One of the best problems we can have in recruiting is a candidate pool which is too big.
Our advertisements and word of mouth have gotten us so many candidates that it now
seems impossible to sort through them all. Fortunately, every problem has a solution,
and Boolean Searches are exactly how we can easily and efficiently organize large sets
of data. Whether you are well versed in Boolean Searches or are hearing of them for
the first time, this guide offers a comprehensive overview of the tools you can use to
make short work of large data sets. Let’s take a look!
1. Understanding Boolean Searches
2. Identifying Accurate Keywords
3. Increasing Search Results with AND
4. Eliminating Unnecessary Results with NOT
5. Combining Search Results with OR
6. Creating Singular Terms with Parentheses
7. Getting Specific with Quotation Marks
8. Extrapolating with Asterisks
9. Capturing Synonyms with Tilde
10. Specifying Sources with SITE:
11. Controlling Format with FILETYPE:
12. Increasing Searches with NEAR
13. Reexamining Our Search String
Understanding Boolean Searches
The name “Boolean Search” comes from the creator George Boole, a 19 th Century
English mathematician. George Boole created a system for queries which find specific
results using special conditions, or “Boolean Operators.” Boolean Operators are
individual terms recognized by the computer which help to specify the intent of your
search. Operators are typed in all uppercase (AND, OR, NOT) so that the computer
recognizes them within a search string.
alt="George Boole Mathematician Picture" width="1250" height="600">
So how can we use Boolean Operators to sort through large collections of resumes?
Normally to find candidates, many recruiters will log into a job board and simply type
“Sales” to see what candidates they can find. But rarely will any sales experience do,
and with thousands of results, the recruiter will spend hours scanning for the
background, training, and skillsets they need. It would be much more beneficial if the
recruiter could search “Business to Business medical equipment sales,” but doing so
may confuse the computer or return less than desirable results.
This is why Boolean Operators are so powerful: they allow us to translate our needs into
a form the computer can understand. In the above example, the most efficient search a
recruiter could make would be:
(Business to Business OR B2B) Sale* (Medic* OR Healthcare) ~Equipment NOT
(Outside OR “Customer Facing”)
It may look like gibberish to you and I, but a computer can read through that sentence
and immediately return the exact candidates we’re looking for. Let’s take a look at the
individual components which make up a complete Boolean Search.
Identifying Accurate Keywords
The first thing it’s important to understand is what exactly you are trying to find! In the
earlier example, we needed a salesperson, so “Sales” was the keyword that we were
modifying. Recruiters may be looking for Pilots, or Lawyers, or Registered Nurses, all of
which are the basis which we modify for our search. From here, we can add Boolean
Operators (also sometimes called Modifiers) to specify exactly what subsection of the
keyword we are trying to reach.
Increasing Search Results with AND
<img src="https://www.tarleton.edu/library/images/boolean-and.jpg" alt="Boolean And
Venn Diagram Search" width="300" height="250">
One of the most common Boolean Operators is AND. When used in a search, AND will
return all results which include both your keywords. It is helpful to remove searches
which only hold one of the keywords, allowing you much greater specificity with your
results. For example, if our recruiter was searching for sales with specific experience
managing inventory, they may search “Sales AND Inventory.” That way, any candidates
with only sales or only inventory experience are excluded, immediately narrowing down
the candidate pool. “Customer Service AND Retail.” “Accounting AND Auditing.” By
combining these skillsets, you empower your applicant pool with multi-faceted
candidates able to do everything your company needs. AND is one of the most common
operators; in fact, on sites such as LinkedIn and Google, simply putting a space
between two words will be counted as AND, allowing you to save time by simply typing
“Sales Inventory” and letting the computer do the rest!
Eliminating Unnecessary Results with NOT
<img src="https://www.tarleton.edu/library/images/boolean-not.jpg" alt="Boolean OR
Venn Diagram" width="300" height="250">
The opposite of AND, NOT allows you to immediately exclude any results which contain
the specified word. There are many job titles which overlap across industries; for
example, perhaps you are recruiting for an office manager, but you keep finding
resumes for managers of fast-food franchises. In this case, “Manager AND Office” could
certainly help, but an even more effective search would be “Manager NOT Franchise.”
