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The Ultimate Guide to Boolean Searches


One of the best problems we can have in recruiting is a candidate pool which is too big. Our advertisements and word of mouth have gotten us so many candidates that it now seems impossible to sort through them all. Fortunately, every problem has a solution, and Boolean Searches are exactly how we can easily and efficiently organize large sets of data. Whether you are well versed in Boolean Searches or are hearing of them for the first time, this guide offers a comprehensive overview of the tools you can use to make short work of large data sets. Let’s take a look!

Upcoming Topics

1. Understanding Boolean Searches

2. Identifying Accurate Keywords

3. Increasing Search Results with AND

4. Eliminating Unnecessary Results with NOT

5. Combining Search Results with OR

6. Creating Singular Terms with Parentheses

7. Getting Specific with Quotation Marks

8. Extrapolating with Asterisks

9. Capturing Synonyms with Tilde

10. Specifying Sources with SITE:

11. Controlling Format with FILETYPE:

12. Increasing Searches with NEAR

13. Reexamining Our Search String

Understanding Boolean Searches

The name “Boolean Search” comes from the creator George Boole, a 19th Century English mathematician. George Boole created a system for queries which find specific results using special conditions, or “Boolean Operators.” Boolean Operators are individual terms recognized by the computer which help to specify the intent of your search. Operators are typed in all uppercase (AND, OR, NOT) so that the computer recognizes them within a search string.

So how can we use Boolean Operators to sort through large collections of resumes? Normally to find candidates, many recruiters will log into a job board and simply type “Sales” to see what candidates they can find. But rarely will any sales experience do, and with thousands of results, the recruiter will spend hours scanning for the background, training, and skillsets they need. It would be much more beneficial if the recruiter could search “Business to Business medical equipment sales,” but doing so may confuse the computer or return less than desirable results.

This is why Boolean Operators are so powerful: they allow us to translate our needs into a form the computer can understand. In the above example, the most efficient search a recruiter could make would be:

(Business to Business OR B2B) Sale* (Medic* OR Healthcare) ~Equipment NOT (Outside OR “Customer Facing”)

It may look like gibberish to you and I, but a computer can read through that sentence and immediately return the exact candidates we’re looking for. Let’s take a look at the individual components which make up a complete Boolean Search.

Identifying Accurate Keywords

The first thing it’s important to understand is what exactly you are trying to find! In the earlier example, we needed a salesperson, so “Sales” was the keyword that we were modifying. Recruiters may be looking for Pilots, or Lawyers, or Registered Nurses, all of which are the basis which we modify for our search. From here, we can add Boolean Operators (also sometimes called Modifiers) to specify exactly what subsection of the keyword we are trying to reach.

Increasing Search Results with AND

One of the most common Boolean Operators is AND. When used in a search, AND will return all results which include both your keywords. It is helpful to remove searches which only hold one of the keywords, allowing you much greater specificity with your results. For example, if our recruiter was searching for sales with specific experience managing inventory, they may search “Sales AND Inventory.” That way, any candidates with only sales or only inventory experience are excluded, immediately narrowing down the candidate pool. “Customer Service AND Retail.” “Accounting AND Auditing.” By combining these skillsets, you empower your applicant pool with multi-faceted candidates able to do everything your company needs. AND is one of the most common operators; in fact, on sites such as LinkedIn and Google, simply putting a space between two words will be counted as AND, allowing you to save time by simply typing “Sales Inventory” and letting the computer do the rest!

Eliminating Unnecessary Results with NOT

The opposite of AND, NOT allows you to immediately exclude any results which contain the specified word. There are many job titles which overlap across industries; for example, perhaps you are recruiting for an office manager, but you keep finding resumes for managers of fast-food franchises. In this case, “Manager AND Office” could certainly help, but an even more effective search would be “Manager NOT Franchise.” That way, any resumes which mention fast food-franchises, even those which have “Office” in them, will be excluded. “Administrator NOT School.” “Customer Service NOT Phone.”

