LinkedIn Keywords Boolean Search Is Compromised

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 undocumented search operators.

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