LinkedIn Keywords Boolean Search Is Compromised

booleanstringsBoolean, LinkedIn 10 Comments

Some of us, when starting a new search, go to LinkedIn, type a few terms – including, perhaps, a title and some skills – into the Keywords field in people search and try to assess the volume of potential candidates. However, if you do so, your answers may be flawed.

The LinkedIn Boolean Search Help article tells us, “If your search has two or more terms, you’ll automatically see results that include all of them.” However, this is not true in an exceeding number of keyword searches. You need to be aware of that, not to miss matching search results.

Here is what happens. If your keywords contain terms sounding like:

  • First and Last Names
  • Company Names
  • Job Titles (especially, titles with two or more words, following each other in the Keywords field, e.g. Java Developer)

Then – you will not “automatically see results that include all of the terms”. Instead, one or both of these things happen:

#1. Your search is automatically restricted to the respective profile fields – Name, Company, or Title.

For example, a search for James Smith misses some profiles that have both words, James AND Smith. (I have narrowed down the example search by a few parameters, to make the differences obvious).

#2. Your search is expanded to “synonyms”. For example, a search for “James” may find people called “Jim” or “Jamie”.

This sort of interpretation of first and last names has been there for a long time (and perhaps makes sense). What we are increasingly seeing at this time is Job Title-sounding words interpretation, that affects search results.

Here is what, for example, a (narrowed-down) search for Java Developer looks like*

– that does not include many profiles that have both keywords Java AND Developer:

* Note that your account may get different results from these searches.

When we search for the keywords Java Developer:

#1 – LinkedIn looks for people with the current or past (!) job titles including the words Java and Developer

#2 – LinkedIn includes some people with similar past or present job titles – for example, Java Engineer.

That’s it – LinkedIn will not include, for example, someone who is a Developer and has a skill Java unless they match #1 or #2 above.

The automatic interpretation of the search terms is not expected and not helpful. It’s best to avoid it.

You do not have to necessarily use “ANDs” to “break your way” to true Boolean search. Simply changing the keyword order in such a way that the terms don’t convey a job title – Developer Java – would “fix” the search:


This sort of job title-sounding search terms interpretation is inconsistent across accounts (no matter, basic or business). Different accounts get different numbers of results on the same job-title-like-sounding searches that vary quite significantly.

To avoid being misled:

  1. Watch for Job Title-sounding word combinations in your Keywords and avoid them.
  2. Use common sense – does the number of results make sense to you or is it too small or too large?
  3. Change the keyword order, rerun the search and compare.
  4. Use the advanced people search dialog and search operators.
  5. Come to our brand-new webinar LinkedHacks for Sourcing on Wednesday, March 27th.
    We will explain how to avoid search pitfalls – and how to make your Basic or Business account quite comparable in power with LinkedIn Recruiter by using workarounds, undocumented operators, URL modifications, and messaging alternatives.
    If you work with a Basic or Business account, I strongly recommend attending!

Comments 10

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  1. Way back when, I heard Linkedin could be running a 1000 AB tests at any given time on. Perhaps this is what you are running into with your results. It is a great demonstration that sometimes you get unexpected and you should test against it.

    For me:
    Java Developer returned 63 results, as did: java madison TDS developer
    java developer -“java developer” returned 52 profiles

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    2. I had a recommended search of: matt weymouth social media
      This produced a single result, which is always suspicious, but:
      matt social weymouth media
      produced 75 results. This goes to the point that you do not always know if the machine is working with you, or thinking for you.

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