Do you need boolean searches in recruiting?

The pros & cons of boolean searches in recruitment

September 15, 2022

Boolean Searches in Recruitment - Google search screen

Finding the perfect candidate can be challenging for recruiters. When you have hundreds of applicants for one job, or you are trying to find passive candidates, it can be hard to navigate and discover new talent. One way to make this process easier is using a boolean search. Let’s take a look at the role of boolean searches in recruitment and whether you need to learn them as a recruiter.

A boolean search is a type of advanced search that search engines like Google and many ATS platforms use. Using the shared language of boolean searches, you can quickly expand or restrict your online searches.

How are boolean searches used in recruiting?

Finding suitable candidates is difficult. Whether you are trying to find the right candidate among people who have already applied or you are looking for someone new, there’s a lot to digest. Recruiters use booleans to add parameters to their searches. Instead of being overwhelmed by looking at everyone, boolean searches let recruiters get specific by removing or adding candidates to meet their criteria.

If you are new to conducting boolean searches, they can be pretty complicated. To use booleans, first, you must become familiar with the operators that search engines use, then you can combine them to conduct complex searches.

Understand basic boolean operators

First, let’s go over some basic boolean operators you will use to conduct these complex searches as a recruiter. Operators are the phrases you can input into search engines to change the outcome of a search.

AND (+)
The AND or + (plus sign) operator narrows your search by requiring two or more terms to be listed for a result to be relevant.

Example: “social media manager” +”Microsoft Excel” +”Canva”
The AND operator could be great if you want to find someone with specific skills. For example, maybe you were looking for a social media manager proficient in Excel and Canva. Using a boolean like the one above could help.

OR
The OR operator expands the search. When using the OR operator, you have to be careful. The terms should work together because if they don’t, you could wind up with something that doesn’t make sense. So, don’t look up something like hiring managers OR balloons.

Example: “environmental” OR “sustainable” science
OR should always be used wisely, but it can be helpful when you want to similar terms in your results. For example, maybe you’ve noticed a change in the names of degrees people get for a certain role. Perhaps they used to study environmental science, but now they study sustainable science. The OR boolean can help you find a good candidate as the terminology around a certain job or industry changes.

NOT (-)
Sometimes, you want to remove words from your search. NOT restricts your search by eliminating these words. For example, if you notice that you always recruit from a particular local school, and you want to diversify your search to include more candidates outside of that school, you can use NOT to eliminate candidates from that particular school.

Example: “nurse” -travel resume
In the above example, you are looking for a nurse resume, but you don’t want it to mention travel. This should get rid of travel nurse resumes.

Quotes (“”)
Next, you can use quotes to tell the search engine that you must see that exact word or phrase in the search results. Sometimes search engines can be finicky and show results that don’t include a specific term. This often happens when you need two or more words to be present. Quotes ensure that search engines know precisely what you want to see.

Example: “content writer” +B2B
Phrases like content writer could potentially beef up results. You could end up with results on content writing, content writers, content, writing, etc. Putting the phrase in quotes means you’ll only see pages or resumes with that exact phrase. Adding +B2B means you’ll also see pages that only mention B2B.

Asterisk (*)
Often words have a few different endings that could be helpful. For example, the word law could have endings like laws, lawyer, lawyers, etc. The asterisk will tell search engines you are okay with those extra additions. You can put the asterisk on the front or back of a word.

Example: community manage*
Looking for a community manager means you might want to cover that term and terms like community management or community managers. Asterisks allow you to do that.

SITE: and FILETYPE:
Search engines like Google utilize a few booleans that help you navigate their results.

SITE: allows you to look for results on a particular website. FILETYPE: allows you to look for a specific file type during your search. For example, recruiters might look for PDF, DOC, or DOCX files when looking for resumes.

Example: “technical recruiter” resume -template filetype:pdf
In the above example, you are looking for technical recruiter resumes. By using the NOT or - boolean, you are removing any templates. By adding filetype:pdf, you are limiting your search to PDFs.

