Shut Up, Already: Stop Talking About These 3 Recruiting “Trends”

I read a ton of blogs, participate in a lot of Twitter chats (or as I call them, “pithy parties”) and listen in on a lot of presentations about trends in talent acquisition and HR technology.  But what’s trendy among the industry “influencers” who need your company’s cash to keep the lights on don’t necessarily jibe with the stuff that really matters to candidates and employers.

Here are three hot topics that drive a ton of talk but very little value unless you’re a consultant with a specific agenda in mind: 

Boolean Strings

There are a ton of tools out there for building Boolean Strings, not to mention a cottage industry of consultants and thought leaders.  But investing time or energy into becoming a master at Boolean is a lot like learning the fine art of calligraphy or opening a Delorean dealership.  Your time has passed.

Boolean is the sourcing version of Steampunk; it’s indulging nostalgia for a bygone area through anachronistic technology.  But it’s a dying art, and the average sourcer (or hiring manager, for that matter) no longer needs to build complex 28 modifier strings to find stuff on search engines.  Boolean is as relevant to search as Lycos or Dogpile – really, just Ask Jeeves.

Google, obviously, has predictive search capabilities and advanced functionalities which, while not as highly targeted as a complex Boolean string, takes a whole lot less time than setting up a bunch of parenthetical prepositions.  Even major job boards like Monster, largely perceived by the sourcing intelligencia as technological backwaters, incorporate natural language & semantic search capabilities into their core sourcing products, and the results tend to be far more accurate and relevant than the traditional keyword searches upon which Boolean logic relies.

Facebook’s Open Graph, which is so easy a caveman (or HR Generalist) can do it, is the kind of game changing technology that showcases, in the most mainstream of ways, that natural language and semantic matching are the future of search.  For those still reliant on Boolean, you’re really just being strung along.

There’s no modifier necessary for NOT knowing Boolean AND “sourcing results” – unless you’re a professional sourcer who’s trying to preserve your job by adding unnecessary complexity to the relatively simple task of getting relevant search results for almost any research project.


 Mobile is obviously a huge part of recruiting, because, well, recruiting is online marketing, and most online activity now happens from a mobile device.  Google penalizes sites that aren’t mobile optimized, meaning a majority of Fortune 500 career sites, which makes it hard for candidates to find your company and opportunities.  Furthermore, most passive talent (which is to say, people with jobs) is loathe to look for jobs on their work computers and within their corporate firewall, but do a majority of their job search due diligence at work – on their own phones.  BYOD policies have only increased this trend.

All that is to say there’s no understating the importance of mobile in talent acquisition, but this might be the only industry who’s still talking about this like it’s some sort of new concept.  A lot of companies pay big bucks to agencies and point solution vendors to develop branded apps, but this is, for almost every employer, a huge waste of money.  The average person has 25 apps, and unfortunately, the kinds of targeted talent most companies are looking for probably isn’t going to take the time to download yours – they just want to apply for jobs.  Build a responsive website in HTML 5 and you’ve at least entered this decade on the backend – building a device specific experience is also cheap, easy and effective.

But seriously, mobile, like social, needs to be seen as a platform for distributing jobs and disseminating employer brand as part of a holistic recruiting strategy, not as this crazy, futuristic independent entity.  The fact that we’re still having to build a business case for mobile in this business is kind of sad, because the rest of the world is too busy staring at their smart phones to really care.

If you want to talk about improving candidate engagement with mobile, which actually can be achieved through SMS campaigns (but again, that’s like 10 years ahead for most employers), here’s a tip: try using that mobile device to actually call a candidate.  Turns out those devices work for that, too – and phone calls are still an effective way to “engage candidates in a careers conversation” and be social. That much is unlikely to change anytime soon when it comes to the hiring process.