In addition to NOT, the minus symbol (-) can also be added to the front of a word without a space to remove it from the results (-School, -Phone). While the (-) Operator is commonly used, it is important to note that Google does not recognize it, and NOT should be used on that site instead. Removing terms using NOT or (-) can automatically save you hours of sorting; later, we’ll discuss ways to include multiple NOTs within one search.

Combining Search Results with OR

NOT is an excellent tool for narrowing our search results; OR is a great way to widen them. While OR is technically interpreted as “at least one is required, more than one or all can be returned,” OR is most easily understood as “One or more.” OR is extremely useful for capturing synonyms; for example, let’s say you’re looking for someone in Human Resources, but repeatedly you miss resumes labeled as HR. The Boolean Operator will allow you to search for “Human Resources OR HR,” capturing both versions within the results. “Information Technology OR IT.” “Senior OR Sr.” OR can also be used when similar positions may have different titles. “Manager OR Supervisor OR Lead” will allow you to get all three different titles, effectively tripling your candidate pool with one word. In addition to OR, the Pipe symbol (|) is also recognized as OR, allowing you to type “Human Resources | HR” on sites such as Monster, Google, and LinkedIn.

Creating Singular Terms with Parentheses ( )

As we learn more Boolean Terms and Modifiers, our search strings are going to get increasingly longer. In order to keep everything correctly ordered, we can start using parenthesis. Just like we learned back in grade school, Boolean Searches have an order of operations, or a specific order in which elements are processed. Placing Operators in parenthesis allows you to combine those Terms and Modifiers as their own smaller equation, making sure that they will all be considered as one object. NOT (Remote OR Hybrid OR Travel) is much easier to write and understand than NOT Remote, NOT Hybrid, NOT Travel. By grouping Operators within parenthesis, we can save time AND make it easier for the computer to understand our intent.

As searches get more complex, we can add multiple sets of parenthesis to keep each section independent – the computer will address everything in parenthesis before anything outside of them. There are even more rules to how a computer will read our search (for example, AND is the first modifier addressed after parenthesis), but parenthesis should be sufficient to keep everything legible for both us and our machines.

Getting Specific with Quotation Marks (“”)

As search strings get progressively more complex, the computer may start to lose track of which terms are related and which are just next to each other. This is where quotation marks come into play. Quotation marks allow searches for the exact phrase which was entered, letting the computer know that the term should be considered one item.

For example, let’s say we need someone who is experienced at Inventory Management. If we just type Inventory AND Management, we could still receive results which contain both Inventory experience and Management experience, but not at the same time. A candidate could have done midnight inventory stocking as their first job and gone on to manage a river rafting company, and their resume would have Inventory AND Management. But if we specify that the two should be considered one term and use quotation marks, “Inventory Management,” the previous resume would be excluded. “Medical Insurance Billing.” “Computer System Maintenance.” While this is certainly a more complex Modifier, it provides an additional layer of specificity that can save countless hours of work.

Extrapolating with Asterisks (*)

As we discussed earlier, OR is great for helping us capture synonyms. But there can be times where there are simply too many synonyms to spell out, or even to remember! This is where we can use the asterisk Operator (*) to search for additional variants of the keyword.

Perhaps you are recruiting for a salesperson, and you keep running into gendered variants. You could of course search (Salesperson OR Salesman OR Saleswoman), but it is much easier to just search Sales* to capture all variations. Searching Market* will capture Marketing, Marketer, Marketed, and more. Manag* will include Manager, Managed, Management, and Managing. Utilizing this technique can help to secure candidates who may otherwise fall through the cracks.