Now that you understand what boolean operators do, it’s time to take these ideas to a search engine. You can use a site like Google or take these same lessons to your applicant tracking system. Google crawls billions of web pages, so it will likely be easier to understand these ideas within the confines of your ATS.

What are the positives and negatives of boolean searches?

Booleans might take you back to your college days spent researching for term papers, but they can be helpful in understanding specific talent pools. Here are some of the pros and cons of using boolean searches:

Boolean search pros

One of the biggest pros of boolean searches is that many search engines utilize them. Learning how to create a boolean can help you navigate and make the most of your current applicant tracking system or search engine. Learning the basics of a boolean search is essential if you plan to use traditional candidate sourcing methods.

Boolean search cons

One of the biggest cons of boolean searches is how complicated they are. Even if you understand the basics of booleans, they aren’t perfect. It’s easy to spend hours perfecting your search only to come up empty-handed. Also, if even a tiny part of your search is off, it can drastically throw off your results.

In a world where we’ve advanced candidate sourcing, boolean searches aren’t the most efficient way to find new talent.

Alternatives to boolean searches for candidate sourcing

Are you ready to say goodbye to booleans but aren’t sure what to do next? There are many methods and tools for recruiters to find talent that don’t involve complex search strings and scrolling through databases of candidates that don’t quite match your JD.

1. Build a robust employee referral program

One of the best ways to find talented candidates is through a referral program. If you have employees who enjoy working with you, they likely have family, friends, and acquaintances who would make great team members. Create or build your referral program by providing incentives like a one-time bonus when referred employees reach three months at your company.

2. Create a stellar employer brand

Next, there are ways for great talent to come to you. By working on your company’s employer brand, you can build traction among potential candidates. Follow up your brand by keeping your career site updated with new roles. You can also create a general application interested parties can fill out in case you don’t have an open position.

3. Reach out to past candidates who didn’t work out

You may be already sitting on a gold mine of potential candidates who didn’t work out previously. They may have lacked experience, or maybe they were outpaced by a better candidate. The best organizations realize that a no is temporary, not permanent. Look at your candidate archive. Check on anyone who has applied to a similar position in the past.

4. Use a niche job board

Many candidates realize that niching enables them to command higher prices. A niche is another term for specialization. For example, some people are recruiters, while others specialize in technical recruiting. Using a dedicated job board will find interesting candidates.

5. Utilize an automated sourcing platform

Last but not least, try automating the candidate sourcing experience. Automated sourcing platforms like Fetcher give you the ability to speed up your hiring process by minimizing the time spent manually sourcing. Instead of slowly sifting through a pool of profiles – some of which may not even be fit for the role – curated batches of candidates are sent straight to your inbox.

For recruiters, letting sourcing tools do the manual work of finding candidates frees up their time to spend building relationships and developing an employer brand.

Booleans aren’t the only way to find top talent

Do you know need to learn complex booleans to be successful in recruiting? As you look at the future of candidate sourcing, the short answer is no - boolean searches can take up valuable time that could be spent on the candidate experience.

Companies are utilizing the power of passive candidates to find the perfect people for their organizations. If you want to stop perfect phrases and start attracting great candidates, join the ranks of companies like GR0 and Socotra, who are using Fetcher’s recruiting software to deliver candidates tailored to their criteria.


Check out our other blog posts for more talent acquisition tips and insights into recruiting trends.

About Fetcher

At Fetcher, our mission is to connect companies to the people who will help them change the world. Our full-service, recruiting automation platform automates those repetitive, top-of-funnel tasks, so you can focus more on candidate engagement & team collaboration.

Simplify Sourcing. Optimize Outreach. Hire Top Talent. Learn more at fetcher.ai.

GR0 x Fetcher Case Study 2022

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Recruiting Life, Recruiting Strategies