Employer Branding

An Example of Best Practices in Employer Branding

An Example of Best Practices in Employer Branding

 Employer branding, like mobile, is really important, but, to quote my friend Bill Boorman, almost all of it today is designed with the goal of “employer blanding” – making your company as generic as possible.  All those shots of your employees in action, collaborating in open work environments with the same accouterments as a day care center aren’t going to convince a candidate that yours is the career destination of their dreams.  Nor are those slick, professionally produced videos which have a lot of close-ups of employees in stage makeup and great lighting talking about their awesome experience – the average candidate doesn’t really care to take the time to watch the career version of “Triumph of the Will.”  They just want to apply for a damn job, or see what kinds of jobs you’re actually hiring for.

That’s why a well written, engaging and easy to understand job description, really, is the most important – and most ignored – employer branding mechanism.  It’s cool to make a company look sexy, but taking a generic but hard to fill job like a Senior Accountant or an Operations Manager and making that position look appealing?  That’s the real challenge – and, if you succeed, the cheapest and most effective employer branding vehicle out there.

Or, you know, you could spend a lot of money into building a great looking careers site that completely detracts from the entire point of a careers site: finding and applying for open jobs.  That’s way more important than making sure you slap a generic value statement and some employee headshots up there any day of the week.

But since I don’t make any money consulting on any of these three topics, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about – and the vendors charging for these services likely have the white papers full of biased research to prove I’m wrong.  Alternatively, you can call me out by leaving a comment below – engagement is everything, you know.

21 Comments on “Shut Up, Already: Stop Talking About These 3 Recruiting “Trends””

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  3. Well-written, Matt! 🙂 It’s an interesting, thought-provoking article. The problem here is the definition of Boolean (complex, elaborate) search vs. “simple” search with semantic elements.

    I do agree that (quoting the above) “building complex 28 modifier strings” is unproductive; it always has been as far as I am concerned. “Setting up a bunch of parenthetical prepositions” on Google is even less productive, since Google ignores parentheses.

    I am not a fan of long Boolean Strings at all. Some very short advanced Boolean search strings on Google produce results that can help with sourcing. As a couple of random examples, this search produces all job titles at Walmart; this search finds all members of the LI group “Deloitte”. No way either search can be performed without “Boolean”, so some bygone area people will get ahead of others if they keep running searches like this. 🙂

    On the other hand, as Matt points out, Google has become smarter at recognizing semantics. That’s good news for many! It’s not good news for us, though. Google would use synonyms to keywords by default; for sourcers this means that we have to use the Boolean search syntax to prevent that, to control the search results. It would add “personal” results, ones that your friends like, by default, so we’d need to change the preferences to avoid that, since we rarely look for results that friends like. If anything, we get more work in order to control the search results.

    The nice semantic and “social graph”-based adjustments may help an average person who searches with 2-3 keywords to see good results faster. Unfortunately, it will be a while until you could paste your job description into Google and ask Google to go find candidates.

  4. Great article! I believe the oldest form of recruiting is still the most valuable, networking. I don’t fully agree with your stance on employer branding, and think that a company that shows they are employee-centric can be a huge factor during an acceptance stage. My employer, Vocus, does a great job of creating positive buzz in the region. Check us out at & @VocusCareers.

  5. Reblogged this on A time to write and commented:
    Fantastic thought provoking blog from Matt Charney. Far to often we follow the “thought leaders” and “trending topics” thinking we must all jump on the band wagon. This blog had given me plenty to think about both now and for the future.

  6. “employer blanding” -heh. Forgot Bill Boorman said that, it’s exactly right. What a refreshing read, plenty to think about and plenty of reminders to make sure we all stay focused on what we’re really trying to achieve in recruitment. I agree with Dan too, face to face networking is still the most valuable tool, but mobile technology used smartly can help amplify and spread your networking opportunities which can only be a good thing.

  7. John Childs
    11-26-13 3:26pm

    Mark Twain once noted, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” So it is with the death of Boolean.

    Semantic search is an exciting up and coming technology that holds great promise for the future. There are elements of it that are functional and very useful even today.
    There’s no better example than what Identified Recruit ( can achieve. They use the best of both worlds in combing semantic search with Boolean search. For example, if you enter just the keyword, ‘nurse’, Identified Recruit will give you about 20 different keywords either related to or mean the same the thing as ‘nurse’. So Identified Recruit takes the ‘nurse’ keyword you entered into the Boolean search field and treats it as if you had entered (nurse OR RN OR R.N. OR “ICU Nurse” OR “Operating Room Nurse” OR other equivalent search keywords).

