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  • Writer's pictureKristin Schuchman, Career Strategist

Keeping Track of Job Search Keywords

Even twenty years ago, when people still searched through the classified ads for jobs in the Sunday newspaper, common wisdom dictated that most jobs were not advertised. In the current job search landscape, this mantra has never been more true. Some estimates claim that as few as 20 percent of jobs are listed on company websites or online job boards like Mac's List, or

This statistic reinforces the importance not just of networking but also the necessity of sharpening your job search tools. When hunting for jobs online, strategically using keywords, keyword phrases, and job titles will increase your ability to find relevant job postings, significantly reducing both your frustration and time spent searching. Here is a quick rundown of how to effectively keep a careful record of your job search efforts to reduce redundancy and streamline the process.

1. First, create a list of websites to check on a regular basis. Include a mix of two or three general local jobs sites, two or more national job boards (like or, 10 to 15 company websites, and two or three industry-specific listservs or job sites (like the job board on the local PRSA chapter website if you are looking for public relations jobs). Write these websites below under the appropriate headings:

(The examples are what a job hunter in Portland, Oregon might list.)







PRSA –Portland Chapter

2. Second, start a spreadsheet in Excel with these headers across the top to track your progress: Application Status, Company, Address, Phone, Email, Website, Job Title, Deadline, Salary, Name/Title of Contact, Requirements, Delivery Mode, Date Sent, Next Steps, Priority and Notes. Customize as you see fit – add columns for items like “Health Benefits,” “401k,” or “Commute Time” if these are priorities.

As you start to apply for positions, mark a “1” under the “Priority” field to indicate jobs you consider “High Priority”; mark a “2” for “Medium Priority” jobs and a “3” for “Low Priority”. Give yourself permission to shift priorities, and stay mindful of deadlines, marking jobs you intend to apply for with a “1” even if you only feel so-so about the position.

3. Third, use Excel’s highlight function to prioritize the positions you will apply for next. Use yellow to highlight the Job Titles with highest priority, use pink to mark the specific deadline field, and orange across the entire row once the resume has been submitted. Leave the field under “Next Steps” yellow if you plan to follow up in a certain time frame if you haven’t heard anything; place a date in the field to remind yourself when to follow up and place this date in your online calendar of choice.

If you prefer tracking your job search with paper, make your spreadsheet printable, and place it in a binder.* Use actual highlighter pens to mark the jobs with specific colors as indicated above. Place your spreadsheet at the front of the binder; create tabs for “High Priority”, “Medium Priority”, and “Low Priority” and sort the printouts for your job postings accordingly.

Whether tracking your job search with Excel or a hard-copy binder, feel free to follow these suggestions or come up with your own system of tracking.

Once you have applied for a position, mark an “X” and the date applied in the upper righthand corner of the first page of the job posting to indicate that you have applied for it. Mark the job posting with a post-it flag if you want to remind yourself to follow up with the hiring manager if you haven’t heard anything in a certain time frame. Remove the flag once you are granted an interview or sent a correspondence indicating that you are no longer in contention.

4. Fourth, begin identifying keywords and keyword phrases that yield the best matches. Does the word “PR” or “public relations” pull up jobs that more closely match the right positions? Does the phrase “marketing” tend to pull up too many jobs with little or no relevance to your skill set? Does searching for both “marketing” and “public relations” generate a stronger search result?

To track keywords in Excel, add a column to record the keywords that led to that result or add another worksheet (in the same Excel file) called “Keywords” to the same Excel spreadsheet listing the jobs you’re applying for in the right hand column under “Jobs,” recording the keywords along the top as column headings and placing an “X” in the fields of convergence between keywords and the jobs they generate.

If using a binder and printing out the posting for each job to which you hope to apply, write the keywords near the top of the first page that resulted in finding that job announcement. You could also add a page near the front of your binder to list your most effective keywords and keyword combinations.

If this system seems too cumbersome, modify it to work for you. Be honest with yourself about whether digital or physical organizing solutions help you track your work better. If “out of sight, out of mind” describes your organizing style, use a wall space to further encourage your responsiveness and engagement.

Besides landing a job, your main goal is to create habits that cause you to commit to your job hunt rather than avoid it. Whatever system encourages you to interact with your job search every day will yield the best results.

* If you have ADD (or “shades of ADD” like me), you should definitely use a physical binder. Out of sight is out of mind for the ADD brain, and your job search efforts will feel more productive and meaningful with a binder for you to refer to every day. Take it with you everywhere you go. Make it your best friend. Seriously.

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