Idioms to Advance Your Job Search

Who doesn’t love a good idiom?

They stick in your memory like bees in honey; they circulate through your brain like downtown traffic. You want to drop them into a conversation wherever you can.

Here are a few to that may be related to your job search.

1)      Go the extra mile:

This expression means that you did work beyond what was expected. Considering we live in Canada, this should say ‘extra kilometre’ but anyway, you get the idea. Going the extra mile is what high achievers do. It’s what hard-workers do. It’s what people who take initiative do. If you are one of these, you can say of yourself that you are the type of person who goes the extra mile.

2)      Learn/Know the ropes:

Originating from sailing, this expression means to know how to do something. In a new job, a person needs to learn the ropes. After you’ve been there awhile, you know the ropes.

3)      Pound the pavement:

We’re slightly more sophisticated in how we “pound the pavement” these days thanks to our computers and Internet. However, we still do this. Pounding the pavement means walking from business to business to ask for work. This is not very different from going door to door, something sales people do. These days, we are more likely to develop a list of places where we would like to work, try to get an information interview with someone inside and eventually apply to work in the company. Pavement pounding has turned into keyboard pounding in our information society.

4)      Brownie points

Imagine you are beginning a job interview with an HR person who suddenly discovers her pen has no ink. You earnestly offer yours, although you have no spare. Congratulations! You have just earned a brownie point. This is a kind of social reward for doing something to help another person. Usually, the helper is a superior and the brownie points earn favor that could impact future negotiations.

5)      Climb the ladder

Everyone loves a good promotion. It’s a chance to move up the chain of command. We visualize this company hierarchy as a ladder and getting a promotion is compared to stepping up one rung higher. Be careful when using this, however. It’s not a positive way to explain your goals. Rather, you might say you want to “attain increasing levels of responsibility.”

6)      Get back in the saddle:

Failure depresses us much like it used to depress cowboys back in the days when they would be kicked off a horse. And yet, a cowboy’s work is on the horse. On the horse, there is a saddle. If a cowboy is going to work, he or she must get back in the saddle. Getting back in the saddle simply means trying again after a failure. So, maybe your last interview failed? Never mind. Get back in the saddle and apply for more jobs. Keep trying.

Whether we used idioms from sailing or from the farm or from somewhere else, they still reflect the challenges of life: learning, recovering from failure, searching for opportunities or trying hard. Idioms remind us of a more hands-on past and compare our current work to jobs long ago.  If you know of other idioms that fit job search, please comment and share it with us.

Gwen PawlikowskiAbout the Author:
Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.


24 thoughts on “Idioms to Advance Your Job Search”

  1. Hi,
    I’d like to share two idioms which is related to employment. I’d also like to thank all of you for sharing these helpful idioms.
    1 – shape up or ship out
    This expression is used to warn someone that if they do not improve, they will have
    to leave their job.
    EX: When Tom started neglecting the customers, he was told to shape up or ship out.
    2 – plum job
    A desirable position which is well-paid and considered relatively easy.
    EX: Ideally he’d like to find himself a plum job in New York.

  2. Hi,everyone!
    Here’s an idiom meaning to be very busy: “To be snowed under”.
    He wasn’t able to finish his Math homework as he was snowed under with an essay for the History class.

  3. I really liked this posting, I think using idioms is a smart way to prove that you are willing to adapt to the culture as a new comer.

    The ones I liked from my search:

    tricks of the trade: This term refers to a clever or expert way of doing things, especially in a job.
    example:He’s a tough negotiator; he knows all the tricks of the trade.

    A dead end job: A job that has no chance of promotion or advancement.
    Example: “She left the company because she was very ambitious but in a dead end job.”

  4. Hello,
    I’d like to share too idioms:

    1. Being in the firing line. Someone who is in the firing line is in a position to be criticized because of their responsibilities or the position they hold. i.e. The Finance Manager is in the firing line since that fraud was discovered.
    2. Get a foot in the door. To have an opportunity or to enter a business or organization at a low level, but with a chance of being more successful in the future. i.e. This part-time work has allowed Frank to get his foot in the door and he hopes it will lead to a full-time job.

    1. I wish all of us as newcomers to get a foot in the door for plum job because I believe we do our best to go the extra mile.

  5. I found idioms mentioned in this blog is very beneficial for job seekers. When you use these idioms in your resume, cover letter or interviews, it helps you to avoid buzzwords and to be outstanding from other candidates.

