Whether you’re a new grad starting out or a long-time employee looking to make a career change, the job search can be a little overwhelming. Especially when you’re hearing jargon and buzzwords you don’t recognize – but maybe don’t want to admit it.

To help, we compiled a list of words that could use some explaining. Here’s a list of job search jargon you’ve probably heard (but might not understand)

ATS (Applicant tracking system)

Software used by companies to process job applications, track candidates and organize the hiring process. It’s important that seekers keep ATS’s in mind when formatting their resume, as some systems automatically reformat and parse information in unexpected ways. If your resume is overly formatted with tables and columns, or if it’s in a format that the ATS can’t recognize, it might not make it to the hiring manager in one piece (more on that here).

Behavioural questions

These interview questions are designed to mine past experiences as a way to indicate future performance. For example, “Can you think of a time when you were not successful? What was the situation? What did you learn from this experience?”

Company culture

This refers to a company’s collective values, mission, ethics, code of conduct…essentially its personality. Culture will differ depending on the nature of the company and the employees themselves, but it’s always worth researching before you apply to a job – or asking about in the interview.

Compensation package

This might be an obvious one, but it bears repeating: there’s more to compensation than money. It includes direct benefits, like salary and bonuses, as well as indirect benefits, like perks, benefits, time off, and more. When you’re evaluating a job offer (or talking to a potential employer), make sure you’re negotiating the full compensation package, not just salary.

Contingent workforce

This refers to workers that are hired on an on-demand basis (as opposed to full-time permanent employees). This might include freelancers, contract workers, temporary employees, or consultants.

Hidden job market 

This refers to the fact that only a small percentage of job openings (from five to 40 per cent) are posted online or advertised in any way. The rest of the openings are filled through networking, referrals, or other methods.


Employee onboarding covers off everything a company does to welcome a new hire and set them up to succeed. It’s more than basic training – although that’s part of the onboarding process. It starts the moment a candidate accepts a job offer, and can last weeks or even months.

Remote work

A.k.a. telecommuting, distributed teams, digital workplaces…there’s more than a few ways to describe it, but it’s essentially working outside a traditional office. More and more startups are working with entirely remote teams working across the world and love to extol the benefits – and employees love it too.

Situational questions

These interview questions are the hypothetical counterparts to behavioural questions – they’re designed to evaluate your analytical and problem-solving skills. For example, “You disagree with the way your supervisor wants to handle a problem. What would you do?”

Soft skills

Professionalism, work ethic, and self confidence are a few examples of the hard-to-measure skills employers are increasingly looking for in candidates. They’re essentially personal attributes – as opposed to more quantifiable “hard” skills like language proficiency or programming certification.

Talent network

A talent network is essentially a way for seekers to stay up- to-date on your career opportunities: you provide your contact info, or submit your resume to a general inbox, to be notified when relevant openings pop up.

Transferable skills

These skills might not be directly related to the job you’re applying to, but can be indirectly considered an asset. They often go hand-in-hand with soft skills, but could also be something like budget management that could transcend a number of different industries and applications.

Want to get more in-depth? There are lots of glossaries out there for specific industries – and a lot of them are worthwhile knowing even if you’re not deep in that industry. Check out these jargon lists for PR, advertising, and tech to really impress your next interviewer.