The professional world is filled with jargon. That’s always been the case — from ancient Roman restaurateurs with their vomitoria to sailors throwing around words like “fo’c’s’le” (i.e., the forecastle, or forward deck of a ship). Equally baffling are acronyms — like “SWOT,” “ROS,” and “WYSIWYG” — which can be more annoying than helpful IMHO.
While you can’t expect to know every bit of lingo out there, if you’re looking to get ahead in your career, you’ll need to develop a working knowledge of the more common keywords and acronyms listed in this guide. That’s especially true if you’re in the market for a new position: Most HR departments’ ATSs (application tracking systems) are programmed to look for keyword-rich resumes.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this glossary of business phrases — including employment-related keywords, financial and technical terms, and text and email shorthand — to help you land that dream job. And for those of you who think you know it all, we invite you to read through our list and send us suggestions for other terms we can explain. Consider this an endlessly updatable glossary.
A paying customer or client. Can be an individual, a brand, a company, or an institution.
AIDA: attention, interest, desire, action
AR: accounts receivable
The money coming in. Whatever payments a customer or client owes a company but has not yet paid.
AP: accounts payable
The money going out. Whatever a company owes to vendors or contractors but has not yet paid.
API: application programming interface
Software that allows two different programs or platforms to talk to each other. Used by companies when they want to let business partners or third-party developers access company data, or when they want to facilitate information exchange between internal departments.
ERP: enterprise resource planning
Management software that helps companies with day-to-day operations. ERP software can encompass everything including project management, risk assessment, compliance, accounting, and supply-chain logistics.
A job in which your employer can let you go at any time, without notice, cause, or explanation, as long as it does not violate state or federal laws. (On the plus side, you can also quit whenever you like, and don’t have to give notice or reason.)
ATS: applicant tracking system
Software that companies use to accept and track job applications — often derided for being needlessly time-consuming, complex, proprietary, and unable to capture job seekers’ personalities. For more, see our ATS coverage.
Indicates that a company provides goods and/or services to other companies to help them meet their business objectives.
Indicates that a company provides goods and/or services directly to consumers.
BD: business development
The science (some would say art) of growing the business and creating value for a company from markets, customers, and relationships.
BID: break it down
The method of training a new employee by breaking down tasks into smaller, easily digestible tasks. This provides practice and builds the employee’s confidence.
BR: bounce rate
BR is a measure of how many people land on your website then leave without clicking on any other of your pages. It’s the equivalent of a customer sticking his head in the door of your shop, looking around, then deciding to continue down the street.
BS: balance sheet
Essentially, the list of the money going out compared to the money coming in. Can be a fantastically complicated document, depending on the size of the company and the amount of business it does. (See also NAV, EDIDTA, P&L for examples)
CAO: chief analytics officer
Head of a company’s data analysis efforts. The CAO leads the team that collects and interprets data about the company, customers, and performance, using the information to help the company improve efficiency and grow.
CDO: chief data officer
Sometimes overlapping with the CAO, the chief data officer of a company is in charge of all data-collecting systems, ensuring data quality, and managing what data is collected in the first place. Not to be confused with chief digital officer (also CDO), who is usually in charge of a company’s switch from an analog to a digital environment.
CEO: chief executive officer
Basically the captain of the ship, the CEO comes up with the strategy for continued growth and evolution of the company, oversees and evaluates the executive leadership, reports back to the board of directors, and serves as the public face of the company.
CFO: chief financial officer
The head bean-counter, the CFO is in charge of a company’s finances, keeping track of cash flow, planning the company’s financial future, and overseeing all financial and tax reports required by law.
CFP: certified financial planner
Any financial advisor who passes the rigorous CFP certification test, a CFP is similar to a CPA, but focuses on advising individual clients about investment and retirement planning.
CIO: chief information officer
Sometimes the CIO role overlaps with the CTO role, but the general responsibilities of the CIO are more strategic, ensuring that a company’s technical resources are optimized to achieve its overall business goals. CIOs manage IT and development departments.
CMO: chief marketing officer
The executive ultimately responsible for a company’s sales and advertising strategies and growth.
CMS: content management system
The application or applications that a website team uses to organize and store its site content, add new content, and archive information such as marketing identifiers; writing and photo credits, users comments, etc.
COB: close of business
Similar to EOD, though it has a much clearer deadline in businesses with retail hours than in offices where work hours can bleed into the evening.