    I would like to share one idiom: “Go the extra mile”.
    Nowadays, there are many buzzwords in resumes and cover letters. For example, many people say that they are hard-working and can think out of box. It maybe a merit of your personality, but when many people mention hard-working and thinking out of box, it will not be a merit because it is used so many times. “Go the extra mile” is more likely to attract hiring managers, especially when they saw so many buzzwords.

  6. I would like to share two idioms:

    – glass ceiling
    This term refers to a discriminatory barrier perceived by women and minorities that prevents them from rising to positions of power or responsibility.
    Example: Claire knew she would never break the glass ceiling and rise to a senior management position.

    – above and beyond the call of duty
    If a person does something which is above and beyond the call of duty, they show a greater degree of courage or effort than is usually required or expected in their job.
    Example: The fire-fighter received a medal for his action which went above and beyond the call of duty.

  7. Hi there!

    These are two idioms related with job search
    *Separate sheep from goats
    If you separate the sheep from the goats, you examine a group of people and decide which are suitable and which are not.
    As a human resources recruiter I always receive a lot of resumes, so I always have to separate sheep from goats to be able to find the right person for the position.

    *Above and beyond the call of duty If a person does something which is above and beyond the call of duty, they show a greater degree of courage or effort than is usually required or expected in their job.
    You can use that idiom in a resume saying for example, “I’m a employee who always works above and beyond the call of duty”

  8. I’d like to share the following two idioms.

    1. Hang up one’s boot.
    When a sports player hangs up his/her boots, he/she stop playing and retire. It is often used to refer to retirement in general.
    Example: I’ll hang up my boots at the end of this month.

    2.Walking paper.
    If someone gets his/her walking paper, he/she is fired.
    Example: You’ll get your walking paper if you keep on failing to finish your task on time.

    Thanks for reading.

  9. I’d like to share with you two interesting idioms that I have learnt in other modules:
    1- pull one’s weight, it means do one’s share in a common task; for example, “Bob has never pulled his weight, and we all have to work harder to make up for his laziness”
    2- step up to the plate, it means to move into a position where one is ready to do a task; for example, it’s time for Tom to step up to the plate and take on his share of work.

  10. By googling job related idioms, you will find a lot of them, something like brain drain, golden handshake, golden parachute, be waiting in the wings, and paid peanuts. Two idioms which are interesting in my view are:
    1. Tricks of the trade: it’s used as a noun, and means special skills and knowledge associated with profession, or methods that help you to do your job better or faster.
    If I’d known more tricks of the trade, I could’ve been a more successful manager in this field.
    2. Work to rule: it could be used as a noun or as a verb and means working no more than the minimum required by the rules of the contract. Sometimes it is an objection to salary, work condition and other job related issues.
    “If we don’t get the answer of our petition up to the end of this week, at the first step, we’ll work to rule for the whole of May” he, as the leader of the union, spoke out in the meeting.

  11. I would like to share one idiom here with the class: “Down to the wire”, which means to the last moment, to the very end. One example: The election was so close, it went down to the wire and was decided by a court.
    I just finish my presentation preparation when it went down to the wire this Tuesday.

  12. It’s always good to learn new idioms, and I’m happy to share a couple that I fund useful.

    A “ballpark figure” is an estimate, or at least a guesstimate. It originally comes from baseball, suggesting that however we hit the ball, it will land somewhere inside the ballpark, just like our estimate supposed to be in the neighbourhood of the actual number.

    Another good one is the “red tape”, which you can use to describe a bureaucratic nonsense, or other complicated and time-consuming series of actions that required although seem completely unnecessary.
    I’ve looked up a few examples to make it easier to understand:
    You would not believe the red tape involved in getting the required permits.
    The little money that was available was tied up in bureaucratic red tape.
    Red tape prevented Jack’s wife from joining him abroad.
    My passport application has been held up by red tape.
    Although owning and renovating a listed building is rewarding, they come with red tape and scrutiny from the local council.
    With all the red tape, it took me weeks to get a license for my new business.

  13. Hi
    In my opinion, knowing Idioms and phrasal verbs will really an asset to in understanding the conversation in workplaces
    As long as I understood, Canadians use all the time, idioms,slangs and phrasal verbs in their daily conversation .
    I would like to share these Idioms with you.
    *Dodge the bullet-To narrowly avoid something or some situation that turns out to be undesirable, disastrous, dangerous, or otherwise harmful.
    *Put your money where your mouth is- To do something rather than to just talk about it .
    *Out of the palm of your hand-
    to have so much control over someone that they will do whatever you want them to do

  14. Thank you for an interesting post. My favorite expressions related to job search are:
    1. Work smarter not harder – streamline the work. Certain tasks we have to do in our work anyways, so why not take time and come up with ways to make them faster and easier. This expression can be used during an interview as part of ones work style principles.
    2. Between jobs or between projects – this might be a delicate way of saying during the interview that one is unemployed.