Capturing Synonyms with Tilde (~)

The Asterisk can be extremely useful for finding variations of a word. But there are times when we need to cast an even wider net. The Tilde modifier is perfect for when we need synonyms beyond just one word, as it allows us to include all synonyms for that word. We discussed earlier how different job titles can be difficult to keep track of; rather than searching (Manager OR Supervisor OR Lead), we can tag with the Tilde to simply search ~Manager. This will help us include titles such as Generalist or Instructor which we may not remember or even be aware of. We can also search ~CV to include Curriculum Vitae, Resume, and Portfolio in our results. While utilizing Tilde does require the computer to have a concrete understanding of the term, it can help us unlock an entirely new candidate base hidden under a different name.

Specifying Sources with SITE:

There may be times when you need to search a specific site for a piece of information. You may be looking for a profile on a site like LinkedIn, or searching a forum for advice on a specific topic. Searching using the Boolean Operator “SITE:” will allow you to restrict results only to those from that site. “Business Manager” will only return information from LinkedIn. There are certainly built-in search abilities on many websites, but searching using an external algorithm can return different or alternate results, broadening the pool. And some sites, such as the forum, have notoriously weak internal search abilities; utilizing “SITE:” will allow you to use the much more powerful and optimized Google search engine to unlock a new wealth of previously inaccessible information.

Controlling Format with FILETYPE:

As we search for the perfect candidate, it can be difficult to secure all the information we need to both evaluate and contact them. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a candidate profile, only to find that they don’t have an attached resume with their contact information. We can avoid this by specifying the specific type of file we are seeking; the most common are (FILETYPE:PDF) and (FILETYPE:DOCX). By specifying the desired file type, we can eliminate results which only display candidate information, or require a paywall to access the file itself. As most resumes and CVs are saved in .PDF format, specifying CV~ (FILETYPE:PDF) can help you identify only downloadable. PDFs with valuable candidate leads. Use file type within specific websites to locate resumes, or across the whole of Google to pull individual documents.

Increasing Searches with NEAR

Finally, we may need to increase our search results after several searches fail to find the desired results. Utilizing the Operator NEAR between two words will find results in which they occur within a certain number of words, typically between 1-10 words. If we are having difficulty finding a Software Developer, but don’t just want to look for just a Developer, we can try Software NEAR Developer. While this more open-ended search may potentially return undesired results, it can also find phrasing which we may not have considered, or find experience with both Software and Development in a unique context. NEAR is useful during the finishing stages of a search, or when traditional searches are returning empty, by providing a final sweep of any lingering candidates.

Reexamining Our Search String

At the beginning of this article, we created a search string for a recruiter trying to find a candidate with Business-to-Business medical equipment sales experience. We came up with the following Boolean string:

(Business to Business OR B2B) Sale* (Medic* OR Healthcare) ~Equipment NOT (Outside OR “Customer Facing”)

Now that we have a functional knowledge of Boolean Operators, let’s dissect this string to see exactly what we’re searching for!

The first set of parenthesis denotes the Business-to-Business qualification, and includes B2B to secure candidates who use abbreviations.

Next, Sale* is the Keyword we have identified, and have included the asterisk to also capture Sales and Salesperson/woman/man.

The second set of parenthesis modifies the type of Equipment being sold, with Medic* including medical, medication, and medicinal in addition to Healthcare.

~Equipment was tagged with the Tilde to also include Supplies, Instruments, and Appliances.

Because we are specifically looking for Business-to-Business sales experience, we want to remove any mentions of Outside sales, as well as get rid of Customer Facing positions. However, we don’t want to remove any resume with the word Customer, so we make sure “Customer Facing” is considered one term.

And we have created a search! There are aspects we can tweak, add, or even remove depending on the results we receive, but this will offer a much more specific foundation than simply typing “Sales” and hoping for the best.

No matter what candidate you are seeking or platform you are using, Boolean Searches are a fantastic way to increase the value of your candidate pool while saving untold time and money. Whether your search employs a single NOT or a multi-line string of Operators, you are now equipped with tools which make you a better recruiter, researcher, and digital navigator. Now get out there and uncover a wealth of new possibilities!

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