I am currently studying Spanish, so I know firsthand how difficult it can be to learn a language. When I teach English, I do my best to be a “cheerleader” to my students. When we have an exceptionally great class, I often tell them with a huge smile on my face, “You really killed it today!”


If the student is more advanced, they laugh and say, “Thank you, Tosha.” However, oftentimes, when I say that phrase I am greeted with looks of confusion. I then explain to them that the phrase means that they did a really good job. I welcome these looks of confusion because it allows me the opportunity to share idioms (expressions that are not meant to be taken literally) that are commonly used in America.


As someone who has a background in Marketing and works in the corporate world, I can tell you firsthand that idioms are constantly used in the workplace. Therefore, I put together a list of 25 idioms that are commonly heard in the corporate world. You should consider incorporating these idioms into your vocabulary, because they can be useful in a job interview in English and it will demonstrate your ability to be creative with the language while adding more "spice" to your conversations.


25 idioms that are commonly heard in the corporate world





Think outside the box

Create an original idea outside the boundaries of normal thinking, constraints, systems or rules.

“If we are going to win this proposal, we need to think outside the box.”

Not going to fly

When an idea, plan or concept is not going to work (be successful or supported by others).

“Mike that idea is too outside of the box. It's not going to fly with the boss.”

When it rains it pours

Often used when several difficult (or positive) situations happen simultaneously.

“I got into a car accident, lost my job and my dog ran away, all in the same week. When it rains it pours!”

Start off on the right foot

To begin a project, relationship or action in a sensible and sound way, so that the probabilities of a successful project or relationship are made stronger.

“We need to start this project off on the right foot because we have a tight deadline.”

On the same page

Make sure that everyone involved in the discussion understands the topic(s) being discussed from the same perspective; having the same shared understanding of a situation / perspective.

“It's difficult to be on the same page with you because you keep changing the subject.”

Out on a limb

To make a statement, suggestion or assumption that is risky, that may be based on less-than-full-information about the listener, that may be a little bold and sometimes ‘outside the box’.

“I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that you should take the train to California instead of the plane because it might be cheaper.”

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Do not allow yourself to put all your hopes and dreams into one idea, plan, or concept. You need to remain open to other options, and to consider pursuing a number of approaches to maximize the probabilities of success.

“I know you feel like you got the job, but don't put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you keep applying for other positions.”

Land on your feet

Usually said to someone when they have worked really hard and successfully made it through a difficult situation.

“I'm so glad Mike was able to land on his feet. He really deserves that new house after the challenging move to the company’s headquarters.”

Take the bull by the horns

Acknowledge and confidently take ownership of a difficult situation.

“If Mike doesn't take the bull by the horns, this project is going to spiral out of control.”

Hold your horses

Thoroughly think through a situation before you make a decision; to stop or slow down to think more thoroughly about how to move forward.

“Hold your horses! You are moving way too fast. Let’s stop and think carefully about the first steps we should take.”

Jump the gun

Making a decision or statement too early or quickly before the right time (when you have analysed the situation and planned appropriately what to do or say); to act or say something prematurely.

“Jane's car has a scratch on it and she accused me doing it because I was standing next to the car. She jumped the gun and didn't give me a chance to explain that it wasn't me.”

Throw in the towel

Quit; give up your pursuit of a goal or project.

“We are never going to make this deadline. I think it's time to throw in the towel.”

Miss the mark

When you fail to achieve a goal; when your performance in a task/activity does not meet the standard or target.

“He really missed the mark on closing that deal. Hopefully, he will have better luck next time.”

To stay on your toes

A warning / suggestion to remain alert, focused, sharp and responsive; to apply yourself to be continuously focused on the task, goals, objectives and situation.

“Stay on your toes when you are around John because I don't trust him.”

Stab someone in the back          

When someone betrays another person’s trust by attacking them without warning, devastating the person who is attacked (who previously thought the attacker was their ally and could never do such a thing). People often stab people in the back to pursue or advance their own personal agenda or position / status.

“Those two have been best friends since high school. How could she stab her in the back without feeling any remorse?”

A chip on your shoulder

When someone’s past negative experiences cause them to hold a bad attitude or be extra-sensitive and negative in certain situations that may remind them of their past difficulties.

“I think Mike has a chip on his shoulder because he walked right into me without apologizing.”

Raise the bar

To increase / raise standards, targets, and expectations.

“In order to be successful in business you have to constantly raise the bar.”

Back to square one

Having to start over again.  A situation where prior efforts and steps have failed, or ideas have been rejected, and you have to return to the start to begin again.

“The CEO hated the idea so we are back to square one.”

Hit the nail on the head

To precisely and accurately describe a situation or problem. To do something perfectly.

“You totally hit the nail on the head when you said that the company could not continue to operate without downsizing.”

Cut to the chase

Tell someone exactly what you mean or need; stop giving the background and make the key point or points; don't ramble.

“Stop going around in circles. I don't have a lot of time, so I need you to cut to the chase.”

Water under the bridge

Past situations or history that is being left in the past to move forward. Past history which is being forgotten, forgiven, or no longer to be emphasized. Something that happened in the past that you don't worry about anymore.

“We didn't always see eye to eye on everything, but that's water under the bridge. Now we are best friends.”

Jump through hoops

Do everything possible to achieve your goal or please someone, particularly to persevere through many rules, stages and processes that may be challenging.

“You often have to jump through hoops in order to get a promotion.”

Playing catch up

To be behind in a task or in knowledge of a situation, and to be working hard to be back up-to-date and fully-informed of the current situation.                   

“I just got back from vacation so I'm playing catch up. At the moment, I'm buried in emails…”

To “rock the boat

To do something that challenges the current way things are done, or someone’s authority. Often expressed in the negative - i.e. don't do anything that will challenge others and call attention to yourself in a negative way. To keep the peace.

“Don’t rock the boat suggesting too many ideas while you are still new here. Wait till you have built the management’s confidence in you before making suggestions for major change.”

Know when to cut your losses

Know when it is time, after experiencing multiple losses or setbacks, to stop your pursuit of the goal or strategy and to do something else. Know when the losses are to the point you have to give up, rather than waste more energy in a strategy that will only lead to more losses.

"Why do you insist on putting more money into that car? It clearly doesn't work anymore. You seriously don't know when to cut your losses."


Hero Image (Office Life Through the Window – London) by Simon & His Camera (CC BY-ND 2.0)