The Beginners Guide To Boolean Search For Recruiters

What is Boolean Search?

According to the New York Public Library:

Boolean searching is built on a method of symbolic logic developed by George Boole, a 19th century English mathematician. Boolean searches allow you to combine words and phrases using the words AND, OR, NOT (known as Boolean operators) to limit, broaden, or define your search.

The word “Boolean” comes from the man who invented Boolean Logic in the 19th century – George Boole.

Boolean Logic is the basis of modern computer logic, and George Boole is regarded in hindsight as one of the founders of the field of computer science.

To help you better understand what this means, think about how you would normally search for something on the Internet.

If you are looking for cars, the word cars will go into the search box.

What if you wish to search for burgers and fries?

Boolean search will allow you to get those results by entering burgers and fries into the search box.

Simple right?

Boolean search is a very powerful way to find exactly what you want online.

And there are a few Boolean tricks that every recruiter should know of to make their life easier.


Where Can I Use Boolean?

Boolean is a wide accepted form of search string.

Commonly you could use them in the search engine of job boards.

LinkedIN also allows Boolean searches on their site.

I dare say any website with a search box would permit and accept the use of Boolean search strings.

Before I go into the tricks I’ve learned let’s look at all the basic Boolean strings you could piece together.


Why Boolean Works

The basis of this is that you will list down what you have.

If you are a Java developer, chances of the word Java appearing in your profile would be high.

So if I’m looking for a Java Developer, the chance of me coming across your profile would be equally high.

You can see an assumption here – that the candidate would have the keyword in his/her profile if it is relevant.


Boolean Search Basics

Before I could touch on the Boolean tricks, you need to understand the basics.

And that would begin with the Operators.

Operators are the words that limit, broaden and define your search.

Let’s take a look at the available Boolean operators that you could use:

1. AND

Boolean Search Operator: AND

This is used if you wish to find a result that carries a combination of items.

So if you wish to find a search results that contain both Burgers and Fries, your search string would look simply like this:

Burgers AND Fries

2. OR

Boolean Search Operator: OR

This would be used if you are trying to find results that could contain either of the things you are looking for.

So if your search criteria could accept results that contain either Burgers or Fries, your search string would look like this:

Burgers OR Fries

3. NOT

Boolean Search Operator: NOT

This operator comes in when you wish to retrieve search results that doesn’t contain specific keywords.

So let’s say you just want to see burger and not french fries, your search string would look like this:

Burgers NOT “French Fries”

Some search engine might require you to put an AND before NOT:

Burgers AND NOT “French Fries”

Experiment a little to find out what is acceptable by the search engine.

4. Quotation Marks ” “

Boolean Search Operator: Quotation Marks

Some of you would have noticed I placed quotation marks before and after French Fries.

In Boolean terms, that is to tell the system that French Fries is a single keyword.

If that isn’t included, you would get search results with the keyword French and Fries as long as they appear in the profile and not necessarily in that specific sequence.

The quotation marks ensure search results carry the words in that specific order you entered.

In certain cases, you might not get any results as all because the search engine would interpret this as an incomplete search string.

So if you wish to search for Customer Service Manager, the term on your search string would look like this:

“Customer Service Manager”

5. Wild Card *

Boolean Search Operator: *

Because we can’t control how candidates would list their skills/jobs the way we like it to, we need to make sure all possible terms are applied to the search string.

Say you wish to find a profile with the keyword engineer.

For a candidate, they might not use that exact word. Instead, they might use engineering.

You could use the OR operator to ensure you cover both terms. But if you have more than 2 terms, it might be a bit of a hassle to construct.

A quicker way is to use a wildcard to search for spelling variations within the same or related terms:


This will return results with the keyword engineer or engineering.

6. Parentheses ()

Boolean Search Operator: Parentheses

Now we are getting a bit advanced.

When I was doing training for my agency recruiters, this is the part where most people would get confused.

Parentheses are used to separate phrases using the OR operator from the words or phrases using the AND operator.

So to give you an example, say you are looking for a programmer. He could be based in Singapore or Malaysia.

Given that a programmer might also be listed as a developer, you would want to include the word developer as well.

A typical newbie mistake would be to chain up something like these:

  1. Programmer OR developer OR Singapore OR Malaysia
  2. Programmer OR developer AND Singapore OR Malaysia

Now both search strings would return you with either nothing or not the results you are looking for.

The first one would return results with either of those keywords. It won’t be a specific search at all.

The second one would not be considered a complete search string and probably return with zero results.

That’s because the computer doesn’t know Programmer & Developer belong to one search set and Singapore & Malaysia in another.

To provide clarity, you need to put in brackets which we call Parentheses:

(Programmer OR developer) AND (Singapore OR Malaysia)


A Good Search Result

Boolean is more Skill than Science, and a recruiter’s experience and market knowledge influence greatly on the search outcome.

The same Boolean string you use today would probably yield you a different result tomorrow since there will be new data in the system.

To know if it is a right string, you could use the number of results as a gauge.

There are different school of thoughts but personally I feel a good number is around 50.

Anything more you might want to tighten up your search string; anything lesser than you loosen it.


Be Aware Of False Positive


Because Boolean focuses just on keywords, it won’t be able to identify the meaning behind those words.

So if you are searching for a candidate with the term Managing Director because you are looking for one, there is the possibility that the Secretary to Managing Director would come up as well.


Be Mindful Of Synonyms

Customer Service Manager

CS Manager

Customer Service Mgr

They all mean the same thing. But if you only pick one for your search string, you would be missing out on some good candidates who’s vocabulary differ from yours.

Know the common synonyms that would refer to the same thing and use a parentheses to make sure all are considered.



a man suffering from too much boolean search information

Yes, I know.

Boolean isn’t the most interesting read. Chances are you have bounced off to your Facebook and Instagram a dozen times before reaching to this paragraph.

But it is crucial so you can save time in future sourcing and help you reach out to the right audience.

As the world of recruitment gets more and more competitive, all these would be significant to ensure you get an edge and be ahead.

Unfortunately, what I covered earlier would also put you on par with many recruiters and sourcers who could pull together effective search strings in their sleep.

To get ahead, you need to level up and go onto the expert level.


Boolean can be complicated when you first begin but as you go along, you realized it is all logic and common sense.

It is simply a different kind of language that the computer could clearly understand so you could retrieve the set of data you are looking for.

I hope this would be helpful in helping you uncover the candidates you’ve been looking for.

Question: Do you have any other Boolean tricks that you’d found useful? You can leave a comment below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.