A glossary of recruiting terms every job seeker should know

Glossary common job search terms

Get insight into the candidate selection and hiring process by learning common terms employers and recruiters use.

When it comes to finding their next employee, employers speak a whole different language. While you may be familiar with many of the terms below, others may be foreign to you. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with these common terms employers and recruiters use when searching for their next employee. The ability to "speak the language" can give you better insight into their process and a better idea of what you need to do to break through.

Applicant tracking system (ATS): When you apply for a job online, chances are your information is going right into an applicant tracking system (ATS). An ATS is software employers use to help them filter and file the many resumes they receive. Most systems are designed to quickly scan resumes for relevant information, and identify the resumes that are the closest match for the job description. Job seekers can design their resumes to past an ATS using tactics such as including keywords and customizing their resume to match the job they want.

Background check: Employers use background checks to verify the information a job applicant provides, as well as to check references, credit history, criminal records and more. Not every employer runs background checks and the extent to which they do will vary by company, industry and/or role.

Benefits: In addition to salaries, employers compensate their employees with additional benefits, such as health insurance, paid vacation time, tuition assistance and stock options. The types of benefits employees receive vary by company, and may be worth anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of your salary.

Compensation package: A compensation package is combination of salary and benefits an employer provides its employees.

Cover letter: A cover letter is a brief letter you send with your resume to provide more context around it, explain why you are qualified for the job for which you are applying and show employers your personality. (Learn more about cover letters and why you need them.)

Company culture: If you want to know what it's like to work at a company, ask the hiring manager about the company culture. Company culture (also known as corporate culture) defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture develops through the beliefs, values and expectations a company holds and imposes on its employees. For example, some companies have cultures that emphasize teamwork, while others encourage employees to work more independently. Looking for the right "cultural fit" has become increasingly important to both employers and job seekers.

Contract worker: Contract workers, also known as independent contractors, are workers hired for a set amount of period. Unlike temp workers (see Temp workers below), contractors are highly skilled workers with technical or professional backgrounds. Employers generally use them for special projects, pay them higher than temps and use them for longer periods of time.

Employment contract: An employment contract is a legal document that lays out binding terms and conditions of employment between an employee and an employer.

Freelance worker: A freelance worker is a self-employed professional who works independently for companies or clients. Like contract workers, freelance workers are hired by companies for special projects or to supplement key staff. Freelance workers often set their own hours and pay; however, the flow of work can be unsteady.

Hourly pay: While most full-time employees receive annual salaries, most temporary employees receive hourly pay. Unlike salaried employees, employees who receive hourly pay generally do not get benefits like health insurance or paid time off, and only get paid for the time they work; however, if they work overtime, they are entitled to time and a half. (Learn more about the difference between salary and hourly wages.)

Informational interview: Unlike a job interview, the purpose of an informational interview is not to get a job offer, but to learn more about a specific career or industry. People set up informational interviews with industry professionals they meet – often through shared connections, via social media or at professional networking events – in order to gain insight from their career path and experiences. (Learn more about informational interviews.)

Keywords: As mentioned earlier (See Applicant tracking system above), using keywords in your resume can help it get past employers' applicant tracking systems and into the hiring manager's hands. The right keywords in your social profiles can make it easier for recruiters and hiring managers to find you through online search engines.

Offer letter: Offer letters are formal documents employers send to candidates they select for employment. The offer letter confirms the details of employment, such as the job description, salary, benefits, and the date employment begins.

Recruiter: Oftentimes, when employers need viable candidates for open positions, they turn to recruiters (also known as headhunters) for help. Recruiters seek out, screen and interview candidates before presenting them to their clients. Some employers have in-house recruiters, while others work with staffing firms. (Learn about the benefits of using a staffing firm in your job search.)

Resume: Almost every job you apply for will require you to send in a resume. As one of the first things employers look at when assessing potential candidates, your resume is one of the most critical elements of your job search. Your resume is a document that includes your work experience (job titles, employers, duties administered, etc.) and education (school attended, field of study, etc.), along with special skills and professional accomplishments. Get tips for making your resume stand out or check out the five items every resume should have.

Salary: Salary is the fixed payment an employee receives in exchange for work performed. It's typically outlined in the offer letter and later in the employment contract, and is commonly paid in fixed intervals, such as bi-weekly or once a month. Full-time employees generally receive annual salaries, while temporary, contract or freelance employees are paid by the hour.

Soft skills: Soft skills are the hard-to-measure skills employers look for to evaluate a candidate's level of professionalism and work ethic. These include interpersonal skills, communication skills, leadership skills and management skills. CareerBuilder research finds that soft skills are just as important to most employers as hard (or technical) skills. (Learn more about the importance of soft skills.)

Talent network: Talent networks (sometimes called talent communities) are automated platforms that enable job seekers to upload their information (name, contact information, work history, etc.) into a company's database to be notified of new job opportunities. Talent networks help companies hire faster, and they enable candidates to be the first to learn about and apply to new positions.

Temp: Short for temporary worker, a temp is a worker hired for a set amount of time. Temps usually fill in for employees on vacation, to pick up the slack while a company replaces someone who has quit or to lend an extra hand during particularly busy periods, such as the holiday season. Temps are usually, but not always, hired for blue collar or entry-level office work and paid on an hourly basis.

Temp-to-hire: Temp-to-hire describes a position where an employee is hired on a temporary basis, but may be hired full-time. This often depends on the amount of work needed, the quality of performance and if the budget allows.

Transferable skills: Transferable skills are skills that aren't directly related to the job in question, but can be applied to a wide range of jobs and industries. These skills are usually learned on the job, at school, during volunteer work, through community activities, at networking events or even in everyday social activities. Find out more about using transferrable skills to your advantage.

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