paying job that a displaced job-seeker takes on a temporary basis (often as a last resort) to cover basic living costs, in order to survive and avoid bankruptcy -- or worse. 

Telecommuting -- Also referred to as Teleworking, is a employment arrangement where the employee works one or more days from a remote location, often an office in the employee's home. For job-seekers seeking increased job flexibility and reduced commuting times and costs and for employers seeking a better balance of morale and work efficiency. 

Temping -- Working short employment stints with a variety of clients, usually through a temping agency or staffing firm. Previously temps were mostly administrative, but job-seekers can now find temping agencies covering most professions. Temping is great for building resume, learning skills, networking -- and job flexibility and variety. See also Temporary Agency

Temporary (Temp) Agency/Staffing Firms -- Companies that place workers in jobs on a contract or temporary basis. Some provide training. Many are specialized (professional, clerical, computing, accounting, etc.). See also Temping

Testing -- An increasing number of employers are using a variety of career and skill-based tests to screen job applicants. Thus, you may be asked to take any number of tests during your job search, from aptitude and personality tests to honesty and drug tests.

Text Resume -- See Resume.

Thank You Letters -- After every interview, you should send a letter thanking each person who interviewed you. It’s just common courtesy, and only a small percentage of job-seekers actually perform this crucial ritual, so you'll stand out from the crowd. 

Transferable Skills -- Skills you have acquired during any activity in your life -- jobs, classes, projects, parenting, hobbies, sports, virtually anything -- that are transferable and to what you want to do in your next job.

Underqualified -- The underqualified or just plain unqualified label most often plagues new graduates with limited experience, as well as career-changers whose experience is outside the area they now wish to pursue. 

USP -- An advertising term -- unique selling proposition -- that refers to the one thing about a product that makes it distinct from all others. In job-hunting, job-seekers need to find the one thing that makes you more qualified for this job than anyone else. What can you offer that no other applicant can? 

Vita -- See Resume.

Workaholism -- a condition where work becomes all-consuming, becoming more important than personal or family obligations. The person lives for his or her work, has only work friends, rarely takes time off, and is always in communication with the office. Does not function well outside work. 

Workplace Values -- Concepts and ideas that define a job-seeker and influence your satisfaction -- not only with your job, but with your life. Job-seekers should perform a values check every few years to make sure your career is on track.