10 Terms You Won’t Learn In School, But Need To Know For Almost Any Workplace

You’ve finally graduated college, and you march through the doors of your brand new, “real world” job for the first time. You’re thinking you’re prepared because you’ve got the piece of paper that says you are. You took the tests. You put in the all-nighters and studied your butt off.

Well, my dear one, you’re not prepared. But don’t fret; I mistakenly thought I was too. I thought I knew what to expect: a paycheck, ladder climbin’, and the weekly happy hour. I figured I would spend my Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. doing the work I was taught to do in college and using that vast vocabulary I acquired from stacks of anthologies in my English Literature courses.

However, as much as I hate to admit it, “happy hour” isn’t the most important real-world term I needed to know. (It’s still super important, though. Don’t get it twisted — unless it’s a martini.)

1. Elevator Pitch

The first time I heard this one, I pretended to know what my team was talking about. I didn’t know what it was, but I had a sneaky suspicion I wasn’t going to like what it meant for me. (I was right.)

An elevator pitch is a fancy term for a sales pitch, and in the internet publishing field, it’s what you give when you’re trying to get someone to work with you. Bloggers give elevator pitches when they’re trying to work with a certain brand. PR companies give them when reaching out to potential clients. Elevator pitches are incredibly important in most fields, so this is one you want to be familiar with and practice A LOT before you deliver your own.

2. Personal Brand

I’ve been told there was a point in time when personal brands didn’t exist. It sounds like a very relaxed kind of lifestyle. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a personal brand is when you market yourself and your career as a formal brand.

Anyone in a creative field would probably have a personal brand (think bloggers and freelancers), and it includes both skills and an overall vibe. A blogger’s personal brand can include anything from their photography style, to their writing style, to their personal style. Personal brands can encompass pretty much everything. This is sometimes referred to as career branding as well.

3. OKR (Objectives and Key Results)

Objectives and Key Results is a bit of a mouthful, so they are most frequently referred to as OKRs. OKRs are a way to define and track professional objectives and your progress towards those objectives. This is how companies set goals for everyone to work towards. They start at the top level with the company’s goals as a whole (ex: to reach certain numbers), then go down the line through teams and individuals.

The purpose is to make sure that everyone is doing their part individually to help the company’s goals become a reality instead of focusing on tasks that don’t positively impact the bigger picture.

4. Margin

Anyone working with a company that cares about dollar amounts (so basically every company ever) will tell you that margin is incredibly frustrating. In the professional world, margin is short for profit margin, and it essentially means how much money you’ve actually made after dividing the net income by the revenue. It’s a ratio, so if you’re bad at math like I am, then it’s always going to confuse you a little bit. The important thing to know is that it’s incredibly important to a company’s success — but it’s also a major pain to maintain and improve.

5. Affiliate marketing

In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is how most bloggers and smaller websites make that dough. To make money, they have to send internet users to a website to read or purchase (usually purchase) something via an affiliate link. Usually, they make a percentage of each sale that is made using their link.

6. Prorate

No one was more irritated by the difficulty of the real world than I was. Prorating is one of those adult terms I didn’t know (even though it’s pretty important when it comes to those pesky little things called bills).Prorating is something done by any company that charges for a service or product. It’s most often done by insurance, phone, utility, and apartment companies.

Here’s how it works: if you sign up for electric service in your new apartment on the 20th of the month, the electric company will prorate your bill for the ten days of that month by taking the monthly charge, dividing it by the number of days in that month, and then adding up the daily amount for those ten days. The final number is what you pay for electricity that month. Prorate amounts are also used for your taxes if you buy a house mid-year.

7. PTO (Paid Time Off)

This is easily one of the best terms I learned in the real world. Paid time off, or PTO, is when you don’t go to work, but you don’t get in trouble for it (and you don’t even have to play hooky).

Every company has different PTO policies, but usually, employees have a specific number of days they’re allowed to take off throughout the year. Sometimes those days are also lumped with your vacation days. If you want to take PTO, you have to tell your supervisor so they know and can deduct the day or days you’re taking off. If you have a limited number of PTO days, then it’s best to use them sparingly and for the right things. You don’t want to use all of your PTO by July and then not be able to take off to go to the dentist in October.

8. T&E (Travel & Expense)

At some point in your career, no matter what field you go into, there’s a good chance you’ll either need to travel for work or take someone out to lunch or dinner. In these instances, your employer will reimburse you for the cost of food and travel (but not for the shopping you chose to do while at a conference in Vegas). Every company has their own procedures and regulations for filing T&E so it’s something you should be familiar with should you ever need to use it.

9. 401k and Roth IRA

Being an adult pretty much means having one or both of these and regularly contributing money to it. A 401k is a retirement savings account provided by employers in which you can choose to make deposits from your salary before taxes are taken out. If you work for a great company, they’ll match a certain percentage of what you put in (aka free money for the future). The IRS won’t charge any taxes on the money until after you pass retirement age.

A Roth IRA (individual retirement plan) is similar, but it’s set up through an individual investment firm (which obviously doesn’t match contributions like your employer might). Another big difference is that the money you put into a Roth IRA is after taxes are taken out of your salary — and there’s no tax on your Roth IRA growth or withdrawals during retirement. Because of this, many people think a Roth IRA is a better choice (or at least a good supplement to your 401k) because it offers more financial freedom.

10. HSA (Health Savings Account)

A health savings account is exactly what it sounds like: a savings account for health expenses. It’s available for those with a high deductible health insurance plan (HDHP) and is essentially for you to use for certain medical expenses, like medical care, prescription medication, and long-term health care.

HSAs are actually similar to 401ks and Roth IRAs in some ways. You deposit money into the account without it being touched by income tax (like a 401k account), and you get tax advantages if you choose to withdraw money from the account for non-medical purposes after retirement. However, withdrawing money before retirement does not offer tax advantages. Another benefit of an HSA is that the money rolls over year after year, so you don’t have to worry about losing any money if you’ve got some leftover at the end of the calendar year like you do with some other health care savings accounts.

Terra is an Arkansas-based writer who spends her free time obsessing over her planner, debating between working out or eating, and singing to her dog, Gatsby, even though he hates it. She also writes for Earn, Spend, Live blogs here.

Image via Unsplash

  • Nom

    I’m sorry that’s just not the correct definition of elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a quick (less than 1 minute, or the amount of time you would spend in an elevator with someone) pitch designed to sell yourself, your company, or a specific product to someone. While similar to a sales pitch, but it’s a lot less detailed and is specifically designed to be used on the fly, if you happen to run into someone in the elevator. An elevator pitch will hopefully help you to build a relationship with someone so that you are able to give them your full sales pitch at another time.

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