That way, any resumes which mention fast food-franchises, even those which have
“Office” in them, will be excluded. “Administrator NOT School.” “Customer Service NOT
In addition to NOT, the minus symbol (-) can also be added to the front of a word
without a space to remove it from the results (-School, -Phone). While the (-) Operator is
commonly used, it is important to note that Google does not recognize it, and NOT
should be used on that site instead. Removing terms using NOT or (-) can automatically
save you hours of sorting; later, we’ll discuss ways to include multiple NOTs within one
Combining Search Results with OR
<img src="https://www.tarleton.edu/library/images/boolean-or.jpg" alt="Boolean OR
Venn Diagram" width="300" height="250">
NOT is an excellent tool for narrowing our search results; OR is a great way to widen
them. While OR is technically interpreted as “at least one is required, more than one or
all can be returned,” OR is most easily understood as “One or more.” OR is extremely
useful for capturing synonyms; for example, let’s say you’re looking for someone in
Human Resources, but repeatedly you miss resumes labeled as HR. The Boolean
Operator will allow you to search for “Human Resources OR HR,” capturing both
versions within the results. “Information Technology OR IT.” “Senior OR Sr.” OR can
also be used when similar positions may have different titles. “Manager OR Supervisor
OR Lead” will allow you to get all three different titles, effectively tripling your candidate
pool with one word. In addition to OR, the Pipe symbol (|) is also recognized as OR,
allowing you to type “Human Resources | HR” on sites such as Monster, Google, and
Creating Singular Terms with Parentheses ( )
Parentheses Search String" width="662" height="155">
As we learn more Boolean Terms and Modifiers, our search strings are going to get
increasingly longer. In order to keep everything correctly ordered, we can start using
parenthesis. Just like we learned back in grade school, Boolean Searches have an
order of operations, or a specific order in which elements are processed. Placing
Operators in parenthesis allows you to combine those Terms and Modifiers as their own
smaller equation, making sure that they will all be considered as one object. NOT
(Remote OR Hybrid OR Travel) is much easier to write and understand than NOT
Remote, NOT Hybrid, NOT Travel. By grouping Operators within parenthesis, we can
save time AND make it easier for the computer to understand our intent.
As searches get more complex, we can add multiple sets of parenthesis to keep each
section independent – the computer will address everything in parenthesis before
anything outside of them. There are even more rules to how a computer will read our
search (for example, AND is the first modifier addressed after parenthesis), but
parenthesis should be sufficient to keep everything legible for both us and our
Getting Specific with Quotation Marks (“”)
images/…s/sites/1547/2017/04/03155827/s-quotationmark.png" alt="Boolean Quotation
Marks Search Comparison" width="1590" height="444">
As search strings get progressively more complex, the computer may start to lose track
of which terms are related and which are just next to each other. This is where quotation
marks come into play. Quotation marks allow searches for the exact phrase which was
entered, letting the computer know that the term should be considered one item.
For example, let’s say we need someone who is experienced at Inventory Management.
If we just type Inventory AND Management, we could still receive results which contain
both Inventory experience and Management experience, but not at the same time. A
candidate could have done midnight inventory stocking as their first job and gone on to
manage a river rafting company, and their resume would have Inventory AND
Management. But if we specify that the two should be considered one term and use
quotation marks, “Inventory Management,” the previous resume would be excluded.
“Medical Insurance Billing.” “Computer System Maintenance.” While this is certainly a
more complex Modifier, it provides an additional layer of specificity that can save
countless hours of work.
Extrapolating with Asterisks (*)
alt="Boolean Asterisk Extrapolation Search" width="1280" height="720">
As we discussed earlier, OR is great for helping us capture synonyms. But there can be
times where there are simply too many synonyms to spell out, or even to remember!
This is where we can use the asterisk Operator (*) to search for additional variants of
Perhaps you are recruiting for a salesperson, and you keep running into gendered
variants. You could of course search (Salesperson OR Salesman OR Saleswoman), but
it is much easier to just search Sales* to capture all variations. Searching Market* will
capture Marketing, Marketer, Marketed, and more. Manag* will include Manager,
Managed, Management, and Managing. Utilizing this technique can help to secure
candidates who may otherwise fall through the cracks.
