Boolean searching is still big business in recruiting. Here's how to master it

Boolean searching is still big business in recruiting. Here's how to master it
Promoted by Boolean searching is still big business in recruiting. Here's how to master it

Boolean searching is as relevant to recruiters today as it was 10 years ago and by mastering Boolean you will be able to source candidates faster and smarter.

Because it is such a widely used logic, Boolean searching techniques can be applied to virtually any database including social networks, job boards and search engines. What’s more, it’s a universal concept – what’s not to like! 

It allows recruiters to quickly find relevant candidate information, rather than wasting time sifting through a broad search. 

Having a few standard Boolean searches saved, recruiters can quickly find candidates, by simply changing one or two words in the Boolean string. This can be much quicker than even a broad search on Google, and yield much better results.

A brief history of Boolean

The Boolean search dates back to 1854! It was invented by British mathematician George Boole, who outlined Boolean logic in his book The Laws of Thought. Boolean logic is a theory of mathematics in which all variables are either “true” or “false”, or “on” or “off”.

Boolean logic is not just the foundations of Boolean searching, but is widely credited as the founding theory of the age of information. Boolean logic still exists in all digital devices, and in virtually every line of code.

But Boole’s brilliance wasn’t instantly recognised back in 1854. In fact it took until 1937 for Claude Shannon to realise that electronic relays in telephone routing switches could be used to solve Boolean logic. With Boole’s theory and Shannon’s application, the basis of the first computers took shape.

Boolean Operators: AND/NOT/OR

  • AND: Just like in written and spoken English AND is used to join parts of a sentence together. If you are searching for someone who worked in Marketing and Events you could search for Marketing AND Events, so searching for candidates who have both those words in their CV or profile. Remember though that AND is often case sensitive so always capitalise AND in your searches – this tells the system that you are not looking for the word ‘and’ itself.

Key point: AND always narrows a search.

  • OR: Helps you find candidates with multiple skills or experience, either alone or together. Using the Marketing OR Events example we can use the OR operators to search for a candidate with experience in either Marketing OR Events. You could also add in seniority such as Director/Manager.

Key point: OR widens a search to look for candidates with any of the expressions in the string. It can help recruiters find hidden gems - candidates who have expressed their skills in ways you wouldn’t expect.

  • NOT: excludes candidates with a particular keyword in their CV or profile. For example, Marketing NOT Events will find candidates who only have Marketing in their profile.

Key point: Using NOT enables you to remove false positives from your search.

But Boolean doesn’t end there, you can refine your search further - are you ready?

A parentheses or bracket is like adding punctuation to a sentence. In the same way a long sentence doesn’t make much sense without a comma or two, a long Boolean string doesn’t make much sense without parentheses.

For example: I want to find candidates who have Marketing OR Events in their profile or CV, but also Manager. (Marketing OR Events) AND Manager

I want to find candidates who have to have the word Marketing or they could have the words Events and Manager instead. Marketing OR (Events AND Manager)

Basically if you’ve written OR somewhere in your search, think about where the brackets will go because their placement will affect how your database will solve your Boolean search query. 

Don’t worry we know there is a lot to take in here and so we have developed a free ebook for you learn more about mastering Boolean with tips and key points to remember; ‘The Recruiters Guide to Mastering Boolean’.


Quotations work in a similar way to parentheses, in that they encapsulate information. They section off a part of your Boolean string and tell it that “I want you to consider this as a whole” – keywords or phrases.

Please remember you must use double quotation marks (“ “ not ‘ ‘) if the keyword (or key phrase) you are looking for contains more than one word.

There’s more…Advanced Booleanteering!

And finally, while many databases accept some of these advanced terms, one of the most powerful ways is to use Google. The ebook guide will share how best to power up your searching for the ideal candidates using advanced techniques to such as * / filetype / within / @ / # / Site: / related:

The important takeaways are to think like a job seeker and how CV’s are worded. Try not to make your search string too narrow and know how to use Boolean in Google – it is different than using the standard methods but can deliver advanced results. So, there’s no better time than now to get started by downloading the free Recruiter’s Guide to Mastering Boolean Search

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