A few weeks ago, I attended the SHRM Talent Management Conference and TAtech Spring Congress. Both events are very heavily focused on talent acquisition, which isn’t a surprise given all of the media attention on “full employment”.
But it made me realize that there are some fundamental tools human resources professionals might not have focused on over the past few years. Like Boolean search.
You know, when organizations were getting hundreds of applications, I can see how refining Boolean search skills wouldn’t be tops on my to-do list. But now, being able to find qualified candidates fast is a priority. So, I wanted to share some information.
To help us know more about Boolean Search, I reached out to Jim Durbin, social media headhunter and founder of Sourcing Worklab. Over the last decade, he’s trained over 9,000 recruiters on the effective use of digital recruiting tools. In addition to his role at Sourcing Worklab, he manages a B2B marketing firm, develops startups in the artificial intelligence (AI) and recruiting space, and takes as many full desk searches as he can get his hands on. I’m thrilled he agreed to share his expertise.
Jim, let’s start with a definition. What is Boolean search and why should HR departments have an interest in it?
[Durbin] Boolean search is a method for searching websites to limit your results. The method uses Boolean “operators” which are simple words to define relationships between keywords, resulting in a more focused search result.
Boolean operators are useful in sorting through the large number of profiles, resumes, and pages available online. These operators are used on websites, in our databases, and in much of our software. HR departments should be aware of Boolean because it gives the control of a search to the human being, and not the developers who created the search function.
Just so everyone is on the same page, what are the 4-5 classic Boolean operators that everyone should know?
[Durbin] SITE, INURL, INTITLE, AND, OR and NOT. I had to go with 6. Here are examples of each:
SITE – The SITE command restricts the search to results within just one website. [site:linkedin.com]
INURL – The INURL command restricts the search to characters in a specific website address. [site:behance.net inurl:resume returns only resumes]
AND – The AND command restricts the search to all of your conditions. [“business development representative” AND “medical sales”]
OR – The OR command broadens the search for multiple terms [“sales representative” OR “account manager”]
NOT – The NOT command narrows your search by deleting unwanted terms [Java Developer NOT:recruiter]
Another thing to note: Quotation marks count too. You can use them to limit multiple terms. [“Sales representative” (in quotes) brings less results, but better ones, than sales representative (not in quotes).
For readers looking for more Boolean operators, Dean Da Costa has shared an extensive roundup of resources on RecruitingBlogs.
I’ve been in HR a lot of years. Now that we have more advanced technologies and social media, do people still need to be skilled in Boolean search? Why or why not?
[Durbin] Boolean is a method. Even within most social media platforms, Boolean search is the method we use to search social media. Recruiters still need to be able to control their searches, so yes, they must be skilled at Boolean.
I’ve read a few articles recently about “long” Boolean being outdated and “short” Boolean being better. First of all, what’s long and short Boolean? And in your expertise, does it matter?
[Durbin] Long Boolean are just long sentences. When you searched through the internet, long searches helped you quickly find the few resumes you were looking for.
Short Boolean is a method that is closer to active search. Short Boolean gets you close to your final results, allowing you to make changes. Think of short Boolean as a way to point a ship in the right direction, and long Boolean as the full map of your journey. If you know where you’re going, long Boolean is useful.
Today, you have to be very good to use Long Boolean correctly. The reward is not always worth that effort. I do think the days of long Boolean are over, but short Boolean will continue to be needed to help us guide our steps.
Last question. We’ve talked before on this blog about search engine optimization (SEO) and how a Google algorithm change impacts career site marketing. Do activities like Google changing their algorithm change Boolean search? Are there things that HR pros should watch for?
[Durbin] Absolutely. The Google search algorithms updates like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird have completely changed career site marketing, and HR has to be aware of this when building career portals, posting jobs, or purchasing software.
Those changes have one major effect: Google specifically is now focused on recent results. This makes research very difficult without using Boolean. This is a general problem, not a specific thing to look out for. What HR pros need is to be able to quickly access information from any database or software as quickly as their competitors. This means becoming expert at searching the internet – and Boolean is still the dominant form of that kind of search.
I want to thank Jim again for sharing his expertise with us. If you want to learn more, be sure to check out Jim’s blog – Digital Marketing Headhunter. Also, you can check out Sourcing Worklab, they are providing live action sourcing, where you learn how to use these kinds of searches on real jobs.
To find the best talent for the organization, HR professionals will need to step up their game. That means trying new things and brushing off some skills we haven’t used in a while.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after attending the 2017 BetterWorks Goal Summit in San Francisco, CA2