How to find the right candidates faster with Boolean search and semantic search

September 13, 2023 Debra Auerbach

How to find the right candidates faster with Boolean search and semantic search

Search strategy matters when seeking the top candidates for your business. You can select from various methods to comb both internal and external databases for talented individuals to meet your needs. Understanding different search approaches and how they work can improve the chances of finding the right person for the position.

Boolean search and semantic search are two methodologies you can use to strengthen your ability to find outstanding job seekers in your industry. While you may prefer one of these techniques, using them together is an effective way to optimize your results and expand your pool of relevant talent. This guide explores these approaches and best practices to incorporate them into your recruitment search strategy.

The basics of Boolean and semantic search methods

Before learning the benefits of using Boolean and semantic searches together, you'll need to understand how to implement each technique separately and effectively. Let's start with this side-by-side comparison:

Boolean Search

Semantic Search


Uses operators to adjust a search by combining or limiting terms

Seeks to understand the searcher's intent and the contextual meaning of terms to generate more relevant results

Scope of results

Can narrow or expand results depending on the operator used

Provides more extensive, inclusive results

Knowledge required for implementation

Intermediate to expert; best used if extensively familiar with the hiring requirements for a role

Entry-level to intermediate; best used when searching for candidates with limited familiarity with the position requirements

Time commitment

Takes a moderate amount of time to learn and construct extended Boolean strings

Requires minimal time to research related job titles and create strings of keywords

“By layering a semantic search on top of a Boolean search string, you apply all the related keywords to all the search terms to capture a wider scope of appropriate candidates without returning irrelevant results.”

How to perform a Boolean search

To use a Boolean in your candidate search, visit Google or your database of choice. While you'd probably start by entering some relevant phrases, you may gain better results with another approach. Instead, try elevating the typical keyword search with a few simple Boolean operators (words) and modifiers (symbols) as follows:

  • ": Using this operator around a set of words returns results with only that exact phrase. If you search for "web developer," for example, you won't get sources saying "web administrator and developer."
  • AND: Adding this operator between keywords limits your search results to pages that include both words only.
  • OR: Using this operator between keywords ensures you'll get results that include either of the two keywords or both.
  • NOT: Placing this word between keywords returns results with the first keyword but not the second.
  • (): Putting parentheses around two keywords and a Boolean links them together. For example, you might search for content AND (creator OR writer). Your search results will include pages that include "content creator" as well as pages that include "content writer."
  • *: Adding an asterisk to the end of a keyword will return all variations of that keyword. For example, you could expand your "content creator" keyword to "content creat*" to include content creator, creation, and creating.

How to perform a semantic search

Databases supporting semantic search have machine-learning capabilities that adapt based on cumulative user searches and behaviors. The program gathers this data to apply intent and context to your search. You'll get more personalized results over time as the predictive learning software offers the optimal search results based on your previous interaction with the program. 

Unlike Boolean and keyword searches, your results won't necessarily exactly match the words you type in the search box. If you prefer an exact match to your search terms, you can add Boolean logic to your semantic candidate searches. Since the search engine looks for what it thinks you mean based on the words you typed, you might find alternative job titles and phrases to find candidates you may have otherwise passed over.

The best of both worlds for effective recruitment searches

When starting your candidate search, evaluate as many potentially relevant candidates as possible. Using the wrong keyword mix or approach could rule out promising potential employees. But you also won't want to waste time reviewing resumes that don't meet the position requirements.

By layering a semantic search on top of a Boolean search string, you apply all the related keywords to all the search terms to capture a wider scope of appropriate candidates without returning irrelevant results. The benefits of this dual-pronged approach include:

  • Reducing the risk of overlooking ideal candidates
  • Streamlining and speeding up the hiring process
  • Narrowing the candidate pool for popular postings
  • Finding the right person for a tough-to-fill role

CareerBuilder's resume database supports simultaneous Boolean and semantic searches to optimize your recruitment process. Our algorithm makes it easy to refine your technique by showing you exactly why you got certain search results based on prior search behavior. Try it out today to energize your search for top talent.

Ready to learn more? Get tips on how to use Boolean and semantic searches separately – and together.

More tips for smarter candidate searches:

Should your search strategy include artificial intelligence tools?

Expand your candidate pool  with semantic search.

Find out where to find the best untapped talent in your candidate search.

Enhance your recruitment search strategy by focusing on the candidate.

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