To Catch a Thief

As the adage goes, “to catch a thief you must think like a thief.” The same applies to finding resumes in databases.

While thinking about your needs is definitely the right place to begin a resume sourcing campaign, you should translate those needs into “resume speak” to achieve optimal results. Effective resume research in a database requires you to use your command of the English language, your empathetic abilities, your comprehension of industries and professions, and your understanding of the psychology of your target candidate. In short, you need to use every ounce of your experience as a recruiter.

It’s time for some fresh ideas, and below I present three options for you to try today. Let’s pretend that you require someone with a Bachelor of Science degree. You have several options while searching a resume database.

Education Matters

First, you can easily select “Bachelor” from the Education category included in the database search engine. As obvious as this may seem, it is usually the wrong approach.

Education is an optional field in most databases, so a sizable portion of the resumes in a given database have no Education data in the field. If you select “Bachelor” for the Education field, you will miss all those candidates who opted not to complete that field.

Incidentally, passive candidates are the most likely to skip the field, as they are apt to upload their resumes on a whim, “just in case something better is out there.” However, they typically do a haphazard job of it. Candidates who are eager for new employment complete every field diligently. Candidates who are merely curious ignore whole sections of the resume submission process. That tendency yields the somewhat surprising revelation that the best candidates in a resume database may actually be those with the sparsest information in the category fields.

Unique Expressions: From BS to B.Sc and Beyond

Second, you can include the simple search string “bachelor of science” in the keyword field. This will definitely give you candidates who have a Bachelor of Science degree.

That said, the results will only be a sub-set of your target resumes. There are many ways a candidate can choose to express their Bachelor of Science degree. Some elect to write Bachelors of Science, or Bachelor’s of Science, or BS, or B.S., or BSc, or B.Sc., or BSEE (bachelor of electrical engineering), etc. There is a nearly endless variety of options available to the resume writer, and candidates use them all. Apply some demographic knowledge to whittle down the options.

For instance, “B.Sc.” on resumes will be a typical indication of candidates who received degrees many years ago or who received overseas degrees. If that is your target market, then try B.Sc. or BSc to find them.

Complex Logic Nets More Candidates

One last idea is to attempt to create a more complex search string that captures more candidates.

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Here is a pretty good string:

((bachelor* AND science) OR bs* OR “b.s.”)

It will probably miss some resumes, but it should catch the bulk of them. Using the asterisk to indicate “wildcard value” and nested parentheses to indicate which terms must be present simultaneously, you account for most of the probable variations. Interpreting this string into written English yields:

  • Any variant on “bachelor,” such as “bachelor,” “bachelors,” or “bachelor’s” AND the word “science.”
  • Any variant on BS, such as BS, BSEE, BSCS, BSME, BSc, etc.
  • The exact term “B.S.”

Apply this logic to all your requirements. Let’s say you are looking for a technology-related Project Manager. While your ideal candidate may be a current Project Manager, they may also be a Business Analyst who managed projects, or a Software Engineer who was given project management responsibilities, or any number of possibilities.

Searching for “project manager” will be severely limiting. Instead, account for what the candidate might write on a resume, and search for something like “managing projects” OR “managed projects” OR “manage projects” OR “project management” OR “project manager.”

After that, take a look at the words and phrases on the resulting resumes to see whether there are other common phrases you can include.

You may be tempted to use the string:

“manage* project*” OR “project* manage*”.

That string will not work properly in CareerBuilder, Monster, or HotJobs. Placing the asterisk within quotations tells the engine to look for the asterisk itself, rather than using the asterisk as a wildcard value. The string will deliver results, but the results will not be what you expected to see.

The key to effective resume searching is a combination of knowing what you want, knowing the operators of a search string, knowing the English language, and knowing the tendencies of the candidates you are seeking. You have to reach beyond the obvious to find your target. You have to “think like a thief” to catch your candidate.

Phil Willson is a 12-year veteran of the recruiting industry with a diverse background spanning retained and contingent executive search, candidate sourcing and research, and Internet-based entrepreneurism in both the United States and Asia. His company, Kalypxo Unbundled, operates a baseline sourcing service through the website


2 Comments on “To Catch a Thief

  1. To me, this article shows the exact problem with most resume search tools. Typing ‘((bachelor* AND science) OR bs* OR ‘b.s.’)’ is hard enough, but what if you also want someone with a BA? Besides, a bachelors degree is one of the more basic things to search for.

    What if the hiring manager wants someone with an engineering degree from a top school and 5 to 7 years experience? There’s no string for that. And we’re still only really talking about the education part of the resume. When adding skills to the search you’re even more likely to lose great people.

    People feel like Boolean works because the answer is exactly what they described in the search set-up. The problem is that they never see what wasn’t found. People who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering usually call the degree an ‘S.B.’ So the string above excludes MIT grads.

    But, since many people are stuck with Boolean search, here is a helpful string to find some (but not all) software engineers:

    (+(java OR C# OR .net OR software OR ?web application? or ?software development? or ?software engineering?) AND (engineer OR programmer OR developer OR architect OR team lead OR analyst OR designer)) OR (?member of the technical staff?))

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more, Daniel. The resume data is present in the databases… the hard part is getting it out.

    All too often, expensive resume database access is wasted because there is a common assumption that it’s easy to search a database. It’s a task frequently assigned to the most junior member of the team.

    My experience is that database searching is a unique skill — it’s even different from Internet research using search engines. For instance, Boolean that works on Google may not work in Monster and vice versa.

    We have the data! We just need to use it better. With 50 million resumes in one database or another, about half of the US workforce can be found… if we just learn how to find them.

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