  15. Here is what I found.
    1. get the axe – If someone gets the axe, they lose their job.
    2. cream of the crop – This expression refers to the best people or things in a particular group.
    3. dream ticket – If you refer to two people as a dream ticket, you think they would work well together and be successful.

  16. 1. A big cheese.
    An important person, a leader (usually about business).
    For example
    “Anita Roddick is a big cheese in Body Shop.”

    2. “To crack the whip .”
    To make someone work harder by threatening them.
    For example:
    “We finished the project on time, but only because I really cracked the whip.”

  17. golden handcuffs:
    The term golden handcuffs refers to a large sum of money or a generous financial arrangement granted to an executive as an incentive to stay in their job, or to ensure long-term cooperation after their departure.

    above and beyond the call of duty
    If a person does something which is above and beyond the call of duty, they show a greater degree of courage or effort than is usually required or expected in their job.

  18. The above idioms are very useful and interesting. I also found these idioms that I would like to share:

    1-cash cow

    a product, service, or business division that generates a lot of cash for the company, without requiring much investment

    Example: With strong sales every year and a great brand name, Mercedes is a cash cow for DaimlerChrysler.

    2-(to) compare apples to oranges

    to compare two unlike things; to make an invalid comparison

    Example: Comparing a night at EconoLodge with a night at the Four Seasons is like comparing apples to oranges. One is a budget motel, and the other is a luxury hotel.
    Note: You will also see the related expression “compare apples to apples” which means to compare two things of the same type. This means that you are making a valid comparison, as opposed to when you’re comparing apples to oranges.

  19. Thank you Gwen for posting these interesting idioms. I hope I will learn the rope quickly and then have a chance to get back in the saddle by going the extra mile. Is that right?

  20. What I like most in these idioms is to get back in the saddle since job searching is a challenge but you have to keep trying. As saying goes no pain no gain.
    There are some idioms I would like to share such as:
    1. A dead end job – this means a job that has no chance of promotion or advancement. Example: Not everyone would like to have a dead end job.
    2. Show someone the ropes means teach or explain to them how to do a particular job. Example: The supervisor has the responsibility to show the ropes to the newly hired cashier.

  21. Thanks for sharing, Gwen. To be honest, this is the first time I see these idioms. I will remember them and try to use them in the future.
    I could share one idiom I learned today, that is ‘tough cookie’. It means a person who is difficult to deal with. Hopefully we won’t be tough cookie and we won’t meet some tough cookies in our work or life.

  22. (There are 12 idioms about looking for dental assistant within 3 days.)

    Certified Dental Assistant – Full time (vancouver west)

    Busy West side dental office looking for a full time certified dental assistant. Ideal candidate would have a pleasant out-going personality, and work well in a team environment. We are looking for a CDA that is a self starter, manages their time well and is proficient in all aspects of general dentistry.

    Preference is given to applicants that have previous experience with digital xray and Power Practice software. We are looking for a CDA with at least 2 years experience, however new grads are welcome to apply.

    The position available is based on a condensed work week and the hours are as follows:

    Monday 8am-4pm
    Tuesday 9am-7pm
    Wednesday 8am-6pm
    Thursday 8am-5pm
    Saturday 9am-3pm (one day a month)

    The office is closed for all long weekends and is located on a major bus route. We also have free staff parking.

    Please submit resume in response to this ad. We thank all who apply, however only suitable candidates will be contacted for interview.
    Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
    do NOT contact us with unsolicited services or offers

  23. Thank you Gwen!
    Those idioms are great! Here are some more idioms that I would like to share with others.
    1- To cold call
    To call potential customers without an appointment or previous contact.
    “The sales rep cold called customers from the business directory.

    2- above and beyond the call of duty
    If a person does something which is above and beyond the call of duty, they show a greater degree of courage or effort than is usually required or expected in their job.
    The fire-fighter received a medal for his action which went above and beyond the call of duty.
    3- duty bound
    4- If you are duty bound to do something, you are required to do it as part of your obligations.
    Teachers are duty bound to report a pupil’s absence from school.

    5- firing line
    6- Someone who is in the firing line is in a position to be criticized because of their responsibilities or the position they hold.
    The managing director of the bank is in the firing line since the fraud was discovered.

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