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Useful English Phrases For HR And Recruitment

HR and Recruitment is a profession that uses a lot of specific terminology. In this study guide, we’ll share the most useful expressions to help you succeed at work and impress your English-speaking colleagues! We’ve included plenty of vocabulary with meanings, examples, dialogues and exercises to build your understanding of how English is spoken in HR departments in the UK. Let’s get cracking!

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What you will learn:


Common job titles used in HR

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The highest-ranking person in a company or other institution, ultimately responsible for taking managerial decisions.

The final decision always rests with the CEO.


Chief Operating Officer (COO)
An executive who manages many areas, such as manufacturing, sales and personnel within a company or organisation.

The COO was praised for his creative handling of the situation.


Middle Manager
A manager in an organisation at a level between senior and junior management.

Middle managers are responsible for motivating employees, not the CEO.


A person or group who own a share or shares in a business.

The executives need to think about how the business creates value for customers as well as stakeholders.  

Prepositions to remember:

  • People work for or at a company
  • They work in a department or a team
  • They are responsible for other staff and for doing their work
  • They are responsible to or accountable to their boss/manager


Talking about skills

To confidently say what you mean (in a non-aggressive way).

Sarah was praised for her assertive manner in dealing with the complaint.


Being able to make decisions for yourself, instead of relying on others.

The job vacancy stipulated being able to work autonomously as a requirement.


Putting yourself on an official list for a course at an institution, such as a university.

Enrolment on business courses is encouraged as part of our staff training programme.  


To encourage the development of something.

Fostering a culture of healthy work-life balance has been vital to the growth of the company.


The need or willingness to do something, enthusiasm for something.

A survey is being conducted to assess the level of motivation of the staff and to find out what could be done to improve it.


Hard skills
Skills that can be learned, such as a second language, a degree, and typing speed.

The position demanded hard skills, such as a good level of spoken French.


Soft skills
Skills that relate to the way you interact with other people, such as communication, teamwork, and flexibility.

Soft skills are regarded as being important for roles in HR.


To teach an employee additional skills.

This company is well known for upskilling its employees, who tend to stay with the company longer than is usual in this industry.


A meeting to show or teach a group of people how to perform a particular activity.

The HR department ran a half-day workshop on interview techniques to teach the team important skills for recognising talent.

A CV (or curriculum vitae) is called a resume in the USA.A reference is a letter written by someone who knows the applicant (usually the current or former employer) and can give information about the applicant’s abilities. The person who supplies the reference is called a referee (UK). You should ask for the person’s permission before listing them on your CV as a reference.


Staff Recruitment

Fill a vacancy
To find a new employee for a job that needs filling.

The HR department managed to fill the vacancy very quickly as it was a sought after position.


Apply for a job
To submit an application for a job.

Has Jemma applied for a job in the Finance Department yet or is she waiting to see if she gets a promotion?


Take up / accept an offer
To say yes to a job offer.

Samuel told me that he’d accepted the job offer in London and he would be starting once he’d completed his notice period.


Turn down / decline an offer
To say no to a job offer.

Unfortunately for us, Aaron turned down our job offer in favour of a position with a higher salary.


A person or company that is paid by another company on a project for a specified amount of money.

Hasan found out that he was earning a lot less than the contractor who was doing the same job.


Draw up (a contract)
To prepare something in writing

Having been promoted to a higher position, Phillip’s boss asked HR to draw up a new contract that included his revised salary amount.


Renew (someone’s) contract
To extend the employment contract when the initial period has ended.

Joan was pleased to have her contract renewed with the firm after the initial six-month period.

Brits and Americans often use English differently at work. For example, in the UK a salary increase is called a rise, but in the USA it is called a raise. Don’t get confused!


Employee motivation

A reward that encourages employees to perform better.

Substantial bonuses have proved to be a good incentive for improving employee performance.


Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Allowing the employees of an organisation to use their own computers, smartphones, or other devices for work purposes.

One of the perks of the job for Anne was that they allowed BYOD, meaning she could use her own laptop.


Get a promotion
To get a more important job in the organisation.

Rachel was annoyed that her colleague got the promotion that she wanted.


Formal term for payment for work or services.

The secretarial job had a demanding schedule, but the renumeration made it worth it for Charles.


Emotional intelligence (EQ)
Intelligence relating to social skills rather than intellect. EQ breaks down into four skill domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

He was the best manager I’ve ever had as he had good emotional intelligence and was able to get people to work to their strengths.


On-target earnings (OTE)
A type of salary structure based on performance-related pay where the employee receives a basic salary + commission.

Most roles within our Sales Department use OTE. You can earn some excellent bonuses if you’re good at your job!


An advantage or extra benefit, in addition to payment, that you are given because of your job.

Free access to the company gym was one of the best perks of my old job.
Hiring & firing 

Hiring & firing 

Attrition is the departure of employees from the organisation for any reason (voluntary or involuntary), including resignation, termination, death or retirement.

