Microspeak: Headcount, req, and related personnel terms

For some reason, there are a lot of Microspeak terms related to personnel. (Maybe you folks can tell me how common these terms are outside Microsoft.)

We start with a term that is not actually used much outside the personnel world: The Position Control Number, or PCN. The PCN represents a place where an employee could be hired. If somebody is actually hired for the position, then the PCN is filled; if not, then it is unfilled.

The term you are likely to hear outside of the personnel world is headcount. (Pronounced as the two words head count, accent on the first word.) This is a filled PCN, and it is often abbreviated to just head.

Another term you are likely to hear is a req, short for requisition, and pronounced like the word wreck. A req is a requisition to recruit; in other words, it is permission to look for somebody to fill a position.

We have an open req to find somebody to frob the whatsit so it can futz the doodad.

An open req is a req that has not yet been filled. This sounds redundant to me, because a req by definition is unfilled, isn't it?

Yet another personnel term you may encounter is backfill. This refers to hiring someone to take over a position that has been vacated by somebody who left the team. You will sometimes hear the term used in a metaphorical context.

Who is the backfill for Bob while he is on vacation?

Bob has not actually left the team; the person merely wants to know who is covering Bob's responsibilities while he is on vacation.

The last term I'm going to expose you to is the ROP, or Recruiting Only Position. A ROP is permission to interview someone for a position that doesn't exist yet. You open a ROP with a particular person in mind, and once obtained, you have permission to interview them. You can think of a ROP as unapproved headcount, since if you decide to hire the person, you still have to find a PCN to put them in. And if you decide not to hire the person after you interviewed them, you close the ROP.

I have no idea how useful these terms are for people not in the personnel world, but I figured I'd write them down for my own benefit, so I have something to refer to when I run across them.

Comments (16)
  1. Boris says:

    But isn't this clearly a case of abstractions leaking from the human resources department, so all you really need to do is open a req for the official HR plumber? After all, just as you wouldn't be expected to understand company-wide congratulations to Team X for having released Doodad Futzer 2.0 (as related in the relevant blog post), there's no need for you to understand this HR terminology either.

  2. dave says:

    I'm struck the fact that you refer to 'someone' to fill a position.  Don't you know those are 'resources' :-)

  3. Susan says:

    | This sounds redundant to me, because a req by definition is unfilled

    In my workplace the difference between a "req" and an "open req" is whether there is budget to fill it.

    I have 5 reqs  (5 positions that need to be filled)  but only 1 open req (I have budget to fill one of them)

  4. Trevor says:

    Backfill, ya we use that here too…

  5. John Ludlow says:

    We use all of those, and they mean pretty much the same thing. Not sure whether I've heard "head" in that way, but I've heard pretty much every other variation – headcount (as in "headcount reduction"), heads (as in "we have 10 heads on this project"), etc – so it wouldn't surprise me. They seem to be words managers like to use, so they've worked their way into my vocabulary (which is how language generally works).

    PCN is a new one on me, but maybe our HR guys use it.

  6. dave says:

    Re: backfill

    I've worked with people who IMO should have been described as 'landfill', but I don't think HR recognizes the term.

  7. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    We use headcount and open req in the same way. Backfill is the same concept, but it usually refers to when one of our FTE's gets assigned to a long term project, and we bring in a contractor to perform their regular work. Generally in the 6 month to 2 year range.

  8. user says:


    Definitely a programmer's blog :)

  9. Joe says:

    I agree with Susan; the most common usage seems to be that an "open req" is one with a budget. I actually hear that phrase more than just "req".

  10. Joe says:

    The 0 month ago thing is interesting. It appears that the posts on February 16 and 17 are labeled such, which happen to be 28 and 29 days ago. Seems like there are two criteria to consider a post a month old, but 28 days, yet exactly 28 days ago has the same day of the month trips it up.

  11. Nawak says:

    > req […] pronounced like the word wreck

    Not being a native english speaker, can someone tell me what alternatives there would be?

    [I don't know, but I gave the pronunciation just in case. -Raymond]
  12. IdahoJacket says:


    It could also be pronounced like "reek" or "wreak" as in requirement (at least in some accents).

  13. cheong00 says:

    In here, headcount is the total of approved filled and unfilled slot for the position.

    My team in my ex-company has headcount of 4 people, but for most of the time only 2 of them is filled.

  14. Boris says:

    Is 'backfill' really the best word to use, most of the time at least? According to the dictionaries, it consists of the actual earth that was dug out of the original hole.

    In my experience, whenever someone goes on vacation, the replacement is more like "stopgap" in the best case, and in the worst case, "remote control" for the actual backfill.

  15. Joe says:

    This is one way of using an ROP – there are others.  REQs (including ROPs) are ways of "marketing" the position.  So sometimes you'll open an multiple ROPs with an expectation that you will use one to fill the PCN and then you write multiple job descriptions — e.g. a "funny" one, a serious one, etc.  When you find the candidate you want, you fill the PCNs and close the ROP.

  16. Motti says:

    We also use "Req" which was confusing for me at first since it's the same pronunciation as ריק the Hebrew word for "empty" so at first I thought it referred to an un-filled position (hence empty).

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