Boolean Search Strings Anyone Can Use, Part 2

Building on my article from last month, here are a couple more free techniques that top Internet recruiters use to maximize the effectiveness of advanced searches using Boolean queries, and some typical errors to avoid. Resumes Off ISPs If you are targeting geographically, one of your best bets is to search within the popular Internet Service Providers in your area. They provide free web page space to account holders. The “host:” command lets you search within a specified domain. For example, some popular ISPs in Massachusetts are MediaOne, Ultranet, and TIAC. So searching that with the normal resume-limiting criteria (see my last article) would result in the Boolean search string: (title:resume OR url:resume OR resume) AND ( OR OR AND NOT (“resume writing” OR job OR “career advancement” OR “employment opportunity” OR “human resources” OR eoe OR hr OR preferred) You can also adapt this to searching within a particular company’s (e.g., competitor’s) web site. This is also known as “flipping” a site. It’s not as effective as it used to be: companies are realizing that they need to limit access or remove employees’ contact information from public view. That means fewer useful pages result from such searches. But sometimes you get lucky, especially if you realize that the word “resume” may be nowhere on the page (including title or URL) in an online staff directory. So think about substituting other search terms for that first parenthetical clause, or eliminating it altogether and focusing on skill terms that would be in the body of the page. Remember, the last parenthetical clause should eliminate most job description pages from appearing in your results, so you won’t have to wade through those. Peeling Back URLs It was using methods along those lines that I ended up finding the resume of a frequently-published software engineer named Swarup Acharya. Even before I started seriously reading his bio at I noticed something important about the URL. His surname was the directory name. Going one directory up in the URL, I’d be at what would that be? You guessed it: links to all the Bell Labs engineers at his campus! So don’t get so excited over finding a great candidate online that you forget the page you’re on may be only one level removed from all of that candidate’s peers?if you strip the URL down to the higher-level folder. Other directory names that typically imply more candidates are /member(s) or /people. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*> Another place that peeling back may work well is if you click a link in your AltaVista results that lead to a page error: Sometimes the page is password-protected, sometimes it’s gone entirely. But if you go one level higher, you may be at visible pages of people again.

Getting Past Record #200 If you do a Boolean query and click on the link for page 20, you’ll see there is no 21, 22, etc.?just a “Next” link for the next 10 results. If you’d rather jump deeper into the results, note the URL on any page of search results. If you are on the 21st page of results, which begins with item number 201, the URL should end in stq=200. You can simply edit that URL, in increments of 10, to skip ahead or back. If stq=440, then you’ll see the page begins with result #441. Fixing Bad Search Strings After my last article on constructing a Boolean query from scratch in order to find passive job seekers’ resumes, I received numerous questions from recruiters who were having trouble tweaking it for their own needs. One person was particularly vexed, getting no results at all. Her problems were common:

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  1. Didn’t consider synonyms for the job title she sought to fill. Just because your company has one particular job title for a given role doesn’t mean that anyone else uses that term on their resume to describe the same career experience at another company!
  2. Incorrect syntax in the search string. Like misdialing one digit in a telephone number, one typo in a search string results in an error or the wrong person!

The example is informative: The recruiter wanted to find an outside plant engineer, and searched for the phrase “outside plant engineer” but since few if any people use that specific phrase, she got nowhere. I suggested she broaden the search with potential synonyms: plant superintendent AND engineer; plant engineer AND the word outside or external. This would have solved the problem, but she mistyped various parts of the string. Follow these rules and you’ll avoid most errors:

  1. Remember that only phrases get quotation marks, and every starting quotation mark must have a corresponding closing quotation mark.
  2. You only use parentheses in association with an OR statement, and every left parenthesis mark must have a corresponding right parenthesis mark.
  3. Put one space on each side of a Boolean operators (e.g., oracle AND unix)
  4. Type every term in lowercase letters (unless you’re sure that candidates only spell it in CAPS).

Her search is a little more confusing than average because you need nested sets of parentheses. The way to do it is to work from inward to outward. For example, you want a resume that has “plant superintendent” AND engineer, or you would also consider “outside plant engineer”, or you would consider a resume with “plant engineer” AND either the word outside or external. These become: (“plant superintendent” AND engineer) OR “outside plant engineer” OR (“plant engineer” AND (outside OR external)) Note how you get a nested set of parentheses on the last line. And then you have to wrap parentheses around the whole three-line group, because it becomes part of the larger overall Boolean search string. So, adding this to the normal resume-limiting criteria (explained in my last article), the string that you type in the ‘Boolean query’ box is: (title:resume OR url:resume OR resume) AND (“outside plant engineer” OR (“plant superintendent” AND engineer) OR (“plant engineer” AND (outside OR external))) AND NOT (“resume writing” OR job OR “career advancement” OR “employment opportunity” OR “human resources” OR eoe OR hr OR preferred) I got about 50 resumes with this. As with many searches, some of the best ones are NOT at the top of the results: remember to keep paging down. Next month, my column will look at some of the free and low-cost software tools that can help automate parts of the Internet recruiting process.

Glenn has been developing innovative sourcing and recruiting strategies, techniques and tools in scalable, cost-effective ways since 2015 at State Street, one of the world’s largest custody banks, focusing on diverse talent for North America.  From 2010-15, he was Group Manager, Sourcing Center of Excellence at Avanade, a $2 billion IT consultancy owned by Accenture and Microsoft. He led an online-focused offshore team and junior onshore calling team, plus some global training and talent sourcing initiatives.  In 2009, he conceived and implemented the Sourcing Lab series at SourceCon, which soon became its most popular track.  In 2017, he devised and proposed the Programmers track, which debuts at this SourceCon.

In the 1990s, Glenn created, a pioneering Internet recruiting seminar which remains the world's longest continuously-running, self-paced online talent sourcing course.  He has trained recruiters from hundreds of companies from the Fortune 500 to small staffing firms.  His popular "Beyond Job Boards" presentations have helped job-seekers tap the hidden employment market via innovative methods around search, social networking, and personal brand enhancement activities.

Glenn was a senior Internet researcher for Microsoft from 2005-2008, focusing on competitive intelligence and proactive international recruiting, following 2 years in a similar role at IT solutions firm, Getronics. Besides presenting at recruiting industry conferences, he co-founded the Boston Area Talent Sourcing Association (BATSA) in 2014 which he still runs.

A Yale University graduate, Glenn discovered recruiting in 1996 by founding the first newspaper chain-owned regional resume/job board in Massachusetts, JobSmart, which won the industry’s two most prestigious awards in 1998: the EPpy Award (Editor & Publisher) and the Digital Edge Award (Newspaper Assn. of America).


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