What Is Boolean Search in Recruiting?

Ilona Tarnavsky

Ilona Tarnavsky

8 min read

How do you feel when your hours of candidate sourcing efforts result in a pile of unqualified candidates?

It's frustrating, isn't it?

There's nothing worse for a recruiter than wasting hours sourcing candidates that don't meet your requirements from various sources. That's why recruiters use Boolean search.

This powerful method allows you to find and filter candidates based on specific criteria, saving time and effort in your sourcing process.

In this article, we'll explain Boolean search, how to use it in your recruiting efforts, and how to find the best candidates for your open positions.

Let's start from the basics.

What Is Boolean Search in Recruitment?

Boolean search in recruitment is a method of searching for candidates using an advanced search methodology that uses multiple terms to narrow, broaden or refine search results. You can create specific searches that will return the most relevant data by combining Boolean operators and logical statements.

The boolean search uses three operators: AND, OR, and NOT. The most common way to use Boolean search is by combining two or more terms with the word "AND" between them, which means they must be present in the results.

The more specific your search criteria are, the more likely you will find a candidate who meets them all. Learning to do Boolean searches will take some time, but once you master them and use the right syntax, they can be a powerful way to locate hidden talent.

Why use Boolean search in recruitment?

Using Boolean operators and logical statements, you can create more targeted searches and save time by not filtering through irrelevant profiles.

This technique allows you to find candidates looking for specific types of roles in specific locations with specific competencies that match your requirements.

Here are some reasons you should use Boolean search in recruitment:

1. Efficient and effective.

Recruiters spend a substantial amount of time sourcing candidates for each role: on average, over 13 hours per week. This is a significant investment of time and resources, and there is no way to guarantee that you will find the right candidate who accepts the offer.

On the other hand, Boolean search is more efficient than regular search and allows you to specify the type of candidate you're looking for.

For example, if you want a person in sales who has experience selling to large corporations, a Boolean search will allow you to find those candidates more easily than a regular search.

2. Find hidden talents.

With a regular search, you can land on candidates with the specific phrase they have with their resumes. Due to this, you may miss candidates who used different words but still have the right skills, experience, and qualifications to do the job.

But with Boolean search, you can find candidates who use different words but still have the right skills, experience, and qualifications to do the job. This helps you find hidden talents you would not have found otherwise.

3. More control over the search process.

Recruiters can search an almost endless array of possible Boolean strings, allowing them to customize their sourcing strategies and control the results carefully.

This helps to ensure that you only get the candidates who are most likely to be a good fit for the position.

4. Ability to define candidate variables.

Boolean searches allow you to be more precise when defining the type of candidate that interests you. This is especially helpful if your company has the specific skills and credentials necessary for the position.

You can use a variety of variables, such as experience and education level, to match skilled candidates with job openings. Some important factors to consider include

  • Skill,
  • Education,
  • Experience level/years in the field;
  • The compensation package offered,
  • Location.

You can create a string with all these variables and search for it in the database. It will help you find only those candidates who meet your criteria.

5. Helps you exclude unnecessary profiles.

While searching for a candidate, you will find tons of irrelevant candidates that have nothing to do with the job you're looking for. But with Boolean search, you can be more specific about what you are looking for and exclude profiles that don't meet your requirements. This helps you save time and focus on the most qualified candidates.

Basic Boolean Search Operators Recruiters Should Know.

You can use several Boolean operators, from basic to advanced, and even use them together in a single search. But you have to know how each operator functions.

Here are some basic and advanced operators you should know:

Basic Operators

AND

OR

NOT

Brackets ()

Quotations “ ”

Asterisk *

Advanced Operators

TILDE ~

NEAR

FILETYPE

URL: & SITE:

INTITLE: / INTEXT: / INURL:

Let's look at each operator in detail:

A) Basic Boolean Operators.

1. AND.

The AND operator allows you to search for two or more words (keywords) at once. For example, if you want to find profiles that contain the word 'Content' and 'Writer' in them, your search would look like this:

"Content AND Writer"

To search for multiple keywords on Google and LinkedIn, or even regular job posting sites like Indeed.com, simply separate your terms with spaces rather than using the AND operator. However, when creating a string, it is necessary to use the AND operator.

