Here we are again taking a look at the mighty Boolean search when it’s used for sourcing candidates in your recruiting process. We first visited this subject a few weeks ago and the topic really benefited our readers, so we decided to dive a little deeper this time. If you haven’t read Part 1 of our Boolean exploration, I invite you to do so here (note though, it’s not necessarily critical if you already understand Boolean basics).

Let’s quickly cover the Boolean basics

OK, so Boolean searches work thanks to their “operators,” which are:

  1. Quotations
  2. AND
  3. OR
  4. NOT
  5. Parenthesis

So, if you’re looking for a candidate who needs to know Java, Python and have experience with a few specific practices, you could enter the following string into your Google search bar: “data scientist” AND (java AND python) AND (sas OR r)

If this section doesn’t make sense to you, you should probably head back to Part 1 and familiarize yourself with the Boolean basics. Sure, you might be able to copy and paste some successful string examples when you find  them online (and you might even get decent results from time to time), but it will greatly help you to understand why you’re getting the results you’re getting.

Understanding the basic Boolean framework will also help you understand what you’re missing and why you’re missing it.

You must ask the right questions first

Why are the “right questions” important? Because the questions you ask when beginning your searches and building your search strings will determine the quality and the quantity of the candidates who return in your results. Obviously?

But wait!

You’re searching millions of potential candidates. A misguided question at the beginning of your process, at that scale, is a bit like a ship leaving New York City with a path that’s a just a few degrees off on its way to England. At these scales and distances, small mistakes at the beginning can throw you way off course.

If your candidate searches keep returning thousands of unhelpful candidates (or the same candidates over and over again), it may be your initial questions and direction to blame.

“…you may be completely oblivious to the fact that you might be missing out on 80% of who you could be finding.”

-Glen Cathey via LinkedIn’s Talent Connect event in London

How could you possibly miss 80% of LinkedIn’s potential candidate pool? Simple, because you might not be asking the right early questions. You might not be asking who you’re really searching for in LinkedIn.

Take two LinkedIn Profiles (A and B).

LinkedIn Profile A

  • Completely filled out with a CV level of information
  • Keywords for skills, experience and qualifications listed and used frequently
  • Kept up-to-date

LinkedIn Profile B

  • Either not filled out or completed with the absolute bare amount necessary to keep an active account

Now, why would two professionals keep their profiles so drastically different? They’re using their profiles for different reasons. It wouldn’t be a big leap of faith to say that profile A belongs to someone who wants to be found and profile B belongs to someone who either doesn’t care if he/she is found or actively does not want it.

In some cases, you can even factor in profile C, which is built to actively dissuade you from finding them. Profiles B and C don’t want your InMail, your “unique opportunity” or any other spam they’re tired of receiving.

These differences sound a lot like the differences between active and passive candidates. Or, those who are looking (and sometimes creatively bolstering their profiles to align with certain searches) versus those passive candidates who are perfect for the job, but apathetic towards it.

These differences are also why your LinkedIn searches are only returning what Glen Cathey calls “the tip of the iceberg.” You’re most likely seeing candidates with profiles filled with keywords. These candidates aren’t necessarily the best options for your job. Through luck or savviness, these candidates used the right keywords more times than other candidates in their profiles.

Are keywords ruining your strings?

The reason we’re talking about keywords and questions is that you might build the best strings on earth, and still only find the candidates who are keyword layering their profiles. These candidates are also getting the most attention from other recruiters because of their keyword-dense profiles. They’re being found more, responding less and might not even fit the mold that you need in the first place.

Many talented professionals simply make profiles to keep up with old acquaintances and coworkers. These basic users abbreviate, misspell and leave out details all over their profiles. This lack of attention shouldn’t disqualify them from your search or signal incompetence. These pros might be incredibly skilled and experienced. So much so, they don’t care if they’re recruited on LinkedIn or not. Many of these people would rather you didn’t find them. Unless, of course, you have their dream job.

Thousands of profiles might have job titles misspelled, industries abbreviated and schooling left out altogether. You can be sure that you’re not finding these people in your searches, no matter how long your strings are, if you’re not experimenting with your strings to find them.

This is where a solid set of questions and an intuitive approach can help your LinkedIn sourcing efforts.

Iterate on your search terms

When you build your Boolean strings, are you thinking of exactly what you should be searching for, in addition to who you want to find? A single search won’t return your perfect list of candidates. However, by running multiple searches, you can come close to that goal.

Let’s let Glen describe running multiple searches for “Maximum Inclusion.”

For this part of the conversation, I suggest you watch until the 22:40 mark. This particular segment is about three minutes long. The entire video and presentation is brilliant though, and well worth watching after this article.

“I’m not looking to recruit yet, I’m looking to learn.”

-Glen Cathey

What other words could relate to your search term?

Use LinkedIn to learn the phrases that are being used by your ideal candidates (these phrases will be alternate terms, synonymous phrases or related words to your basic search terms). LinkedIn doesn’t force users to use common names of companies, job titles or skills. It offers immediate suggestions in dropdown lists, but let’s assume that everyone doesn’t care enough to use those suggestions (or, many users prefer to enter their information in their own words).

Employees and past employees could be listing your ideal resume on their profile, but it might be written with words that aren’t on your keyword list.

So, the next time you write a search string, ask yourself (and LinkedIn), what other words, terms and phrases will my ideal candidate be using?

Continue learning the Boolean language

Full disclosure: I am no expert on this topic (and most topics, I should say). So, I proudly stood on the shoulders of giants for today’s post. The main giant here is a Boolean superman named Glen Cathey. He’s the guy behind many of the ideas we explored in this piece, ideas like:

  • questioning your search terms
  • iteration
  • experimentation

If you haven’t heard of him before, I can’t recommend his blog enough for even more (and varied) Boolean, recruiting and search learning. The video we referenced above can be found in its entirety here and you can follow along with the slides he used here. Follow him on Twitter here.


The subject we covered here touches on a situation that can affect every stage of the recruiting process, from sourcing candidates like we talked about, to simply organizing your pipelines or sending out cold emails. The situation is this:

You might not know what you don’t know, and this thing you don’t know might be hurting your results.

A scientific approach to your process is the only way to combat this problem. There’s no silver bullet, just like there’s no perfect candidate or perfectly efficient process. However, approaching your work with a mind that’s thinking differently can allow you to occasionally step back and question your results.

  • Why do I keep getting the same candidates?
  • Am I getting the same candidates as everyone else, and if so, how do I differentiate my results?
  • Are my recruiting tools saving me time or can they be used better?
  • Is my messaging turning off qualified candidates?

Healthy skepticism every now and then can lead to experimentation and improvement. Hey, you might be perfect already (you certainly are in our eyes). Take a step back just to make sure though. Your Boolean search results and clients will be glad you did.