    Now Identified Recruit can take nurse & AND or OR it with other keywords which themselves also may be expanded into multiple other equivalent keywords. So here is very simple example of how Boolean can combine semantic keywords which in turn can be expanded into multiple other keywords. It starts with building of a Boolean search string such as (nurse) AND (pediatric). Identified Recruit makes this perform like the following Boolean string:

    (nurse OR RN OR R.N. OR “ICU Nurse” OR “Operating Room Nurse” OR etc.) AND (pediatric OR pediatrician OR pediatricians OR pediatrics OR etc.)

    This is a very simple example of what Identified Recruit can do, because they also employ some of the more sophisticated contextual filters that evaluate keywords in resumes in context of the overall flavor of a resume.

    However, I’m hearing of more people getting interested in pure semantic search which will cause the death of Boolean. The irony is in not realizing that one of the critical underpinnings of semantic search is and always will be Boolean logic. The concern is that the complexity of searches would reach a point where Boolean “breaks”. If that happens, semantic “breaks”….but that’s not happening any time soon. Other components of semantic are keyword proximity algorithms and the toughest of all, is integrating all this data into mimicking the human brain to evaluate all these keywords accurately contextually in order to find good candidates.

    In 1997 I evaluated a semantic/Artificial Intelligence/fuzzy logic product called Alexander. The theory was that you could feed it a job description or the resume of a perfect candidate and Alexander would then read and “learn” either of these and then go out and find good matching resumes. It just didn’t work. I’m sure this approach has improved since then, but even today one job board in particular (and there are others who send me notices) that has my resumes in it, based on an Artificial Intelligence scan of my resume, they send me a weekly list of 10 “recruiter openings”. Usually 2 or 3 are valid, but the other open positions are things like sales, test engineer, QA, mechanical engineer, and other postings that have absolutely nothing to do with recruiter or sourcer openings. I will say I haven’t gotten a posting for a train engineer yet.

    Recently I watched one online video of an expert speaking on semantic search, and even he admitted that in order to make all search user interfaces require only semantic inputs (and nothing Boolean) would require not only highly sophisticated computing power (see Cray supercomputer), but also a tremendously large keyword vocabulary. He commented that this was a long way off in the future.

    A few years ago, I heard about another semantic approach known as ontological searches. At that time scientists were trying to find a universal web search language that would work such that you could find a Best Buy store within a 25 mile radius of your house that was open until 10:30pm on a Tuesday night and the store had a 52 inch Sony TV that was on sale with a 20% discount. I don’t know if they were able to accomplish their task.

    Getting back to the perceived complexities of Boolean. One way some resume job boards make Boolean searching less complex, is by allowing the user to fill in several fields with keywords and this is supposed to make you believe that you are bypassing this “complex” Boolean stuff and you will get great results, all the while these “fields” are nothing more than breaking up the Boolean search components, which after you hit the Enter key, the internal software re-assembles this into a Boolean search string, and does a straight-forward Boolean search. I know because I’ve filled in the fields like “all keywords must appear in the resume”, etc. and evaluated the results. Then I would write a regular Boolean, enter it into the first of these search fields and I would get the same results.

    For those who think Boolean is so complex, check out my website and in there is a free eBook on 5 easy steps to building winning Boolean search strings. Again, I don’t make money off this eBook because it is free. I just want to give you another perspective on Boolean. If you follow these 5 structured steps, they will take the mystery out of Boolean. With this technique you can write a good string of just a few words or you can make it is as complex as you like. Some of my strings have 1500+ characters (but only 4-5 sets of parentheses), so in a small way, if you read how I build the strings, I am in reality using just one component among the many and varied components of semantic search. BTW, for the last 15 years 99% of my hires have come from Monster and LinkedIn Recruiter. Those who go only after passive candidate do a good job and are very successful, however I’ve made my living tackling highly technical positions using job boards without having to endure the tedium of sifting thru Google to find great candidates. For some reason passive candidate in some quarters are perceived to be inherently superior to active candidates. Maybe it’s because passive candidates buy more expensive after-shave or else buy well-known haute couture perfumes. I dunno. That’s just my best guess. In all my years of recruiting I’ve never had a hiring manager excited about I candidate I had submitted, only to reject him/her once they found out they were an “active candidate”.