The responsibility of a company to conduct itself in accordance with all laws, regulations, and contractual obligations. Including anything from working conditions and environmental impact to equal-opportunity hiring and protecting consumer data.
COO: chief operating officer
Sometimes called VP of operations, a COO is typically the CEO’s right hand, and is in charge of the day-to-day running of the company.
CPA: certified public accountant
Any financial adviser who has passed the CPA test and fulfilled any other legal requirements. CPAs often deal with questions of accounting, auditing, and taxes, and commonly work for firms and institutional clients. A CPA certification offers job seekers far more opportunities, and many businesses will not hire an accountant without one.
CPC: cost per click
See also PPC (price per click). The agreed-upon rate at which an online advertiser pays a website every time someone clicks on one of its ads on that website.
CR: conversion rate
An online metric that measures how many website visitors click on a link and complete a specified task associated with that link, as compared to the total number of visitors to the site. For example, when someone clicks on an ad for an online store, then completes a purchase at that store, that counts as a successful conversion.
Under the double-entry accounting method, a credit is entered on a balance sheet every time there is a liability increase or an assets decrease. In order for the books to be balanced, every CR needs to have a corresponding debit (DR.)
CRM: customer relationship management
The strategies, technologies, and training that a company uses to maintain and improve its relationship with its customers.
CSO: chief security officer
Also sometimes known as chief Information security officer (CISO). The senior most security executive in the company, responsible for implementing and maintaining systems to protect the digital and physical assets of the company, including proprietary information and the safety of the employees themselves.
CSR: corporate social responsibility
The practices by which a company manages its effect on society outside of purely business concerns, including areas such as environmental impact, racial and sexual diversity, and corporate charity.
CSS: cascading style sheet
A way of formatting the most common design and layout elements of a website. A CSS defines things like text sizes and table configurations all in one place so HTML coders don’t have to recreate them every time they occur.
C-suite or C-level
Referring to anyone in the management team with a “chief” title, such as CEO, CMO, and CFO. A C-suite executive is someone in top management.
CTA: call to action
Direct language prompting the user or customer to take action, often presented in web design as a button or banner. Simple examples include “Click here!” “Buy now!” and “Subscribe”
CTO: chief technology officer
The C-suite executive in a company responsible for technical systems and R&D efforts. Generally, the CTO concentrates on technical initiatives that will help grow the company’s business, as opposed to day-to-day internal tech issues.
CTR: click-through rate
The number of users who click on a website link, divided by the total number of users exposed to that link. The resulting percentage shows just how well a particular ad or link has performed over a specific time period.
DM: direct message or direct mail
One-on-one exchanges on Twitter, which only the sender and recipient can see. Source of the phrase “slipping into my DMs.” Can also refer to direct marketing: the distribution of advertisements and offers through the traditional, physical mail system.
DOE: depending on experience
An acronym that HR departments and recruiters use to avoid setting a specific base salary for an open position. As vague as the similar “market rate,” it allows them room to maneuver during salary negotiations.
In double-entry-accounting balance sheets, a debit is entered to indicate an assets increase or a liability decrease. Every debit entered must have a matching credit (CR) for the books to be balanced.
EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)
Though it sounds like something a baby might say, EBITDA is actually a precise measure of a company’s financial performance, taking into account the money it has earned before many long-term capital costs are factored in. EBITDA is used to set future performance goals, compare two or more companies’ fiscal health, and to quantify profitability.
EQ: emotional intelligence
The ability to read other people’s emotions and react accordingly. In business terms, EQ can refer to the degree a company’s culture provides a safe, open environment for employees.
EOD: end of day
Text/email shorthand generally used to a) tell an employee you oversee that you expect them to finish a task before they leave the office for the day or b) promise to get back to an employee you oversee before you leave the office for the day. Option A is often fudged; option B is often forgotten.
EOM: end of message
A quick way to tell the recipient of a communication that there is no more to read. Often used in emails at the end of a subject line to indicate that there is no need to actually open the body text: Everything you need to know is in the subject line.
EOT: end of thread
Used on social media to indicate that particular discussion has ended at that point, and whoever is reading can stop scrolling down for more.
EOW: end of week
Used to set a deadline or promise a deliverable by EOD Friday (traditionally the least productive few hours of the standard work week.)
EPS: earnings per share
The amount of money a company makes for each share of its stock, calculated by dividing an organization’s net profit by its number of common shares. Used by investors as a measure of a company’s profitability.