Capturing Synonyms with Tilde (~)
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The Asterisk can be extremely useful for finding variations of a word. But there are
times when we need to cast an even wider net. The Tilde modifier is perfect for when
we need synonyms beyond just one word, as it allows us to include all synonyms for
that word. We discussed earlier how different job titles can be difficult to keep track of;
rather than searching (Manager OR Supervisor OR Lead), we can tag with the Tilde to
simply search ~Manager. This will help us include titles such as Generalist or Instructor
which we may not remember or even be aware of. We can also search ~CV to include
Curriculum Vitae, Resume, and Portfolio in our results. While utilizing Tilde does require
the computer to have a concrete understanding of the term, it can help us unlock an
entirely new candidate base hidden under a different name.
Specifying Sources with SITE:
Site Synonym Extrapolation Search" width="712" height="280">
There may be times when you need to search a specific site for a piece of information.
You may be looking for a profile on a site like LinkedIn, or searching a forum for advice
on a specific topic. Searching using the Boolean Operator “SITE:” will allow you to
restrict results only to those from that site. “Business Manager SITE:LinkedIn.com” will
only return information from LinkedIn. There are certainly built-in search abilities on
many websites, but searching using an external algorithm can return different or
alternate results, broadening the pool. And some sites, such as the forum Reddit.com,
have notoriously weak internal search abilities; utilizing “SITE:” will allow you to use the
much more powerful and optimized Google search engine to unlock a new wealth of
previously inaccessible information.
Controlling Format with FILETYPE:
semrush---filetype-example.webp" alt="Boolean File Type PDF Specify Search"
As we search for the perfect candidate, it can be difficult to secure all the information we
need to both evaluate and contact them. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a
candidate profile, only to find that they don’t have an attached resume with their contact
information. We can avoid this by specifying the specific type of file we are seeking; the
most common are (FILETYPE:PDF) and (FILETYPE:DOCX). By specifying the desired
file type, we can eliminate results which only display candidate information, or require a
paywall to access the file itself. As most resumes and CVs are saved in .PDF format,
specifying CV~ (FILETYPE:PDF) can help you identify only downloadable. PDFs with
valuable candidate leads. Use file type within specific websites to locate resumes, or
across the whole of Google to pull individual documents.
Increasing Searches with NEAR
content/uploads/sites/33/2017/05/PGproximity.png" alt="Boolean Proximity Search Near
Target" width="698" height="385">
Finally, we may need to increase our search results after several searches fail to find
the desired results. Utilizing the Operator NEAR between two words will find results in
which they occur within a certain number of words, typically between 1-10 words. If we
are having difficulty finding a Software Developer, but don’t just want to look for just a
Developer, we can try Software NEAR Developer. While this more open-ended search
may potentially return undesired results, it can also find phrasing which we may not
have considered, or find experience with both Software and Development in a unique
context. NEAR is useful during the finishing stages of a search, or when traditional
searches are returning empty, by providing a final sweep of any lingering candidates.
Reexamining Our Search String
At the beginning of this article, we created a search string for a recruiter trying to find a
candidate with Business-to-Business medical equipment sales experience. We came up
with the following Boolean string:
(Business to Business OR B2B) Sale* (Medic* OR Healthcare) ~Equipment NOT
(Outside OR “Customer Facing”)
Now that we have a functional knowledge of Boolean Operators, let’s dissect this string
to see exactly what we’re searching for!
The first set of parenthesis denotes the Business-to-Business qualification, and includes
B2B to secure candidates who use abbreviations.
Next, Sale* is the Keyword we have identified, and have included the asterisk to also
capture Sales and Salesperson/woman/man.
The second set of parenthesis modifies the type of Equipment being sold, with Medic*
including medical, medication, and medicinal in addition to Healthcare.
~Equipment was tagged with the Tilde to also include Supplies, Instruments, and
Because we are specifically looking for Business-to-Business sales experience, we
want to remove any mentions of Outside sales, as well as get rid of Customer Facing
positions. However, we don’t want to remove any resume with the word Customer, so
we make sure “Customer Facing” is considered one term.
And we have created a search! There are aspects we can tweak, add, or even remove
depending on the results we receive, but this will offer a much more specific foundation
than simply typing “Sales” and hoping for the best.
No matter what candidate you are seeking or platform you are using, Boolean Searches
are a fantastic way to increase the value of your candidate pool while saving untold time
and money. Whether your search employs a single NOT or a multi-line string of
Operators, you are now equipped with tools which make you a better recruiter,
researcher, and digital navigator. Now get out there and uncover a wealth of new