Boolean Search Operators: How to Maximize your Search to Find Great Candidates by Mile Živković on Jun 3, 2019

If someone were to ask you right now if you knew how to google something, you’d probably tell them – who doesn’t? After all, searching for things online has become second nature for many of us. In fact, it may be the exact way that you landed on this exciting blog post.

But what if I told you that the way you use search is actually very basic and that you’re merely scratching the surface of great results? It’s true, there’s so much more to using search, whether it’s Google or some other engine. You can do it too – using Boolean search operators.

Not only will they make your Google searches more effective, but they will also help you uncover better job candidates in less time.

What are Boolean search operators?

You may not have heard of him, but George Boole was a pretty important person. He was a mathematician that lived some two centuries ago and who created the Boolean logic in his lifetime. Boolean logic is a mathematical theory with a range of variables, such as AND, OR and others.

You may be thinking that this doesn’t have much to do with modern-day search engines. However, Boolean logic is embedded into every modern piece of technology, including Google and recruiters’ favorite, LinkedIn. This means that you can use them to improve your searches, regardless of the platform you’re on.

There are a total of five basic Boolean search operators:

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT
  • ()
  • “”

So, how does that help you as a recruiter? In short, it makes your searches laser-precise, so that every time you do a search, you don’t have to waste precious time finding that ideal candidate.

How to use Boolean search operators to find better candidates

You don’t need any special tools or skill sets to master searching with Boolean operators. All you need is your set of keywords and a combination of the five operators from above, and you’re good to go.

Let’s start with AND. As its name suggests, this tool combines two keywords in a search to get results that contain both of them.

AND operator

For example, if , hypothetically, we’d like to search for a document, or anything else for that matter, that contains both Lebron James and Rajon Rondo, we would type in the following:

“Lebron James” AND “Rajon Rondo”

(more on quotes a bit later)

But, if you are looking for someone for your marketing team, it would look something like this:

growth AND marketing manager

We are going to get only those candidates that have both growth and marketing manager in their profiles – not candidates that have just one of these terms. If you’re looking for a very specific skill set, you can add search terms to niche down even further.

The OR operator is the exact opposite. By using it, you get all the results that contain both the keywords you listed.

OR operator

Again, if we take the example from the illustration, if you’d like to search for a document that contains either Lebron James or Rajon Rondo, you would type the following:

“Lebron James” OR “Rajon Rondo”

But, let’s say you’re looking for a new member of your hiring team:

Recruiting OR hiring manager

If you type this in, you will get a larger result list – candidates that have either one of these terms or just one of them. If you want the largest possible search result list using given terms, this is the operator to use.

The NOT operator does exactly what you think – it eliminates keywords from a search.

NOT operator

Now, if you just want the documents that contain Lebron James only:

“Lebron James” NOT “Rajon Rondo”

And, back to your marketing team. You need someone experienced in SEO, but not really the technical part of it:

SEO manager NOT technical

This means you are searching for a candidate who is an SEO manager but does not do technical SEO. Instead of using NOT, you can also use the minus sign, without space, e.g. –technical.

Moving on to quotation marks. This operator means you are searching for a specific phrase, i.e. a combination of keywords. For example, if you search for an angular developer, Google or LinkedIn will interpret the blank space as AND. On the other hand, if you run the search as:

“angular developer”

this means you are searching for the exact phrase and the results won’t show uses of these keywords on their own, only the specific term in the quotation marks. Use this operator only when you want to narrow down on a specific term (that has more than one word).

Finally, brackets make the whole thing more interesting by allowing you to combine operators. If you knew how to use them in math, you’ll know how they work here as well. If not, here’s a small refresher. For example:

(content OR SEO) AND marketing

I am telling LinkedIn that I want someone who has either content or SEO in their profile (or both) and they also need to have marketing. Let’s flip it around:

Content OR (SEO AND marketing)

In this case, we’re looking for someone with content or a combination of SEO and marketing. Searching for the right person can get quite complicated if you want an exact skill set, and brackets are a good tool to single out exactly the terms you need.

Before starting out with your search…

Note that your search will only be as good as your keywords. If you’re recruiting in an unfamiliar field (for example, you’re searching for developers in fairly new technology), do your research first. If you’re looking for someone who has working knowledge of five different programming languages, it could be that you set your bar too high – not that the search results are skewed.

Once you get a hang of it, you can use a combination of these operators, coupled with proper keywords, to find great candidates just by using search.

PS. If you want to use Google specifically, it has a range of commands that go beyond Boolean operators. You can take a look at this page to find a list of advanced Google search commands. Not all of them are useful for recruiting purposes, but it’s worth a look.

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