ESP: email service provider
A company that provides email hosting services for other organizations and individuals. Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail are classic examples.
FIFO: first in, first out
The method of processing items in a queue from oldest to newest. Can be applied to everything from investment strategies to inventory accounting to computer data processing. See also LIFO.
A contract of employment for a specified period of time with a fixed rate of pay. Fixed-term contracts are usually for one year, with an option to renew afterward, and are sometimes used by a company to test out an employee before hiring them on a permanent basis.
FTE: full-time employee
Any employee who works a full work week (traditionally 40 hours or more). Full-time employees are usually (but not always) eligible for full company benefits, including health insurance, sick days, and vacation time.
FTP: file transport protocol
A method for transferring files between computers by establishing a separate dedicated server for that purpose. Used especially by web designers to implement changes to a site.
FWIW: (for what it’s worth)
Shorthand for: “What I’m about to say might very well be useless to everyone involved. Or it could be incredibly important. I’m leaving that entirely up to you.”
GA: Google Analytics
The dominant web-analytics service on the internet, GA allows websites to track their traffic and analyze what users are doing on their site. Currently, the key tool guiding how companies design and upgrade their websites to optimize performance and reach.
GC: general counsel
The head lawyer for a company or government department, in charge of all legal matters, including contracts with other companies, risk assessment, compliance, and crisis management. Also sometimes known as a chief legal officer (CLO).
HTTP: Hypertext Transfer Protocol
The client-server protocols through which almost all Internet traffic is conducted. HTTP allows “clients” (usually browsers like Firefox or Chrome) to communicate with “servers,” the computers that host websites.
HTTPS: Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure
An extension of HTTP that encrypts communication between client and server, creating another level of security in internet transactions.
A resume that puts the skills-and-accomplishments section first, before the work-experience section. Useful for job seekers with no work history, with multiple employment gaps, or who are entering a new field.
A form from the Department of Homeland Security that verifies an employee’s identity and confirms that they can legally work in the United States.
IAM: in a meeting
Shorthand for: “I am unavailable now;” “I can’t pick up the phone right now;” “I will call or text you later;” or “I will never get back to you as long as I live.”
IM: instant messaging
Written communication taking place over the internet in real time, whether for personal or business reasons. Examples of IM platforms include Slack, Skype, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Discord, and any customer-service chat function on a consumer-facing business website.
IMO (in my opinion): Great for when you’re introducing an idea that you want credit for (if it works) or that you want to be able to dismiss easily (if it doesn’t). IMHO ups the ante by making it your “humble opinion.”
IP: internet protocol
The rules governing how packets of information are sent between computers on the internet. The basic foundation of all online communication.
KISS: (keep it simple, stupid)
An acronym to remind people not to overcomplicate their ideas, solutions, designs, and arguments. Originated in the U.S. Navy to refer to airplane design, which works better when kept simple.
KPI: key performance indicator
A KPI is a way to gauge the success of an employee, a team, or a company at reaching predefined business goals during a specified period of time. KPIs can be anything from net profits to customer interactions to number of articles posted online.
LET: leaving early today
Probably not wise to use this acronym when writing to your supervisor, but comes in handy when addressing someone equal or lower to you on the totem pole.
LIFO: last in, first out
The method of processing items in a queue from newest to oldest. Like its opposite, FIFO, LIFO can be applied to everything from selling stocks to inventory management to computer data handling.
LMK: let me know
A quick way of saying, “Get back to me sometime in the future.” Used by someone who doesn’t need to hear back by any specific time.
LWOP: leave without pay
When an employee takes time off from a job but is not paid for that time. Usually initiated at the employee’s request, LWOP allows a worker to put their employment on hold without completely losing their job, while allowing the company to save money on their salary.
MoM: month over month
The change in business growth from one month to the next, usually expressed as a percentage.
MTD: month to date
The period from the beginning of the calendar month to the current date. Can be used in measuring short-term growth, performance, or data collection.
NAV: net assets value
The difference between the value of a company’s assets and the cost of its liabilities. Used by investors to help ascertain a company’s common stock value, it is also applied to mutual funds and other financial securities.
NIM: no internal message
Similar to EOM, NIM in a subject line tells the recipient they don’t have to open the body of the email, as the entire message is contained in the subject line.
NRN: no reply necessary
In other words, “Please don’t write back.” Great for avoiding those long tail ends of email conversations when everyone thanks each other.