    I do have my Top 10 List of why Passive Candidates are perceived to be better than Active Candidates.

    In summary, a semantic Boolean-driven search engine such as the one offered by Identified Recruit ( offers the best of both worlds in that you have a billion passive candidates that are easily accessible though the use of well-crafted Boolean search strings empowered by semantic search capability.

  8. Wow! I think John Childs could do a separate blog post – that would provoke even more comments!

    I am inspired to add a couple of lines for the remaining lovers of Boolean:

    Here’s a just-posted free Google Boolean Mini-Book (based on a recent fun webinar with Hiringsolved):

    Here is an updated collection of Custom Search Engines, all of which also work with Boolean:

    I hope @MattCharney will check these out. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Boolean Strings, Semantic and Natural Language Search - Oh My! | Boolean Black Belt-Sourcing/Recruiting

  10. Couple of things: no matter the amount of tools; boolean, social networking etc. one still has to pick up a phone and speak to a candidate and be persuasive. So you have a lead? What are you actually going to do with it? Send the 50th email that person receives that week? Also people only care about pay and if the company is known enough to look good on a resume. Colour me cynical now, but none of that matters. Innovation? pshaw! Maybe they get to work on something interesting but in the end all anyone cares about anymore is greed; what is pays and what the payout is.

    • Hi Mum,

      For the last 15 years as a recruiter and then as a sourcer, I have rarely picked up the phone. It’s all done by email. I can send out 200 LinkedIn InMails in10 minutes using a well-crafted Boolean search string.. It would take me longer to make 200 phone calls. If I had to call someone on the phone, I would have to explain who I am and what I do. Then I would have to go through a lengthy conversation explaining the job. It would take me longer period of time to get thru 200 cold calls. Personally, and I think others, just prefer a to-the-point job description. Depending on the job and company, I used to send candidates an email along with an attached qual form with 5 technical questions and 5 HR related questions. I would get a resume and completed qual form that I would submit to the hiring manager. If the candidate requested a phone call, I would certainly make that call. This did work, but now I feel that on-the-fence candidates don’t want to take the time to do this, and therefore I would lose candidates which has caused me to stop using this approach in most cases. There are pro’s and con’s to both approaches. It sounds like you enjoy making the personal phone calls and I would imagine you are very good at it. It’s just not for me.


  11. 2 out of 3 on the target, Charney!

    Semantic Search, as mentioned in other comments, is not useful for recruiting. It’s purpose is to guide you to information that it thinks you want, based on browser history, other people’s searches, and it’s internal ranking.

    Unless the algorithm was built to give you candidates looking for work, semantic search works against you.

    And boolean search, while it is useful for sourcers, often frustrates recruiters. Building a comprehensive list like Glenn Cathey does is an amazing skill, and useful for high-volume hiring. If I want one person, fast, in front of a manager, I have to work with the search to gather names and numbers, which means finding pools and networks of talent.

    In that case, Boolean and Semantic are doorways I open in hopes of finding treasure, not skillsets that need to be deeply understood to be useful.

    • As Meatloaf said, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. I think that semantic search isn’t useful for recruiting, but if you’re a hiring manager or small business owner or even an in-house recruiter who can’t shell out for dedicated sourcing support or an agency, semantic is pretty effective for sourcing – at least as effective as using LinkedIn if the whole argument for Boolean mastery is finding those candidates who other recruiters let slip through the cracks. And no algorithm will ever be able to only return candidates looking for work – convincing the qualified profiles/leads you find to consider an opportunity isn’t a tool or technology, it’s the foundation of recruiting.

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