Starters and Boolean

Recently I have seen a few posts and articles about how using keyword search (Boolean if you will) makes it almost impossible for starters to be found by recruiters.

Then the other day, my awesome colleague Britt van Capelleveen told me about this belief within the candidate community. They are not found because us, recruiters are looking for particular personality traits in a CV. Just imagine, a recruiter searching for “empathetic” via a Boolean search. Yeah, I know – I can see it happening too and it makes me (2)

Angry, I tell you. I probably made this face. Although I have shorter hair. And wear glasses. Anyhow…

I figured I write about this because I wanted to clarify some things.

First of all, Boolean is absolutely suited to search for starters. Recruiters have been doing it for years. Me and my team have placed quite a few starters in their first full time job because Boolean allowed us to find them.  How?

If we are looking for a starter, we will NOT use job title (=required work experience) in our search. Let’s look at this example that was highlighted in one of the articles I read: (accountmanager OR “account manager” OR “commercieel manager” OR salestijger OR salesmanager OR “sales manager” OR vertegenwoordiger) AND (“buitendienst” OR “koude acquisitie”). For you non-Dutch speakers, it would translate to something like this: (accountmanager OR “account manager” OR “commercial manager” OR saleschampion OR salesmanager OR “sales manager” OR representative) AND (“new business” OR ” cold sales” OR “cold calling”). Not the exact word-for-word translation, but it’s about getting the idea. In essence, you are looking for someone who has done cold acquisiton before – as you require these activities to be stated in their CV/profile. And clearly, that indicates no starter 99.9% of the time. The example is flawed. Or the recruiter doesn’t know what they are doing. If the idea was however to look for someone who could be interested in such a position as their first full time gig, you’d be better off targeting studies or side jobs that would bear relevance/show potential motivation for the job. For example you could look for someone who has just finished International Business Studies/Marketing and Sales and had a part-time job working as a sales advisor in a phone shop while attending college.

Let’s get one thing straight: with Boolean people don’t look for POTENTIAL or MOTIVATION, they look for SKILLS, EXPERIENCEs, measurable/quantifiable/factual things. After all, it was a bloody mathematician who came up with the whole logic.


Before we talk about incorporating soft skills in Boolean strings, let me ask you a question:

Do you ALWAYS find it to be true when a candidate claims to have expectional communication skills? Or negotiation skills? Or any soft skills/personality traits for that matter?

Does the lack of mentioning great interpersonal skills indicate that someone is not capable of working with others?

I’ll answer for you. NO. You will touch on these issues in your interview with them. So the question begs, why would you incorporate these traits in your search? Why run the risk of passing by the perfect candidate purely because they have not mentioned empathy on their CV?

As one of the greatest minds in sourcing, Glen Cathey wrote about it in his most recent blogpost, mastering search in recruitment is not about the operators and such: the fanciest tool you can use is YOUR BRAIN.

So make sure you also spend a second on thinking about what inserting certain words/phrases in your search could result in. And if your hits don’t show what you hoped for, don’t panic and concoct another string; first look at your false positives to analyse what went wrong and learn from your mistakes. This is the only way to get better at this game.


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