NSFW: not safe for work
The office equivalent of a triple-X rating. Doesn’t necessarily have to involve pornography. Usually does.
NWR: not work-related
An acronym that tells the recipient that whatever follows will either be a welcome distraction from a boring task or an unwelcome interruption when they are actually being productive.
OKR (objective and key results)
A statement of specific, measurable goals for an entire team or company to reach for. Used to focus individual effort and provide motivation. OKRs are usually set higher than can realistically be achieved. Reaching only 70% to 75% of your OKR is considered a success, while reaching 100% of your OKR means you set your goal too low.
OOO: out of office
Text shorthand to indicate someone is not currently in the workplace. Never follow this with an explanation point, or people will think you’re watching fireworks.
OS: operating system
The programming platform on which a particular computer or mobile device runs applications. The most common desktop systems include Windows, macOS, and Linux. Android and iOS are the two dominant mobile operating systems.
Used to acknowledge you that you are about to introduce an abrupt change of subject and don’t want to give the recipient cognitive whiplash.
OTP: on the phone
Used when you can’t IM — see IM (instant message) — with someone, either because a) you’re actually on the phone, b) you’re texting with someone else, or c) you’re seven videos deep into a YouTube hole of old “Parks and Rec” bloopers.
P-card: purchase card
A charge card given to an employee to be used specifically for business purchases and interactions. Used by companies to both save money and prevent fraud.
P/E: price to earnings
A company’s stock price divided by its earnings per share. Tells investors what the market is willing to pay for a stock based on past earnings, and helps determine whether a stock is over-or under-valued.
P&L: profit and loss
A regular financial statement showing a company’s revenue minus various overhead costs such as rent, payroll, cost of goods, etc. Investors analyze P&Ls to get a sense of the company’s cash flow.
PA: performance appraisal
Traditionally given annually or semiannually, a performance review allows an employer to assess an employee’s contribution to the company’s efforts, get feedback from employees on the work culture, and give raises or bonuses.
A play on “blue-collar,” pink-collar jobs are relatively low-paying positions that are historically associated with women, such as secretaries, nurses, receptionists, teachers, and dental hygienists.
PIP: performance improvement plan
A framework for correcting problems with an employee’s performance, usually written up as an official memo, with actionable steps and expectations.
POC: point of contact
The person you go to with questions, concerns, ideas, or complaints about a designated project or business. POCs can be between departments (“Jenny is the POC on the sales-force restructuring”), companies (“Jenny is our POC over at Apple”), or brands and their customers (“Jenny is the POC in customer service.”)
PPC: pay per click
See CPC. The fee an online advertiser pays to a website whenever someone clicks on one of its ads.
PTE: part-time employee
An employee who works fewer hours than the full work week. May not be eligible for certain benefits and may be considered an independent contractor, depending on the company.
PTO: paid time off
Time away from work for which an employee is paid. PTO benefits include vacation days, sick days, personal days, maternity and paternity leave, etc.
PV: page view
The number of times a page is loaded or reloaded in a browser during a specified period of time. Regularly used as a measure of the popularity of a website or specific content.
QA: quality assurance
The monitoring of a business process to confirm that quality standards are being met. Usually the responsibility of a specific department within a company.
Re: referring to
A useful holdover from the days when memos were sent on paper, “Re:” (usually using a colon) lets the person you’re writing to quickly locate the subject you want to discuss in their highly compartmentalized work-hours brain.
RFD: request for discussion
The business equivalent of raising your hand in class, an RFD can be anything from an email asking for a meeting to a posting on a project-specific message board. It’s bringing up a new subject or comment and asking for it to be addressed.
RFP: request for proposal
A document a company sends out to potential contractors that publicly announces what the company is looking for, outlining the project’s specifications, and giving a deadline for submission of a proposal.
ROA: return on assets
A measure of a company’s worth compared to its total assets, calculated as a percentage. This number takes into account an organization’s debts and is used by investors to gauge profitability.
ROE: return on equity
A measure of a company’s worth compared to its shareholders’ total equity, calculated as a percentage. This number does not take into account an organization’s debts. It’s used by investors to compare performance to other companies in the same industry.
ROR: Ruby on Rails
A framework of prewritten code that streamlines and standardizes server-side web apps. Used by sites like Airbnb, Twitch, Github, and Hulu. The cool kids just call it “Rails.”
ROS: run of site
An option for website ad placement in which an ad can appear anywhere on the site, regardless of the traffic that location receives. Usually a cheaper option for the advertiser.