The attrition rate is currently quite high compared with other companies in the same sector, therefore, we are working on incentives to increase employee retention.


Bias (towards) someone
An inclination or prejudice towards someone or a group of people.

The report showed that there was a bias towards older employees in terms of awarding promotions.


Cover (someone’s) leave
To temporarily replace an employee while they are on leave, for example, maternity leave.

 HR are hiring someone new to cover Sally’s maternity leave.


Dismiss someone (a dismissal)
To formally remove someone from their job, especially for incompetence.

Karon was dismissed for breach of contract.


To have a range of different people in a workforce. 

Diversity is important for a team because it brings a wider range of skills and ideas to the table.


Fill in for someone
To do someone’s work because they can’t or won’t.

Management asked Fred to fill in for Julia at the conference as she hadn’t turned up.


Give notice / Hand in one’s notice
To tell you employer that you are leaving your job (after completing the contractual period you must work).

Jamie was sad to learn that his favourite colleague had handed in his notice after finding a new job overseas.


Maternity / Paternity
The period off work during pregnancy and shortly after childbirth for a mother (maternity) or father (paternity).

The company offered substantial maternity and paternity pay as a hiring incentive.


Staff / Employee retention
An organisation’s ability to prevent employee turnover, or the number of people who leave their job in a certain period, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Increasing employee retention has a positive impact on business performance and success.


Sack / fire someone
Informal way to say someone was removed from their job.

Did you hear that Phil got sacked for turning up late to work too often?


Terminate (someone’s) contract
Another way to say: to remove someone from their job.

I heard that the agency terminated Mel’s contract after she failed to turn up (arrive) on Friday.


The process of finding a suitable candidate for a position that needs filling.

Increased recruitment of women engineers will help correct the gender imbalance in the profession.


Be made redundant
To lose your job through no fault of your own, because the company no longer needs you.

Due to the closure of the factory, over 200 people have been made redundant.


When an employee ends their contract with their employer.

As Joel was offered the position of COO with another company, he resigned from his current position as a middle manager.


Notice period
The contractual period of time you must work after informing your employer about leaving your job.

Sanjay’s notice period was two months, which gave his boss time to find a replacement after he handed in his resignation.


A movement of employees within the same grade, without a change in responsibilities or remuneration.

Rather than go through the hiring process, the company was able to transfer Jules from HR to the open vacancy in Marketing.


Making & breaking contracts

Hold someone accountable
Decide that someone should accept the responsibility for something bad that happens.

The CEO must be held accountable for the recent closures and resulting job losses.


Breach of contract
Act of breaking the legal terms set out in a contract.

There was an investigation into breach of contract due to the company’s failure to fulfil its shipping obligations.


Unacceptable or improper behaviour, especially by an employee or professional person.

John was found not guilty of professional misconduct by a disciplinary tribunal.


If a company outsources, it contracts work out to another company.

Due to the high volume of work, JT Designs decided to outsource some of its operations.


Close a deal
To reach an agreement with another party, thus concluding negotiations.

After months of negotiating with Happy Trainers Ltd, the Chinese factory closed the deal.


When something must be done, mandatory.

Being on-site is no longer compulsory since the pandemic has changed the office environment and many people now work from home.


The process of working together with someone to complete a task or project.

The HR specialist worked in close collaboration with the COO on the upskilling initiative. 


Performance appraisal
A meeting with the manager to discuss progress, objectives and needs.

Peter was keen to discuss the possibility of promotion in his performance appraisal.


A valuable quality / something with economic value and/or future benefit.

The patents are the most valuable asset to the company as they bring in millions each year. 


When something should be kept secret.

The details of the contract, such as salary, must be kept confidential.


To behave in a different way (usually negative) towards a particular group due to prejudice.

The current manager is being investigated for discrimination due to his questionable behaviour towards women.


Useful Jargon


A briefing
A meeting to give information.

The school staff always hold a weekly briefing at 10am on a Monday morning.


Due diligence
Action of care taken by a person or business before entering into an agreement or contract with another party.

A full check of the staff of the proposed company will need to be carried out in order to perform proper due diligence.


The process of encouraging people to be interested in the work of an organisation.

Feeling fairly compensated with salary and benefits is a key driver in employee engagement.


Make a process easier.

The company wants to have an open plan office to facilitate productive collaboration between co-workers.


The process of putting a plan into effect.

The company intends to implement its new hiring policy in the New Year.


When a new product is released to the public.

The whole of the marketing team was working overtime in preparation for the launch.


Assist communication between two people on a matter or mutual concern.

In this role, you will be required to conduct interviews, attend departmental meetings, and liaise with recruiters. 


Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A)
When two companies combine in some form. A merger being when two companies join forces to create a new organisation. While an acquisition refers to the takeover of one company by another.

