Boolean search strings are like nicknames given to people in college. Around the first week or so, you hear of “Chip”, who is hosting a LAN party that your roommate is going to. You probably meet Chip by the end of your first month and learn later on that his name is John Smith. You might not know why his name is Chip, but you’ve never called him anything else. There may be a lot of John Smiths in the world, many sharing similar hair color, height or other personality traits. But Chip is only one guy.
If you are in the recruiting business, you’d have heard of Boolean search strings at some point. And it would have been (or will be) only a matter of time before you used it. While there are many talented people out there, you are only looking to hire for a particular role with very specific requirements. Boolean simplifies sourcing by bringing to focus those particular kind of people, fitting in your exact conditions.
This blog covers a quick rundown on Boolean operators, how to use them and some do’s and don’ts.
Constructing a Boolean Search String
Using the three Boolean operators - AND, OR and NOT, you can create search strings to find candidates who match your specific requirements.
When you are looking for a combination of two or more requirements in a candidate, the AND operator can be used in the string. For instance, say you are looking for a Backend developer who has worked with Python and Flask, your search string would be as follows:
Python AND Flask
Keep in mind that the AND operator looks for only that specific condition, the must-have’s. Even if the candidate has other relevant skills, the search will not include him/her.
OR operator kicks in for those few conditions that are nice-to-have. It will look for one of the mentioned conditions and all of the conditions together. Take a look at this string:
Python AND (Flask OR Django)
This query will show candidates who are proficient in Python and Flask, Python and Django and Python, Flask and Django.
This operator covers the list of requirements that you are not looking for in a candidate. Say the backend developer you are looking for shouldn't be employed by Microsoft in the past or at present. The search string will now look like this:
Python AND (Flask OR Django) NOT Microsoft
You would have noticed the use of parenthesis () in some of the examples above. The complexity and specificity of the query can be improved using symbols () and “”. Brackets usually go hand in hand with the OR operator, since it encapsulates a long but single condition. Let's say you’d like your backend developer to have worked at or be working in Yahoo, Intuit or Oracle. Your search string will now be this:
Python AND (Flask OR Django) AND (Yahoo OR Intuit OR Oracle) NOT Microsoft
The quotation marks ensure that your search results have those keywords in the exact order you specified. For instance, the backend developer you are looking should be strong in data structures and you use a string like below, without quotation marks,
Data Structures AND Python AND (Flask OR Django) AND (Yahoo OR Intuit OR Oracle) NOT Microsoft
You will be flooded with profiles containing the words “data” and “structures” in any and all order. The string that would make your life easy would be this one:
“Data Structures” AND Python AND (Flask OR Django) AND (Yahoo OR Intuit OR Oracle) NOT Microsoft
because it looks for “data structures” as a single condition.
Boolean Best Practices
Avoid Being Too Specific
Since they offer the ability for you to tailor a very specific JD, it would be tempting to construct a string so thorough, the search runs to find a unicorn. Remember, there are no “perfect” candidates - only talented people who have the potential.
Avoid Including Designations
Employee hierarchy varies from company to company. The experience of a Senior Developer and the projects he/she handles may not be the same at some other organization. So focus on skills, projects and experience rather than titles since they can be misleading.
Build Your Knowledge Base on Keywords
There are multiple ways to represent a skill, so scan all the resumes you come across to build your knowledge on keywords organically. The best way to improve your search strings is to be creative in your use of keywords and logic.