2. OR.

Using the OR operator in your search string indicates that you want to see multiple entries or variables in your results. The OR operator acts to expand those results and increase their range of information.

OR is used to broaden the search results and should be used with AND when you want more specific results. If you use it along with the operator AND, your string will look like

"Content AND Writer OR Creator"

3. NOT.

The NOT operator is used to exclude words from your search results. For example: If you search for 'Content AND Writer' but do not want any pages with the word 'Editor' included in your results, then use the NOT operator.

For example: "Content AND Writer NOT Editor."

You can also use a hyphen instead of using this NOT operator.

For example: "Content AND Writer - Editor."

B) Advanced Boolean Operators.

1. TILDE ~

The TILDE symbol lets you expand or narrow your search results, depending on how you use it. That's because the keyword tagged with a tilde will also include its synonyms.

For example, when you search "~CV," it also includes variations like Curriculum vitae, CV, C.V., resume, and so forth.

To find a resume, CV, or curriculum vitae for a content writer, you might type the following string:‍

~CV "content writer" will include all search results for the content writer's document types.

2. NEAR.

The NEAR operator allows you to search for specific words or phrases that are close to each other within the text, a document, or a web page. For example, suppose you are looking for a Social media manager who also knows paid advertisement. You can use this operation to narrow down the results,

~CV "social media manager" AND (Paid NEAR Ad*).

3. FILETYPE.

If you can't find a candidate's resume on the web, try searching for incomplete versions by combining words from their name with the file type(doc) into one search. For example, if you are looking for a copywriter candidate, search for their name plus the file type "PDF."

~CV "Copywriter" FILETYPE: PDF.

4. URL: & SITE.

You can use these operators to search for relevant keywords within a specific website or URL. This is an effective way to identify niche websites where your target candidates hang out.

To manage this operator successfully, you should know your candidate well. You should understand which websites they visit, the terms they use, and what skills/experiences are likely to be relevant for them. Once you have this information, you can search for people who will be a good match for the job.

For example, if you are looking for a CV of a copywriter on any job portal, you can use the following search query.

SITE: indeed(dot)com ~CV "Copywriter" FILETYPE: PDF.

5. INTITLE: / INTEXT: / INURL:

Job seekers often create online portfolios with links to their work and application documents. Resumes or CVs are usually uploaded as a web page titled "resume" or "CV."

To search for these resume pages or links within a website, use the intitle or intext operators. To find relevant URLs, use the INURL operator.

An example is

SITE: indeed(dot)com Copywriter (inurl:resume OR inurl:cv OR inurl:portfolio).

Boolean Search Modifiers.

Search modifiers are a set of characters or symbols you add to your search query that modifies how Google Search interprets it. They help you narrow down your results by adding or removing certain items from the search results page.

Here are the three common Boolean search modifiers you should use:

1. Brackets ().

The operators in a search expression specify which parts of the search take priority over other elements. They allow you to emphasize, compare or exclude sections of a search expression.

For example,

"Content AND Writer AND (B2B Writer or B2C Writer) - Editor - Freelancer"

This string eliminates candidates with the phrases "editor" and "freelancer" in their CVs.

2. Quotations " "

Quotations are used to search for an exact phrase by enclosing it with double quotation marks. For example, "Content AND Writer" will return results with both words in the same order. If you want an exact match, then use double quotation marks around your search expression, just like,

"Content writer"

3. Asterisk *.

The asterisk can be used as a wild card to look for variants of your keyword. Put the asterisk after the stem word or keyword itself; it will still match all variations. But don't add this to the quotation. Otherwise, the search result will have the exact phrase.

For example, if you want to find writing-related terms such as "content writer" or "content creation," search for them with an asterisk following the stem word. For instance: "content writ*" or "co

The asterisk is usually recognized by applicant tracking systems and job boards, but not LinkedIn. It also has limited effectiveness on Google searches.

Tips for Using Boolean Search in Recruitment.

Though Boolean search is all about finding the right combination of words to find what you need, there's still much more to learn when using this search method. Here are some tips to help you get started with the Boolean search:

1. Create and use candidate personas.

A candidate persona is a detailed description of the ideal candidate for a particular position. The candidate's skills, experience, education, and personal characteristics should be included.