Mergers and acquisitions are often used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings.


Do overtime
When you work beyond your contracted working hours.

Ken asked if he would be expected to do overtime in his new job.


How well a person does a piece of work or activity.

Larry was awarded Employee of the Year for his overall sales performance, which was 150% up from the previous year.


Buying a company through purchasing enough shares.

There was a lot of unease within the company about role changes due to the recent takeover.

Hiring & firing 

Example HR dialogues

Check out the following HR dialogues to see how the above vocabulary is used in a workplace context.

Dialogue A: Getting the sack

Tay: Did you hear that the COO is being investigated for misconduct?

Jules: Yes, well I heard more than that, actually. Apparently, he had a meeting with the board yesterday and they terminated his contract!

Tay: They gave him the sack! Do you know what for?

Jules: For breach of contract. Someone had to be held accountable and as COO he was responsible for the workforce and they say he was biased towards hiring men of a certain age.

Tay: I can’t believe it. Is he allowed to work his notice?

Jules: No, it was effective immediately, no notice period. He cleared his desk last night. It was a shock to everyone.

Dialogue B: Performance appraisal

Boss: Thank you for all of your hard work on the Gleave Project. I’ve been really impressed with the results. You have shown emotional intelligence in your handling of our staff. You’re a real asset to the company. As such, I wanted to offer you a promotion.

Steve: That sounds great! May I ask what the position is? I wasn’t aware there was anything going in our department.

Boss: The job would actually be in the Marketing Department. There is an opening at managerial level that I think you would be perfect for.

Steve: Okay, sounds interesting? What are the incentives?

Boss: Well, as it is a promotion, the remuneration would be significantly higher. You’d also be offered the option of working from home and BYPD.

Steve: How could I say no? The only thing that concerns me is the marketing jargon I’d have to learn.

Boss: It’s just hard skills really. I’m confident you can pick it up fast. We’d ask you to work your notice period here, of course, and we’ll be sad to see you go.

Steve: Thanks, that means a lot to me. I’ll have to think it over. Can I get back to you with a decision tomorrow?

Boss: Of course. Take your time.

Dialogue C: Job description

Janet: I’m looking to hire a PR assistant in a temporary role. Could I give you the job description?

Agency: Sure. Can I ask why you’re hiring?

Janet: It will be to cover maternity leave. But there is a chance that the contract could be renewed if we find the right candidate.

Agency: What is the job description?

Janet: It will be working within the Marketing Department to launch a new voice assistant – so organising the launch events and liaising with the Tech Department.

Agency: Any benefits?

Janet: There are plenty of opportunities to upskill as the company is running a lot of workshops currently. There are also some team bonding trips planned and the position is flexible in terms of WFH. Another perk is they’ll get to try the new voice assistant for free.

Agency: Okay, great. We’ll have the ad running by tomorrow morning. I’ll send it over for you to review when it’s been written.


English for HR: Exercises

Exercise A: Fit these expressions a-e into the gaps in the sentences 1-5.
  1. Stakeholder
  2. compulsory
  3. Soft skills
  4. foster
  5. Hard skills


  1. In order for the takeover to go ahead, some of the _____________ must be prepared to sell some shares.
  2. Languages and computer skills are thought of as _________ because they can be learnt.
  3. The company tries to ____________ a friendly and supportive atmosphere in the office.
  4. Managers should possess ____________ such as good communication skills.
  5. The morning briefing was _____________ for all staff, apart from the kitchen staff who had to be on duty at that time.
Exercise B: Choose the correct meaning for the HR phrases below:
  1. Draw up a contract
    a. To make a copy of a contract
    b. To write a contract
    c. To make changes to a contract
  2. Renew someone’s contract
    a. To extend the period of the contract
    b. To laminate the contract
    c. To end a contract
  3. To close
    a. To terminate a contract
    b. When a product is brought to the public
    c. To agree to a deal on a contract
  4. Turn down an offer
    a. To say no to a job offer
    b. To say yes to a job offer
    c. To think over an offer
  5. Bias (towards) someone
    a. An act of breaking the terms of a contract
    b. When something should be kept secret
    c. When you show favour to a particular group
Exercise C: Match these HR words to their correct meanings.
  1. Work overtime
  2. Launch
  3. A briefing
  4. To resign
  5. To be made redundant


  1. To lose your job through no fault of your own.
  2. A meeting to give information.
  3. To work more than your contracted hours.
  4. When a new product is introduced to the public.
  5. To end your employment contract.

Exercise A

  1. a
  2. e
  3. d
  4. c
  5. b

Exercise B

  1. b
  2. a
  3. c
  4. a
  5. c

Exercise C

  1. e
  2. c
  3. a
  4. b
  5. d
Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Written by Jennifer G.
— ESL Tutor
Written by Jennifer G.
— ESL Tutor