How to Use Boolean Search for Hiring

Boolean searches are a tool that can significantly improve the efficiency of recruiting candidates for open roles at your company. Many different hiring interfaces use Boolean search terms to help users navigate their website, making it easier for you to search for candidates with specific skills and experiences.

What is Boolean logic?

To use Boolean searching effectively, you should first understand the basics of Boolean logic. Just like algebra has a set order of operations for solving equations, search engines interpret Boolean searches according to a set of rules known as Boolean logic, allowing for consistent search results. Boolean logic comes from a mathematician named George Boole, who created a theory that every variable piece of data can be fit into one of two categories: either “true” or “false.”

You can apply Boolean logic to math and to real-world scenarios. For example, “I want coffee, tea or a smoothie,” indicates that any of those three variables is an acceptable drink, or a “true” variable, according to Boolean logic. “I want a cold and caffeinated drink,” indicates a completely different set of acceptable beverages. An iced latte would be “true” because it fits both requirements, while a hot coffee would be “false” because it isn’t cold. Finally, “I want a drink that is not dairy-based” makes any drink with milk “false” or unacceptable based on the terms.

Boolean logic can become infinitely complicated to produce a more specific result. “I want a cold, non-dairy coffee drink or a hot, caffeinated drink with no sugar but I don’t want green tea” combines multiple conditions. You can use Boolean logic to decide what combination of variables produces a “true result,” or a drink the speaker wants. With Boolean searching, you can extend this concept to search engines when selecting the best job candidate based on what requirements you’re looking for.

What is a Boolean search?

A Boolean search is a way of looking for specific search results by using a combination of modifiers to organize content. It uses a combination of punctuation and conjunctions, read left to right, to indicate to a search engine that you want a specific result. For example, if you wanted to find resumes where the candidate had healthcare experience, you could search “hospital OR clinic” to pull up resumes of anyone who worked at a hospital or medical clinic.

What is the purpose of a Boolean search?

Boolean searching exists to give people more relevant results to whatever they are searching for. It adds specificity and context to the words you search for. A Boolean search can identify which results aren’t relevant and filter them out, allowing you to save time by focusing on results that have already been preliminarily vetted by the search engine itself. Instead of sifting through dozens of hundreds of resumes, you can use Boolean searches to automatically show you the most relevant resumes. It also produces consistent results every time you search.

Elements of a Boolean search

There are only a few parts of a Boolean search that you can use in any combination when looking for the perfect hire. You can use all of these elements as many times as you want, as long as you use them correctly. They are:

Keywords

The first part of a Boolean search is the keywords you’re using. Hiring keywords could include position names, skills, location, education and more. For example, “human resources” would be a good starting keyword when trying to hire an HR manager. On its own, “human resources” isn’t a Boolean search, but it is the basis for the way you modify your search.

AND

Using the “AND” operator to join two keywords tells the search engine that any search result with both of those keywords is a “true” variable, or a relevant search result. For example, you could search for “human resources AND office administrator” if you want a candidate that has experience in both of those areas. A candidate who only has human resources experience would not show up in your search, allowing you to look for candidates with a specialized skill set.

OR

The “OR” modifier indicates that an applicant with either of the keywords in their resume would be an acceptable candidate. Recruiters usually use the “OR” modifier to list different versions of a similar term, ensuring they don’t miss any qualified candidates. For example, searching “human resources manager OR HR manager” would result in a list of applicants with either version of the same job title on their resume. You can’t expect all candidates to describe their experience in the same way, making the OR modifier an excellent way to expand your search.

NOT

“NOT” is the operator that tells search engines what type of result to exclude. On the left side of “NOT,” list the keywords you do want to show up in your search. On the right side, list the keywords that disqualify someone for the position. For example, “HR manager NOT HR director” would bring up all candidates that had experience as an HR manager and did not have experience as an HR director. The search engine would remove any candidates who list HR director on their resume from the search, even if they had HR manager experience.

Parentheses or brackets

Parentheses and brackets group keywords together so that you can perform more complex Boolean searches. Just like you solve the equations in parentheses first in a math equation, the search engine resolves keywords and operations in parentheses before moving on to the rest of the search.

For example, “(human resources) AND (recruiter OR hiring manager)” would produce different results than “(human resources AND recruiter) OR (hiring manager)” due to the placement of the parentheses. The first search tells the search engine to find applications that include the both phrase “human resources” and either “recruiter” or “hiring manager.” Someone who just had “hiring manager” on their resume would not show up in the first search. However, the second search would include candidates that only had “hiring manager.”

Quotation marks

Quotation marks indicate that multiple keywords must be searched together. Searching for multiple words without quotation marks could result in any application that has those words, even if they aren’t grouped together. If an applicant had “I don’t have experience hiring, but I’d make a great manager” on their cover letter, they might still show up when searching for a hiring manager without quotations. Searching for “hiring manager” with quotations would exclude that application because the search engine knows you are searching for the job title as a whole, not the individual terms.

Tips for performing an effective Boolean search (with examples)

Implement these strategies when using Boolean search to find job candidates:

Use capital letters

Ensure that the search engine will understand you’re performing a Boolean search by typing the operator in capital letters. Some websites automatically eliminate conjunctions when performing searches, but writing them in capital letters indicates that they are modifiers for a Boolean search.

For example, a search for “retail and software sales” might produce results with one of those search terms, but not both. Searching ‘retail AND “software sales”‘ will produce results that have both of those phrases.

Carefully analyze punctuation

Be meticulous when using quotations and parentheses. Misplaced punctuation can disrupt your entire search. Any time you have an open parentheses or quotation mark, you need closing punctuation of the same type.

Consider this example search:

• ((Graphic design OR graphic designer) OR (digital artist OR digital art) AND ((photoshop AND InDesign) NOT “entry-level job OR beginner)

This search is missing several pieces of punctuation. Without the ending parentheses and quotations, the search engine will not group those terms together correctly. The proper notation would be:

• ((Graphic design OR graphic designer) OR (digital artist OR digital art)) AND ((photoshop AND InDesign) NOT (“entry-level job” OR beginner))

Try different phrasing

Expand your searches by using conversational language in your searches instead of just job-related keywords. For example, searching for “I graduated from” can help you find candidates who have completed their degree. An even better search would be ‘”I graduated from” OR “college graduate” OR “bachelor’s degree”‘ because it includes multiple different phrases that mean the same thing on a job application.

What are the three Boolean operators used for Boolean searching?

The three main operators used in Boolean searches are “AND,” “OR” and “NOT.” Most search engines recognize these terms, creating a uniform way for users to access information.

What is an example of a Boolean?

One example of a Boolean phrase is “(forklift operator) AND warehouse.”

What is a Boolean phrase?

A Boolean phrase is any set of criteria that uses the Boolean operators and keywords to describe data or variables.

Why are Boolean operators important?

Boolean operators are important because they describe how a search engine should interpret the keywords you’re looking for.