Create a custom candidate persona for every open role by working with hiring managers to distinguish job must-haves from nice-to-haves. This will help you refine your Boolean search strings and accurately narrow down your results—allowing you to recruit the right people for each position.

2. Be specific in your Boolean search strings.

Use the most focused and specific terms possible. This will help you narrow your search results and find candidates with the right skills, experience, education, and personal characteristics for each role.

Ensure that you create your Boolean search strings based on job descriptions and requirements, not just the job title.

3. Modify the search string.

If you require complex search criteria, remember that the more terms and operators within your search string, the narrower your results will become. While such a detailed approach can help you identify an ideal candidate quickly, it may eliminate other qualified individuals from consideration by mistake.

That's why reviewing your search strings and modifying them as needed is crucial.

4. Record strings that are providing results.

When you've identified successful search terms, write them down. This way, future searches will go faster because you won't have to create new strings every time.

You'll also be able to identify patterns in your search results, which can help you refine your terms even further. For example, if you notice that the same set of operations always leads to qualified candidates, you can modify your search terms to focus on that set of operations.

5. Filter the results further.

It's easy to get a false positive during the Boolean search. No matter how specific and complex your search string is, an irrelevant result may find its way into the mix—and then you have to decide which results are important enough for you.

Each result must be carefully reviewed and trusted only if it meets the requirements.

Limitations of Boolean search.

While Boolean search is a very powerful method, it also has its limitations. That's why it's essential to know the limitations of Boolean search.

1. No guarantee for accurate results.

First, the Boolean search can be very complex. It takes time, effort, and expertise to create the right set of terms to produce the desired results. The second problem with Boolean search is that you may end up with inaccurate results. It's impossible to construct a string of keywords that will match the most relevant content for a given query—what happens instead is either too many or too few candidates.

2. It's slow.

As you have to construct a string of keywords, it's not uncommon for a Boolean search to take longer than a regular one. The process is even slower if you are not using the right keywords.

3. It may exclude qualified candidates.

Though Boolean search is great at narrowing down your results, it can also exclude qualified candidates. The reason is simple: when you use a Boolean search, you narrow down your results by what is available in the database. This means that if someone has never used a particular word, it's unlikely they will show up for your query.

4. Time-consuming.

The Boolean search can be time-consuming, especially if you have to sift through multiple job portals. Moreover, some operators won't work on popular platforms like LinkedIn. This makes it even more difficult to find the candidates you're looking for.

5. Limited to specific search platforms and databases.

Boolean search relies on specific operators and syntax that all search platforms and databases may not support. This means that the results from a Boolean search on one platform may not be the same as those on another, even if you use the same search terms and operators.

6. Requires a good understanding of Boolean logic.

To effectively use a Boolean search, you need to have a good understanding of Boolean logic and be able to construct complex search queries using a combination of operators and keywords. This can be difficult for people unfamiliar with the syntax and rules of Boolean logic. It requires a bit of time and practice to master.

How about getting an AI Sourcing Assistant with Covey?

There is no doubt that a Boolean search is a powerful method that can be useful for finding specific information or narrowing down search results. However, it also has limitations, such as its complexity, the potential for inaccurate results, and the need for a good understanding of Boolean logic.

As a recruiter, you’d rather spend time on building relationships and closing candidates. That's why it's essential to leverage powerful solutions that outperform Boolean search and provide better results.

This is where Covey's Augmented sourcing comes in. Covey's Augmented Sourcing solution allows recruiters to focus their time and energy on recruiting the right candidates.

With Covey’s AI sourcing assistant, you can specify your ideal candidate with your exact requirements and get a list of the exact candidates that you want. The best part is that it is completely automated, so you don't have to spend hours manually searching for candidates. All you have to do is get in touch with the qualified candidates that Covey brings in and accelerate the rate at which you fill your open positions.

You don't need to try costly trial and error methods to land the right people. Schedule a free demo, and we will show you how you can make quality hires 10X faster and at 1/10 of the time.

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across all talent teams.

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