Careers terms explained


Whether you’re writing your first CV, applying for internships or about to start your first job, you might find there are a lot of terms out there that you’ve never heard of before. So here’s our handy guide to some of the main terms you may come across when it comes to the world of work.

Job Hunting

CV – A CV is a tailored document matching your skills and experience to a particular job role. You should keep your CV up-to-date in case you need to send it to a recruiter at short notice.

Cover letter – This accompanies your CV as part of an application. As well as introducing your CV, it explains your experience and how it relates to the role, whilst outlining your motivation for applying.

Job description – Advertised vacancies will have a job description, which outlines the tasks and responsibilities involved with the position. It will include the skills that the employer is looking for, which you’ll need to match in your application, any may include information such as salary range and who the position reports to (line manager).

Person specification – This usually accompanies a job description, and outlines specific attributes an employer is seeking in the candidate themselves, and whether these are essential or desirable criteria, i.e. whether you must possess a certain skill to be considered for the role (fluent French speaker for example).

Jobs board – Employers usually pay or approach companies to advertise positions on these sites. You can search roles available by specifying criteria such as location, salary and key words. Alternatively you could browse all opportunities. Jobs boards are sometimes responsible for forwarding applications to employers or you may be redirected to the employer’s website.

Recruitment agency – Paid by employers to handle the recruitment process, they screen applicants and assist the employers’ recruitment team. They contact registered candidates when suitable vacancies arise and keep in touch with them throughout the process. You can register with an agency to get help with your job search. Look for those who are members of the Recruitment and Employment Confederacy.

Graduate job – These are positions aimed at recent graduates (i.e. those who have a degree). Often the word ‘graduate’ will be in the job title, if not in the job description.

Graduate scheme – A structured programme that combines working and training, targeted at recent graduates. They allow graduates to experience many aspects of both the role and the organisation as a whole, over a period of anything from 3 months to 3 years. See our blog ‘What is a Graduate Scheme?’

Graduate market (labour market) – This is a broad term used to mean everything to do with how many graduate jobs are out there, what employers are looking for, what recruitment trends there are and so on.

Temping – Working for an employer on a short-term (temporary) basis, maybe to help on a specific project or to cover maternity leave/holidays. This is common across many industries and is a good way to gain work experience whilst at QMUL.

SMEs – Small to medium-sized enterprises. With less than 250 employees each, these companies make up most of the private sector and offer the highest amount of vacancies for graduates. The roles advertised through QTemps and QInterns are often with SMEs.


Assessment centre – A common part of the selection process for recruiters, this usually involves a day or half day where a number of candidates go to an allocated place to take part in certain tasks. This can include an interview, a presentation, group exercises, written and computer tests and other exercises.

Psychometric tests – A term for the variety of different tests employers can use in the recruitment process, including verbal and numerical reasoning, situational judgement and spatial reasoning.

E-tray exercise – An example of a type of test you might have to do at an interview or assessment day. Usually, you would be given lots of different types of documents (emails, phone messages, reports etc) and will have to organise the material and write emails or a report in response. This tests your ability to organise and prioritise a workload.

Interview – An interview is a crucial part of the recruitment process, and is a chance to demonstrate your skills to the employer in person (this could also be a telephone or video interview), before the employer decides who to hire. A panel of employees will ask you questions to assess whether you meet the requirements of the job description and are a good fit for the role/organisation.

Competency interview/questions – ‘Describe a time when you…’ This type of question is based on the idea that if you have demonstrated a certain competency in the past (like leadership or teamwork) you will be able to do it again in the future.


ph – Per hour, e.g. £7 ph means you will be paid £7 for every hour you work.

Per annum – This is your salary per year prior to tax. Per annum pro rata relates to part-time work. So, if a job pays £30k per annum this is your salary for working full-time hours for a year; if it is pro rata this £30k would be less depending on the actual hours you work.

Payslip – Your payslip will detail what your pay was for the month/week, tostudents 4gether with what money has been deducted in taxes, national insurance or sickness.

National Minimum Wage – It is illegal for an employer to pay you less than this. Further information can be found here.

London Living Wage – This is an hourly rate of pay, taking into account the additional costs of living and working in London. See further information here. All vacancies advertised through QTemps are paid at least the London Living Wage (currently an hourly rate of £9.40).

London Weighting – An extra amount of money paid on top of your normal salary if you are working in London, again taking into account the extra cost of living and working in the capital. This is common in the public sector.

PAYE – Pay As You Earn. This is a tax that will be taken off your pay every month.

NI – National Insurance. A contribution to certain benefits like a State Pension, this also gets taken out of your pay every month. You need to have an NI number in order to be taxed properly.

OTE – On Target Earnings. Let’s say a job ad mentions a salary package of ‘£30k OTE’. Part of that £30k is base salary and part is the bonus paid if a particular sales target is reached. So the base salary may only be £15k and the rest is your bonus only if your targets are met.

Commission – Bonus pay based directly on your performance (e.g. how many products you sell or deals you secure) rather than how many hours you work.

Starting Work

Contract of employment – A legally-binding agreement between an employer and employee. A contract outlines the terms and conditions of your appointment into the role, including your place of work, working hours and annual leave entitlement.

Probation period – Often for the first 3 or 6 months of your new job, this is when your employer is assessing your performance and conduct to make sure they are happy with your work. Passing your probation period can sometimes mean an increase in salary or benefits.

Working hours – These are the hours that you are required to work per week. It’s common for this to be written in a job advert/your contract as 35 hours per week, for example, rather than specific hours (i.e. 9-5). You will be informed of the exact times you’ll need to work by your line manager or the HR department.

Flexi-time – Some workplaces offer flexible working hours, whereby you’ll need to work a set number of hours over the week, but can choose what time you start and finish each day, so long as you cover the ‘core hours’. These are the hours in which everyone is expected to be in the office, and could be 10-4 for example.

Annual Leave (A/L) – This is the amount of paid time off you are allowed every year.

TOIL – Time Off In Lieu. If you do some extra hours at work, you will be entitled to either get paid for this (overtime) or get those same hours as time off.

Appraisal – This is a formal assessment of an employee’s performance over a period of time (commonly appraisals take place yearly). Performance is reviewed against set objectives, which have been agreed by the employee and their manager. New objectives will be set for the future.

Pension scheme – Money is taken out of your salary each month to put into a pension (like a savings account) which you can then access when you retire. Most employers will contribute a certain amount to the scheme too, often a percentage of what you put in.

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