Lately, the word Boolean has become very popular among web sourcers and recruiters. (As you might know, I am fond of it myself!) For some, “Boolean searches” seem complicated. Others wonder what the big deal is since Boolean simply means AND, OR, and NOT applied to keywords.
Let’s try to find some clarity. I’ll write about Google here. Though other search engines are similar in many ways, each has its own syntax, somewhat different from Google’s.
Google syntax does, of course, implement Boolean logic, though in a limited fashion. It’s not what I want to talk about here; I’d like to talk about the additional, “non-Boolean” part of Google. Google syntax (shall we call it Googlean?) contains much more than an implementation of Boolean logic.
There are operators and special characters that instruct Google on how to use keywords in a search string. One doesn’t need to learn about all of the operators to become successful in one’s searches, but adding a few operators to your search will help quite a bit. Here I’ll cover some operators that I think are a must for a serious web sourcer’s toolbox.
Part 1 of 2 “Googlean” and Special Characters
One very important special character is the minus “-“, and in fact the minus works as part of the Boolean logic implementation. If you use it in front of a word, no spaces in-between, then it will mean “NOT”: –jobs
(But if you write 7-3 in your string, Google will make a different guess and use its calculator instead — try it!)
Most Special Characters Are Ignored
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is trying to search the web for certain characters. In the majority of cases Google simply ignores special characters such as “@”. If you think your string with a “@” finds you this character in the search results, try to replace it with another special character of your choice and you’ll see the same results.
You almost never can search for any of @#$%^&*()=+ and other special characters. There are some exceptions; for example, you can search for C# (a programming language), but these exceptional cases are few.
If you put a phrase in quotation marks, Google will look for the whole phrase. As an example, you could search for “Database Administrator”.
Interestingly, Google will recognize the operator OR within the quotes. You can search for
“Database Administrator OR Developer”
and you will find pages with either “Database Administrator” OR “Database Developer”.
Here are some sample uses.
Got a job post to work with? Use quotation marks to find out who is competing with you. Pick a several-words-long phrase from the job description, put it in quotation marks, and search for it on Google. You will land on all web pages that advertise the job.
Or, if you see a job description posted by a recruiter and you are interested who the client is, do the same as above, and you are likely to find the same job post made by the employer.
Looking for a person? If the person’s name is rare enough, putting it in quotes and Googling it may help. I also use Google advanced image search with the “faces” option and often land on the person’s blog or homepage.
Asterisk * is a very mysterious symbol in Google. Though it formally means “some words,” in reality (or is it better to say in practice?) it stands for “one word or very few words.” (The symbol * does not stand for a part of a word on Google as it does elsewhere.)
Here’s a quick example showing how it works. Search for “Oracle * Administrator” (plus keywords) and you will find Oracle Database Administrator, Oracle Discoverer Administrator, etc.
The asterisk * is actually a very powerful tool. Here are some uses.
If you are looking for an email pattern for a company or are trying to collect email addresses, you can use
“email * companyname.com” or
“mailto * companyname.com “
Since the symbol * typically stands for one word, you can add more asterisks to these strings and get different results.
(“email * * companyname.com” etc.)
Please note that since Google ignores special symbols, including the symbol @ in your strings is not necessary.
Here’s one of my favorite sourcing “tricks.” You can look for phrases and land on blogs, forums, and homepages, not resumes, but this may put you ahead of the competition if they only look for resumes.
Here are examples of Google searches for phrases. This would bring up pages written by people who work or used to work for or have something to do with Accenture. (Replace Accenture with your target company name.) Add your keywords to these strings to narrow down the searches:
“I work * Accenture”
“I am * Accenture”
“when I * Accenture”
You can use phrases as a research tool. You can be really creative!
Note that we didn’t even use Boolean logic in these last few examples but we got interesting results.
Tilde ~ and Plus +
Tilde in front of a word means any word “like” this word. It needs to be used with care since you have no control over what Google may think is “like” your word. However, if the number of results is small or if you suspect you may not know of some synonyms for your keyword, using the tilde may help.
The plus sign in front of a word tells Google to use exactly this word. This may be useful for two reasons. One, Google typically ignores what they call “stop” words, meaning very common short words like “the” or “in”. If you put a plus + in front of the, it will be included for sure. Two, Google “auto stems” which means that it will look for some variations of a word you include; if you search for manager it will show results with management as well. Put a plus in front of manager and the results will contain exactly this word. (Sorry, this may sound a little too technical, but it’s important to understand how your results are put together.)
Part 2 of 2 Google Operators
Let’s take a deep breath, stretch, walk around a bit, and move on to the second part of my story, Google Operators.
Operators are special words that Google recognizes that instruct it to treat keywords in a special fashion.
The operator site: tells Google to look only within a specific website; this is commonly referred to as X-raying.
How can you use it? As an example, there are certain sites that are likely to have resumes posted, such as resumebucket.com
On Google, search for
site:resumebucket.com <your keywords>
to find resumes. I would search for
site:resumebucket.com Java weblogic
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to find resumes of people with those skills on the site resumebucket.com.
This operator tells Google to go only to the pages that have a given word in their URL (URL means “web address”). Since all LinkedIn profiles have either “in” or “pub” in the addresses, we can search for LinkedIn profiles like this:
site:LinkedIn.com inurl:in OR inurl:pub <keywords>
Let’s combine this with the phrase search we discussed previously. Here’s an example:
site:LinkedIn.com inurl:in OR inurl:pub “looking * work OR job” OR “laid off” OR available <your industry and/or location keywords here>
site:LinkedIn.com inurl:in OR inurl:pub “looking * work OR job” OR “laid off” OR available SAP ~Consult
will look for profiles that have the word SAP and a variation of “consult” such as consultant or consulting.
…will be the last operator to discuss today. It tells Google to look for the given word in the title of a web page.
Since the introduction of social networks, we have started searching for “profiles.” Profiles on a given network often have a similar structure to the page titles and/or URLs. If you figure out the structure, you could use it to look for profiles from a given site or a network. Here are a couple of examples, in addition to the LinkedIn example above.
Look for someone on social networks:
site:ning.com intitle:page <name here>
Look for resumes on craigslist:
site:craigslist.org inurl:res <keywords>
There are many more Google operators (see here for descriptions) but you can get very far by using just the ones I have mentioned.
If you are interested in the subject, please join our network called (as we now know, somewhat inappropriately) Boolean Strings Network. We discuss all sides of web searches and sourcing there. See you online!