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How to use Boolean Search in recruitment?

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There was a time when job seekers would scour through the classifieds and recruitment section in search of a job worthy of their talents and send in traditional job applications. These applications would then be hand sorted by recruiters in the hopes of finding a good candidate. But as the old saying goes, “we are not in Kansas anymore!”

Technology has replaced manual recruitment processes on both fronts. Today, job seekers can apply to thousands of open positions on online portals. As for recruiters, they can just use the filters provided by recruitment portals and funnel down on applications worthy of the position. Easy, right? Unfortunately, here’s where it becomes difficult. Statistics tell us that an open position is likely to receive an average of 250 applications. Of these, 73% are passive job seeker candidates. Passive job seekers are only looking to see what a recruiter has to offer. These candidates have a job but are just keeping an eye on what’s out there. The chances of them staying through the process of interviews, negotiations and finally accepting an offer are slim. (This isn’t a bad thing and we will explain why further down in the article) Of the remaining candidates who are actively seeking jobs, the top prospects will be off the market in just 10 days.

For recruiters, hunting through online portals has become a race. Filtering through online job applications might not be easy as it sounds, but that’s where Boolean Search comes into the picture.

If you’ve never heard of a Boolean Search, here’s a quick overview.


What is a Boolean Search?

Instead of manually entering filters to narrow down on applications, recruiters are now using Boolean Search to sift through potential candidates. By definition, Boolean Search is a structured search process used to optimize search engine results. Fun fact: the Boolean Search was built using symbolic logic developed by an English mathematician named George Boole in the 19th century.

History lesson aside, a Boolean Search will allow a user to insert words or phrases such as AND, OR, NOT to limit or even broaden and define the search results. Essentially, Boolean Search uses five elements to help users search for the right pool of data and utilize a data set to its maximum potential. The first three elements of a Boolean Search i.e. the words AND, OR and NOT are called Boolean Search Operators. The remaining two elements aren’t words, they are symbols – parentheses and quotation marks. These are called Boolean Search Modifiers.

By using a Boolean Search, a recruiter can sort through applications who don’t meet their requirements and zero in on applications that are likely to move forward in the recruitment process.

Before we ask how to conduct a Boolean Search, it is important to understand why this search can make a world of difference for recruiters.

Why is Boolean Search important for recruiting?

Boolean Search helps recruiters navigate through a labyrinth of applications with far more efficiency, a higher degree of accuracy and at a much faster speed. A task that would ideally take hours can be accomplished in much lesser time and help recruiters make quicker decisions.

But a streamlined recruitment process is the not the only benefit of a Boolean Search. We draw your attention back to a statistic mentioned at the beginning of the article. Passive candidates might not be actively seeking a job but they still have potential. If offered the right job, there is a possibility of reeling them in.

Now for the big question.

How does Boolean Search work?

Now that you know what a Boolean Search is, let’s go over the basic working of this method.
Anyone and everyone can conduct a Boolean Search on any search engine across the internet. This method is neither limited nor restricted by search engines. All the user has to do is use some symbols or words or phrases to help set parameters for their search. The search engine program will then alter the results based on the provided parameters.

Understanding the five basic elements of a Boolean Search

1. AND: The word AND will allow the search engine to compile results that will include two or more keywords in the search result. This means any search terms that will follow the AND will appear in the search results. Here is a quick example.

To look for ‘photographer and editor’, a user simply needs to key in the following –
photographer AND editor

Pro-tip – Instead of using the word AND, users can just use a hyphen (-)

2. OR: The word OR will allow the user to search for a data set that has a possibility of including both search terms. This means a user could be looking for two different sets of keywords.
For example, if a user is looking for photographer or photo editor, they need to key in the following search –
photographer OR photo editor

3. NOT: While phrases like AND and OR will give the user refined results as per two or more sets of keywords, sometimes the user might not want specific terms to appear in their search results. This is where the user can use the phrase NOT to eliminate certain results. Here is an example.
To look for a photographer and a photo editor but not a video editor, a user must key in the following search.

photographer OR photo editor NOT video editor
photographer AND photo editor NOT video editor

Its not just words or phrases, a user can even conduct a Boolean Search using symbols.

4. Quotation marks “”: When a user doesn’t want any other results except the exact phrases or keywords they are looking for, they can use quotation marks and the search engine will provide results that match that exact request. Here is what a search string with quotation marks will look like –
“photographer” “wildlife photographer” “amazon wildlife photographer”

5. Parentheses (): The fifth element is another symbol and is called the parentheses. Using a parentheses allows the user to separate their search terms by preference. This way the search engine knows what kind of results the user would prefer to see. Here is a quick example.

photo AND (editor OR photographer) AND (wildlife or nature) -editor -freelancer

Hidden element while using Boolean Search

Now that you know about the five basic elements of a Boolean Search, you must also know about a sixth element which can prove to be quite handy while creating search strings. This element is the asterisk. The * acts as a wild card and will look at points of parity within search terms. For instance, while searching for the term ‘UX writer’, a user will also be able to see the results for phrases like ‘UX writing’.

While the above crash course in Boolean Search is helpful for newbies, it is important to understand how to use Boolean Search if you are a recruiter.

