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What Employers really want

Have you ever been baffled by the words in job ads, job descriptions and person specs? With all the talk of ‘stakeholders’ and ‘proactive self-starters’ it can seem like recruiters are talking in a different language!

Recruiters use language like this to sell their jobs as dynamic, cutting edge and interesting. They’re competing with other employers to make their jobs sound the best, so they get the best applicants.

At first glance it can seem difficult to figure out what these buzz words mean. However, if you cut through the jargon you’ll probably find that what they’re asking for is straightforward.

Here we take a look at some of the more common words and phrases in job ads and work out what employers are really asking for:


They’re looking for someone who’s confident when taking on new tasks and projects, and can solve problems and find creative solutions to improve things. They want you to be able to launch yourself into new tasks with energy and enthusiasm.

Proven track record

Employers want to see evidence of your experience. If you’ve taken a project from A to B, make sure you have the stats and documents to prove it. If you work in a creative field, you should have examples of your work in a portfolio.


A self-starter can see what needs to be done, and can take action without guidance and orders. The employer may want you to take charge of a project at short notice and trust you to get on with it.


Similar to self-starter (above), a proactive person takes positive action to bring about change without too many instructions.

Team player

A good team player can fit into the company culture and work effectively with different types of people. Employers will be impressed if you can give an example of a time you worked on task outside of your normal job role, to help a team achieve a goal.


This means they’ll probably want you to work evenings and weekends during busy times. You might also need to travel, stay overnight and work in different offices.

Competitive salary and benefits

This could mean the salary is in line with similar roles for other organisations. It could also mean they haven’t decided the salary yet and it depends on your skills and experience. If you’re looking for a certain minimum salary you might like to find out as early in the process as possible what the range is, to make sure it’s the kind of rate you’re looking for.

Fast-paced/challenging/demanding environment

This means that they’d like someone who can juggle many different tasks, work to deadlines and put in the extra time and effort to meet targets.


This means you should be able to put customers’ needs first and understand what makes them tick. You could think of an example where you dealt with a difficult customer or came up with an idea that would appeal to customers.

Ability to communicate at all levels

The employer wants someone who can get on with people at all levels of the company, from the people on the shop floor to the board room. They want to know you have the common touch and the ability to communicate with professionals. You could think of an example where you worked on a project with a wide range of people.

Core competences

These are the main skills you need to do the job. At all stages of the recruitment process try to keep in mind the top five skills the employer is looking for.

Commitment to equal opportunities

The employer wants to know you’ll treat everyone – colleagues and customers – equally. You could prove this by thinking of a situation where you took account of the needs of someone different from yourself.


Stakeholders have an investment, share or interest in a company or industry.

Fast learner

The company may not be able to spend a lot of time training you on the job, so you’ll have to be able to pick it up as you go along. This might appeal to you if you like learning by doing. You might like to find out what training is offered, so you know which skills you’re going to develop.

Sense of humour required

You should only need a sense of humour if the job itself is a joke, so steer well clear of this! The only job you need a sense of humour for is a comedian….


PA: short for ‘per annum’, this means for the whole year – usually in reference to wages

PW: short for ‘per week’, this means each week – usually in reference to wages

OTE: short for “on target earnings”, this means that your take-home pay will be part basic salary and part performance-related pay – be sure to ask about the targets at the interview and then decide if they are achievable or not

Pro Rata: usually written next to an annual salary where the job is part-time. It means ‘proportionately’. For example, if the wage is £10,000 for full-time (say 40 hours per week) and you are working 20 hours, then you will earn £5,000 in a year

What job adverts mean for your CV

Job adverts can be challenging to interpret but it’s essential so you can tailor your covering letter and CV to what the employer wants.

You could break down the job advert by asking these questions:

  • what’s the main purpose of the job? What are the main tasks?
  • how is this role important to the company?
  • what will its impact be?what skills do they want applicants to have?
  • what knowledge or experience do they want applicants to have?

Breaking down the job advert enables you to put your finger on what the employer is after. You can then push your relevant skills and experience in your CV and covering letter.