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5 Boolean Operators You Need to Know

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What Is a Boolean Operator?

If you have ever Googled something, you have already created Boolean search strings. If you use it without realizing it, you can learn a few Boolean operators that will drastically improve your current sourcing efforts.

The truth is very few recruiters write their own Boolean strings and even fewer have mastered it. In a space where everyone is looking for a competitive advantage to land the best talent, this could be yours. All you need to do is learn, simplify, and practice. It’s that simple. We held a webinar with Batman (Mike Cohen) to show you how to do this – you can watch it here.

It doesn’t have to be time consuming, and effective use of Boolean search can keep costs low, eliminate your need for yet another tool, and reduce your time to fill.

5 Boolean Operators You Need to Know

That’s it. Yes, there are more operators out there, but my goal is not for you to be a Boolean ninja, rockstar, or <insert your favorite title here>. The goal is for you to be a better all-around recruiter, and these are the operators that will get you there.


AND will narrow your search results to include only relevant results that contain your required keywords.

“human resources” AND recruiting

In the example above, the Boolean string will only return results that include both the phrase ‘human resources’ and the keyword ‘recruiting.’ It will not display any results that contain only one of the defined criteria without the other.


OR will expand your search results so all results must contain at least one, if not more, of your defined keywords or phrases

OR is best used for one of two reasons:

1. to include all synonyms for a given title, phrase or word

(MBA OR M.B.A. OR “Masters of Business Administration”)

Remember, there can be multiple words that mean the same thing, as there can be dozens of job titles to describe the same exact work. OR allows you to expand your search to include all relevant results for all possible variations with the same meaning

2. creating a list of all possibilities where you only need at least one of the keywords to be returned

(Apple OR Microsoft OR Google)

You may create lists to define possible options for desired candidate attributes such as job title, previous employer, location, or skillset. In the example above, the OR statement is used to identify candidates who were previously employed by at least one of the listed companies.


NOT limits your search by excluding defined keywords and/or phrases from your results.

“human resources” NOT director

In the example above, all results will contain the phrase ‘human resources’ but not the word ‘director.’ NOT is particularly useful when you want to filter out candidates with certain seniority or to exclude closely related terms (i.e. architect NOT “data architect”).

Quotation Marks “ “

Quotation marks are used around a phrase that needs to be returned in that exact order.

“human resources”

In the example above, the search will only return results that contain the exact phrase ‘human resources.’ If you do not use quotation marks around phrases, each word in the phrase will be treated separately as if you used AND between each word. For example:

human resources

This search will display results that contain the words ‘human’ and ‘resources’ but not necessarily in that order.

Parentheses ( )

Parentheses are used to give priority to the keywords contained within over the other elements around it. As a rule of thumb, parentheses should be used around OR statements, ensuring the search engine properly resolves the OR statement before moving on to other operators.

(HubSpot OR Eloqua OR Marketo) and “marketing manager”

In the example above, the search will return results that contain at least one of the keywords within the parentheses as well as the phrase ‘marketing manager.’


Download this easy cheat sheet to help when writing your Boolean search strings

Boolean Is as Much Art as It Is Science

We’ve practiced the science of Boolean, but let’s pause for a moment think of all the tools you use to source candidates. At a minimum, there’s your recruitment ATS and CRM, social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter), job boards, resume databases, and possibly even external search engines (Google and Bing).

What do all of these technologies have in common? Or rather, what don’t they have in common? Aside from the obvious, the technology can vary widely, the biggest issue is the candidates.

No, I’m not blaming job seekers. But, I am blaming the lack of uniformity in how they present themselves across all these different platforms or even in their resumes. Think about the wide variety of job seekers. Now think about all the different ways they can share information about themselves. Then, realize they don’t think like recruiters. Most don’t know how to optimize their profiles for keywords and struggle to articulate their experience in a compelling manner within a limited space.

There’s no incentive for job seekers to change their ways so recruiters must get better at identifying the best talent through more targeted sourcing. However, Boolean search starts with the art of knowing which questions to ask. The answers to these questions will generate the keywords and phrases required for your Boolean string.

Boolean operators are simple once you grasp the rules. Any Boolean search master will tell you the true challenge is knowing which questions to ask. Once you have defined the necessary questions, your Boolean strings will practically write themselves.

Practice Makes Perfect

Don’t worry about being the next Boolean Blackbelt. (Although his blog is fantastic, and you should definitely check it out.) For now, start with the basics and add new skills once you have grasped the fundamentals. Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen overnight. Practice your skills, and you will get better with time. Once you are comfortable, composing Boolean search strings will the shortest part of your process, freeing up your time to focus on building a memorable candidate experience.


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