Using Boolean Search for recruitment

Not all recruiters use the same portal while searching for candidates. This article has picked out the most common recruitment search portals and has explained how to use Boolean Search on Google, and LinkedIn. This knowledge can be easily applied while conducting searches on other job portals.

How to use Boolean Search for recruiting through Google Search

For starters, a recruiter can use the five basic (and the hidden sixth) elements to conduct a Boolean Search on Google. However, recruiters can add three more commands along with their search operators and search modifiers. These three commands help narrow down and refine the search better while using Google search to for recruiting.

1. Using ‘inurl’
By using the ‘inurl’ command, recruiters can look for specific terms mentioned in a uniform resource locator or a URL. For example, recruiters on the lookout for the term ‘interior designer’, will be able to narrow down the search to URLs that mention the specific search term. A disadvantage of this command is that it will also show results where the term is mentioned in URLs that might not be in the same context.
Fortunately, this issue can be resolved by adding some modifying operators to the search string. Recruiters can simply use ‘inurl:interior designer’ (with a colon) or ‘-inurl:be an interior designer’ (with a hyphen) to restrict certain results.

2. site:
Another command that is popular among recruiters using Boolean Search for recruitment through Google is “site:”
This command helps the recruiter look for specific search terms within a website. The spider will crawl only through the specific website and nothing else to show the user the desired search results. This command is highly useful for recruiters who want to comb through specific websites for leads. It also helps recruiters look for people who might not necessarily have their credential portfolios listed on job portals but on other websites. Here’s an example to better understand this search command.

If a recruiter keys in the term site:slideshare.com B2B (“illustrator” | “designer”). The search terms will let the search engine know that the recruiter is looking for designers or illustrators with experience in B2B designing.

3. intitle:
A recruiter can expand the realm of their search by using the command ‘intitle:’ to zero in on specific keywords that will help pinpoint to exact terms in the search results. For instance, if a recruiter keys in the command ‘site:slideshare.com intitle:portfolio (documentary editor)’, the recruiter be able to look at results which have a portfolio in the title for that particular website.

Obviously, all of the above information can be overwhelming, so here is a quick simulation to explain how to use Boolean Search on Google.

Let’s say a recruiter is looking for a content writer on Google. One should start by eliminating what they don’t want to see. If a recruiter simply types in content writer, there will be millions of results including content writing programs, tips, trends, job descriptions etc. To narrow down on the desired search results, a recruiter must zero in on parameters that will be used to conduct this search.

This is what a search string for a content writer on monster.com will look like this –

Site:monster.com content (“manager” | “writer”) profile –intitle:”jobs” –intitle:”job description”

How to use Boolean Search for recruiting through LinkedIn

Recruiters usually find LinkedIn pretty nifty to help narrow down their search as they can use filters like country (which further narrows down to state and city), job environment (remote, hybrid, on campus), job duration (full-time, part-time and contract), level of work experience (entry level, executive, mid-senior, senior etc), educational qualifications etc. But this search can be further optimized by creating search strings.

Now, if a recruiter were to use Boolean Search for recruiting through LinkedIn, they would be able to use the five basic elements (3 Search Operators and 2 Search Modifiers) that make up a Boolean Search. They will also be able to use all the additional elements that are used in a regular Google search. Unfortunately, the hidden six element or the wild card – the asterisk, does not make the cut while using Boolean Search on LinkedIn. Here is a quick simulation to explain how to use Boolean Search on LinkedIn.

Let’s continue with the previous example of searching for a content writer. Only this time, we will specify the field. Let’s assume a recruiter is looking for a content writer for regulatory compliance. The search string will look like this –

content” (“strategist” OR “writer”) (“business compliance” OR “regulatory compliance“) -“editor” -“contract”

Top tips for recruiters using Boolean Search to help with their recruitment process

Persons conducting Boolean Searches often experience false positives. The key to a successful Boolean Search is repeatedly refining your search strings so that the search engine can deliver the desired search results. Here are five top tips to master Boolean Search for recruiters.

  1. Recruiters must make sure they are using UPPERCASE or ALL CAPS while conducting a Boolean Search. Using lowercase won’t work.
  2. Once a search string has provided the desired search results, a recruiter can simply save that search string. This eliminates the time spent on devising new search strings every time a search is conducted. Additionally, one has the option to modify saved search strings, saving more time.
  3. It isn’t commonly among Boolean users but it is always recommended to save a Boolean search string on a spreadsheet rather than a document. This is mainly because a document is likely to have different font faces and sizes and could impact a search string. Recruiters must always choose a spreadsheet to key in and save their search strings.
  4. Recruiters must make a bifurcated list of keywords that can be used to adapt to different search strings. By doing so, a recruiter can use variations of search strings to zero in on a potential talent pool.
  5. Recruiters must remember, spellings can be different for different regions. This is also includes variations of writing words. For instance, the word photoshop could be written as PhotoShop. Similarly, DevOps could be written as dev ops. It is important for recruiters to anticipate changes and consider language styles while creating search strings.

Like we mentioned, Boolean searches can make a recruiter’s life very easy by helping them sift through mountains of data and find a talent pool suitable to the position offered. Recruiters must remember, combining all the right elements and commands can give you accurate and efficient results – but that is not a guarantee. That is exactly why it is always recommended that users must continually refine their search strings and continue building on their search strategy in order to get favorable results.

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