The Internet offers many tools and techniques we can implement in our recruitment process to find suitable candidates.  One of them is an online search that relies on a search engine and a combination of keywords and logical operators to create a search string and produce relevant results. The name itself stems from the father of Boolean logic, George Boole, who was an English mathematician, philosopher, and logician. Seems complicated and difficult? Not at all! Boolean search is one of the most popular sourcing techniques and you might have already used it numerous times without even realizing it.

Start with the basics: logical operators

The key logical operators employed in Boolean search are AND, OR, and NOT. These are just common English words, and their use in the logical sense is rather intuitive as well. Let’s say we want to search for candidates who know both Java and JavaScript programming languages. That’s when we use the AND operator to combine the two words and type the string into our search engine. In this case we would choose Java AND JavaScript.

If either of the languages suffices, we use the OR operator instead. If for some reason, we need to exclude a word, the NOT operator will prove handy (it’s a great way to eliminate job offers from our results). While forming a Boolean string, remember to always type the operators in the uppercase, to make sure that the search engine treats them as Boolean operators and not just regular words.

Make the string organized and concise

These are the basics of Boolean search, but its real advantage lies in its ability to support more advanced recruitment needs with just a few other simple modifiers and commands. Parentheses help organize our keywords and instruct the search engine on which ones should take precedence in the search. Using parentheses in the string (Java OR JavaScript) AND (Developer OR Engineer) would ensure the search engine understands the logic the way we intend it to.

Quotation marks combine several words into one expression, e.g. after typing “New York” we should see results related to this city/state, whereas, without the quotation marks, the search engine will search for each word separately.

Sometimes we might want to search for variations of a particular word, e.g develop. Instead of typing them all and expanding our string, we can use the asterisk (*) as a wild card character and replace a prefix or suffix of our word. For example, Java AND develop* would look for terms such as Java AND developer, Java AND development, Java AND developing.

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Use commands to be more specific

There’s a solution in Boolean search that allows us to find documents according to their extension, e.g. pdf or .doc. For this purpose, include the command filetype: after which we can specify the required file format,  eg. filetype:pdf AND resume .  Notice that there’s no space after the colon.  

So far we have searched through all resources indexed by the search engine, but it’s also possible to limit the search to a particular website or a place on the website. The commands and examples of their uses are as follows:

  • site: -> AND “Java Developer” should return results of Java Developers from among the users of LinkedIn
  • inurl: -> inurl:resume searches for the word resume in the address of a website
  • intitle: -> intitle:resume checks for the specified word in the title of a website

Again, remember not to include any space after the colon in our search strings.

The last two commands are particularly useful for IT recruitment processes because software developers often create their private websites where they share their experience and competencies.

Feel free to explore

Boolean search is not limited to one search engine. After trying out Google, we can compare our results from Bing, Yahoo, or other, less mainstream engines.  Even some Applicant Tracking Systems, including Hello Astra, allow Boolean search in their search features.

We can freely manipulate the length of the string. The more keywords we add (e.g. candidates’ competencies or job titles they might hold), the fewer results we get. On the upside, these results will probably be more detailed and relevant to our needs.  However, if the results prove unsatisfactory after all, remember you can always use the OR operator with new keywords to expand your search.

A final word of advice: while experimenting with the strings, it’s a good idea to note them down to keep track of the keywords and their combinations. On the one hand you don’t have to write down long strings from the beginning each time – you can use the “copy-paste” technique. On the other hand, you can compare their effectiveness, and avoid repetition. This will give the search process clarity and structure.

Anna Dyga

Recruitment Specialist 

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