RSS: rich site summary or really simple syndication
A web feed that allows users to easily and automatically access updates to websites. Often used for distributing new content such as articles, blogs, and podcasts to your company’s customer community.
Reposting someone else’s tweet in your Twitter stream. Universally understood as a public agreement with and vote of confidence in the original tweet. The social media equivalent of yelling, “Hey, listen to what this person has to say!” Brands use RTs to help shape their public image (and sometimes damage it).
SaaS: software as a service
When a program is provided using the subscription model, as opposed to a one-time-payment, and the bulk of the software is stored online. Zoom, Dropbox, Slack and pretty much any cloud-based service is an example of the SaaS model.
SEO: search engine optimization
The art (or science) of making sure your content appears on the first page of results on Google (or any other search site. But mainly Google.) By researching and analyzing keywords and search data, websites tailor their content to achieve higher rankings in search algorithms.
SM: social media
Web platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok, in which people post content, communicate, and react. Brands use social media to advertise, promote, build communities, and generally interact with current and potential customers. Occasionally, a brand will use social media to completely destroy itself.
SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound
A goal-setting method that breaks down the five components you should incorporate into each goal you set for yourself, whether you are a professional seeking a new position or a CEO creating a company strategy.
SMB: small-to-medium business
A company whose size falls below a certain threshold, in terms of number of staff, revenue, or assets. Just what that threshold is depends on the country and the industry. SMBs are considered an important indicator of an economy’s health and are big contributors to new job creation.
SME: subject matter expert
A recognized master of a particular skill set or area of knowledge, hired solely for that expertise. The go-to authority on a particular niche area within a company or industry.
SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
A common framework for analyzing a company’s competitive health, taking into account both internal and external conditions and assessing growth potential.
TED: tell me, explain to me, describe to me
A reminder to salespeople to ask open-ended questions, which elicit more information about a customer’s needs than more specific questions do.
TL;DR: too long, didn’t read
A one-line summary of the more detailed information that follows. The main point you want to get across to whoever doesn’t have the time to read the entire memo or proposal.
TLTR: too long to read
An appropriately succinct way to tell someone that the email, report, or proposal in question needs to be seriously edited. Works equally well as constructive criticism or a stone-cold rejection.
TOS: terms of service
The legal language that defines your company’s relationship to its customers. Vitally important that the legal department goes over it with a fine-tooth comb, even though most people will never read it.
TYT: take your time
In other words: “Don’t rush to get this back to me, as I probably won’t look at it for at least a month.”
UI: user interface
The web pages and programs that allow users to interact with a website, whether to buy a product, sign up for a service, seek out customer service, or anything else. Refers to both the physical design and functionality. (See also UX)
UV: unique visitor
Any person who visits a site during a specified period of time, as determined by their unique IP address. Unique users are only counted once, so whether someone lands on a site then immediately leaves (see bounce rate) or stays for an hour and clicks on 20 different pages, they are counted as one UV.
UX: user experience
The actual experience that the UI produces for the user. Companies will design and update their user interfaces in order to create the optimal UX for their customers.
VPN: virtual private network
A program that routes internet traffic through anonymous, encrypted servers. This theoretically ensures no one can track or access your company’s information or communications unless they have access to the VPN.
Federal tax-withholding form that employees and independent contractors fill out at the beginning of employment. Provides your employer with information to pay you on the books and withhold the proper amount of taxes, if applicable.
WFH: work from home
Self-explanatory, especially during a pandemic. Sometimes used for “works for me,” which seems appropriate given how most people feel about working from home.
WIIFM: what’s in it for me
The reaction you might have when someone suggests a new workflow or platform but the benefit to you is unclear. In sales, it also is used to frame the approach to a prospective customer, who will probably ask themselves the same question. If a salesperson can provide an answer, they are well on the way to closing the deal.
WOM: word of mouth
Organic exposure that results solely from interactions between users of your company’s product. Publicity you don’t have to pay for.
WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get
Coined to indicate a graphic design program that could exactly duplicate on screen the finished printed product. These days, however, pretty much all such programs are WYSIWYG, so the acronym can also refer to programs that allow you to design webpages without any knowledge of HTML.
YTD: year to date
Any period of time starting at the beginning of the calendar year (Jan. 1) and ending on the day you use the term. Often used when reporting earnings, expenditures, or any other quantifiable business data.