BOO-lean! Get it?

I know, I know… but it’s nearly Halloween and I’m feeling festive, so forgive the pun. The Boolean search is a powerful and important tool in the recruiter arsenal, but the idea of Boolean searching might sound totally mysterious and even a little scary to those of you unfamiliar with the practice. There’s nothing to fear here though, let’s look at Boolean searches, operators and terms together. We’ll define what they are and how to best use them in your recruiting process.

NOTE: For those advanced Boolean-ers out there, this post probably isn’t for you. This article will be more of an entry into the world of Boolean and might be a bit basic for advanced users. I invite you to check out our Recruitment Bias series, parts one and two of our Inbound Recruiting series or stay on the Boolean subject with Glen Cathey’s thorough LinkedIn presentation on advanced Boolean searching here.

If you’re in our boat and want to start at the beginning of the Boolean subject, we’re happy to have you ride along. Now let’s get to it!

What is a Boolean search?

One basic definition of a Boolean search, which can be made up by operators or strings, is, “a system of showing relationships between sets by using the words AND, OR, and NOT.”

So take your standard search functionality. Boolean searching allows you to combine certain terms, eliminate unwanted terms and drill down to increasingly specific search results (if you build your “search strings” correctly). Kerri Mills runs through a great example that I’ll paraphrase below.

Boolean operators

Break the complexities of a Boolean search down into the operators that make it work. Those are:
1. Quotations
2. AND
3. OR
4. NOT
5. Parenthesis

NOTE: the capitalization of operators isn’t necessarily critical. You don’t always have to capitalize your AND, OR and NOT terms when using boolean searches, but it will help you stay organized when building larger strings…like looking for an Senior Software Architect with c#” AND “” AND “sql server” AND (java OR j2ee OR “jsp” OR servlet OR “ejb” OR “jms”) AND html AND xml AND “css” AND Oracle AND (unix OR linux) AND (“app development” OR “arch” OR design OR develop OR hadoop OR python OR rails OR “php” OR websphere OR tomcat OR “big data” OR spring OR hibernate OR eclipse OR log4j OR “ant” OR maven OR “ooad” OR “uml” OR mvc OR “jsf” OR velocity OR struts).

Boolean searching with Quotations

The use of quotations in your search phrase is perfect for occasions when you only want specific phrases returned in your results.

Mills uses the example of a Java Developer. So, in the case where you only want Java Developer returned in your results, you use “java developer” in the search. Your results will only include choices that have java developer in that exact order. No yadda yadda yadda developer yadda yadda yadda java yadda yadda, only java developer.

But what if you need to find a candidate who should be listing two (or more) keywords in their profiles? This is where the AND operator enters your Boolean search.

Boolean searching with AND

I’m sure it would be rare for you to only need one single skill/phrase, but it does happen. You’ll probably use that search in specific cases, towards the end or beginning of your sourcing task. More often than not, you’re going to be looking for multiple skills, combinations of exact phrases and multifaceted terms that need to be differentiated from their multiple meanings. This is where long-form strings come into play, but more on that later.

For now, the way you will search for two specific terms, not in any particular order, in a profile is by using “AND” between your desired terms.

Using Mills’ Java example, say you want to find candidates who have “Java” and “Python” keywords in their profiles. Well, search it just like that: java AND python. This will return only profiles with those two specific terms included anywhere in their profiles.

NOTE: With more AND, usually comes less results.

Using AND does not mean your results will include your desired terms in a specific order. You need quotations for those results. With AND, the terms simply have to be included anywhere in the profile.

Consider our yadda yadda example. Yadda yadda yadda developer yadda yadda yadda java yadda yadda would qualify as a result for your AND string.

Boolean searching with OR

Maybe you want more results. Quotations and the AND are just a little too narrow for you. Use the OR operator between your terms to have results that include either of those terms anywhere in the candidate’s profile. You can also search for skills with OR in the place of the AND described above.

Searching for java OR python will deliver all the results with either of these terms in their profile (and also the profiles with both of the terms- you’re not limited to profiles of only a single of your terms). You’re probably going to get the largest quantity of results with the use of OR.

See below for a couple yadda yadda examples of results by using OR:
Yadda yadda yadda developer yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda – profiles with something like this will be returned.

Yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda java yadda yadda – profiles with something like this will also be returned.

Boolean searching with NOT

By now in our ongoing example, you’re searching for engineers with java experience, but your results are completely inundated with results that have coffee for some reason. Well, java has multiple meanings, but you clearly don’t want all of those irrelevant results. This would be a great time to use NOT in your search.

Use your desired term with NOT inserted before your term’s undesired alternative meaning. For Mills’ example of java developers, you would search for java NOT coffee to find better results. Java is just one example, but I’m sure you run into this problem pretty often with the myriad of job titles, skills and qualifications floating around the economy.

Boolean searching with Parenthesis

Now we’re getting into more complex territory (and really, complexity is where Boolean can shine once you master it). Parenthesis allow you to combine terms, phrases and modifiers in single searches.

So, say you simply need to find a candidate who knows Java, but you don’t care if he or she is an architect or an engineer. Use the search string java AND (engineer OR architect) and voila! Your results will include candidates who have the keywords java + engineer and java + architect in their profiles.

NOTE: We thought the Java example from Kerri Mills was a great illustration of the basic differences between Boolean searches. You can find more advice and insights from Kerri at her Twitter handle, @thejobgirl.

Timeout for some quick links

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we’re going to look at Boolean searches with increased complexity. Before we get to that topic though, here are a couple resources that you might want to keep handy for your advanced searching journey.

Digging deeper into Google searches

Arron Daniels of Northrop Grumman put together a short article that explains some oft-forgotten Google search tricks. Take a look at his article if you’re interested in learning about info commands, link-to-searches and related searches.

Advanced Google search functions (from the source)

Take a look at this support article from Google’s help team. It gives you a list of punctuation and symbols that can be used in your search queries. This is a good page to bookmark for later.

Prepare for deep search: Boolean dives deeper

First the disclaimer, you’re not going to master Boolean with this blog post and a few extra minutes of your time. It’s an art as much as it is a science, both taking time to understand and then master. Don’t fret though, the time you save in future searches will greatly outweigh the time spent learning which terms, operators and strings work best for you, your niche and your industry.

Start simple and build from there

Say you already know you want to start your sourcing with LinkedIn and you need to find a Data Scientist. You can go directly to LinkedIn and start testing Boolean strings in its search bar. Or, you can simply use the Google search bar. We’re going to walk through some suggestions for the strings you can create to return the results you would most likely need. For these particular example strings, you would enter them right into your Google search bar. (The following links will show you the results of each respective search.)

Simply remove the beginning from your string if you choose to use the site’s or social network’s built in search bar.

First, try this string: “data scientist”

This candidate must know Java: “data scientist” AND java

This candidate must know Java and Python: “data scientist” AND (java AND python)

This candidate must know Java, Python and have experience as a senior software engineer (for some reason-we’re just spitballing an example here): “data scientist” and (java and python) and “senior software engineer”

This candidate must know Java, Python and have experience with a few specific practices: ”data scientist” AND (java AND python) AND (sas OR r)

NOTE: Does this example make sense to you? Or maybe you have some experience with building strings that you would like to share. Please do! We would love to see your successful examples for specific roles and positions.

Keep learning about Boolean

Your Boolean success will depend on your ability to embrace and shape it to your needs. Boolean works across websites and social networks. So try LinkedIn, your industry favorites, or big company directories that list their employees.

As you continue to learn, keep in mind that there are some terrific Boolean experts out there exploring the subject. We’re going to come back to this subject, but until we do, check out these useful resources.

1) Glen Cathey and Boolean Black Belt– we mentioned his slidedeck at the beginning of this post. Here is his blog that’s dedicated to sourcing, recruiting and Boolean searching.

2) Alicia Priselac writes on Sourcecon about using Boolean strings for Sourcing Beyond LinkedIn For Experienced Big 4 Candidates. She addresses specific candidates in a specific industry, but it’s a helpful to walk through her approach and logic (which you can adopt in your own recruitment process).

Download our free Boolean PDF cheat sheet!

We created a helpful PDF to make your Boolean journey a little easier. Feel free to download our free cheat sheet and keep it handy as you start to experiment with Boolean searches of your own. Just click on the image below to download a copy.

Boolean Search Operators by Jobjet