Boolean Beware: The Case of the Questionable Quotation Marks

As a recruiter I rely heavily on writing Boolean search strings. This has served me well over the last twelve years, so whenever I find a search string that is not working as I think it should in any database, I become very focused on finding out what’s happening. This article has to do with a situation I encountered in LinkedIn Recruiter. Your input is welcomed!

If most of the Boolean search strings you use in LinkedIn Recruiter (the “not free” version) don’t regularly exceed approximately 100 characters in length, then you might want to skip this article and go to the next.

If you do regularly exceed 100 characters in your Boolean search strings AND you build your long strings in Word before pasting them into LinkedIn Recruiter, then this is something you need to know that could make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful search.

Need a lawyer?

Let’s start with a non-technical search string. For example, when using LinkedIn Recruiter to search for a Patent Attorney with an Electrical Engineering degree or equivalent, below is a Boolean search string I used:

(Juris OR JD OR attorney OR lawyer OR “legal counsel” OR “licensing counsel” OR “corporate counsel”) AND (patent OR IP OR “IP law” OR “intellectual property” OR license OR licensing OR “patent litigation” OR litigation OR prosecution) AND (BEng OR “B Eng” OR BSc or “B Sc” OR Electronic OR BSEE OR “Electrical Engineering” OR BSCS OR “Computer Science” OR BSCE OR “Computer Engineering” OR Physics OR “Mechanical Engineering” OR Engineering)

The above string has 442 characters.

I write strings that are very long, very tight, and very specific in order to get accurate results. Notice I said ‘accurate results.’ I didn’t say ‘perfect results.’ In this world, the word ‘perfect’ should be used sparingly, if at all! There are many ‘right’ ways to write a good string, and unfortunately, the converse is also true.

When using Boolean you are always playing the trade-off game of high quality / low quantity results vs. low quality / high quantity results. For me, long strings usually equate to my definition of ‘accurate results.’ However, at times I am pleasantly surprised when a three word ‘string’ produces the best results.

For strings of 442 characters and longer, I need to be able to visually see ALL the string at one time as one “big picture.” I do this because I usually go through several (sometimes as many as fifteen) iterations of tweaking strings, adding and deleting keywords in order to create the optimum string. The problem is that in LinkedIn, as with other resume databases, I can only visually see about 100 of the 442 characters at any one time in the Key Word field without scrolling back and forth. In the string above, the first part of the string that I can see at one time in the LinkedIn search field without scrolling is bolded and italicized.

The Copy and Paste workaround

To get around this, I began building my search strings in a Word doc and then copying and pasting the string into LinkedIn Recruiter. I started getting unexpected results that were not predicted by the Boolean search string. Not only were wrong candidates coming to the surface, but I would also get different unexpected results when using the same keywords that were also changing up the order in which they appeared in the string. I didn’t understand why.

Little Creatures!

It’s a long story, but bottom line is that I came to find out that there are three types of question marks that computers use (and for you programmer types there are three different ASCII codes associated with each).

Here’s a blowup of what these three little creatures look like:

When you put a key word phrase in quotation marks in Word, like technical recruiter, you’ll notice that the beginning quotation marks are like #1 and the ending ones are like #2.

How it all began while working in Taleo

Taleo has a searchable resume database. While working with this database, I discovered it only recognized the #3 flavor of quotation marks. But how do I use the #3 flavor if all that Word produces/uses is #1’s and #2’s?

So I tried an experiment. I built my search string in Word using the Word quotation marks. Then I would go into Taleo and type a single #3 quotation mark in their Key Word field, copy it, go over to Word, and then paste it over all the #1 and #2 quotation marks in Word. And Shazam!! The Boolean string looked like it was working like it should!!

Article Continues Below

Back to LinkedIn Recruiter

By this time I had begun using LinkedIn Recruiter very little because every time I copied and pasted a string from Word into LI, I would sometimes get unwanted results that didn’t obey the Boolean rules. [Again I need to emphasize here that if you are writing your strings directly into LinkedIn Recruiter without pasting from Word, this won’t be a problem for you. Everything will work just fine.]

Why not give it a shot!

So one day on a lark, I thought I would give LinkedIn a try using the same trick I had used with Taleo. And lo and behold, it started working!

For the Patent Attorney string above, this meant that after I had typed the string into Word, I had to go over to LinkedIn, type in a single quotation mark, a #3, copy it, go back to Word, and paste it 24 times over each and every quotation mark previously typed into Word. Last step was to copy this modified string in Word and then paste it into LinkedIn and then run my LinkedIn search. I quickly learned that if there were 24 original quotation marks and I only replaced 23 of them, it was a train wreck. 100% always have to be replaced.

I asked the folks at LinkedIn about this and they told me that there was no way you could copy a string in Word, paste it into LinkedIn, and have it work. Their explanation had something to do with “when you go from Word and paste into LinkedIn, you bring along too much unwanted stuff over in the process.” Regardless, it still seems to work.

The 1,900 character LinkedIn InMail

I do know when I compose a LinkedIn InMail, I am limited to 1900 characters with spaces (note: all previous references to number of characters include ‘with spaces’), yet when I compose an 1900 character InMail in Word, and copy it into LinkedIn, I always go over the 1900 character limit. Then if I back up, edit the InMail in Word down to 1850 characters or less before copying and pasting, then it works. I’m not over the limit. So it does look like in this case that 50 (1900-1850) characters of ‘something’ is ‘brought over’ or into LinkedIn from Word. I have no idea what it is, but it appears to be there.

The Genius of LinkedIn Recruiter

I consider LinkedIn Recruiter to be the premier and best searchable resume database I’ve ever encountered to date. The super ease of navigation and availability of an assortment of filtering options make me classify this as a work of pure genius!

So who am I to question the work of genius? All I can say is that I have been sourcing and getting candidates hired using this technique for the past year. Is there a glitch or something I’m missing? Entirely possible. So if you know where and/or how this breaks down, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

Finding Waldo

Below are some example searches (notice the different types of quotation marks in each of the examples):

  • If I type  directly in the LinkedIn Recruiter Key Words field, I get 5,730 results.
  • If I type  in Word and paste it into LinkedIn Recruiter, I get 29,584 results.
  • If I type  in Word, replace all the quotation marks with ‘#3’ quotation marks, and then paste the string into LinkedIn Recruiter, I get 5,730 results.
  • If I type senior technical recruiter directly into LinkedIn Recruiter with no quotation marks, I get 29,584 results.

Conclusions… at least as of today

From the above it would appear that:

  1. both LinkedIn and Taleo only correctly recognize ‘#3’ quotation marks and
  2. that if ‘#1’ and ‘#2’ quotation marks are used, both LinkedIn and Taleo treat them as if they were not there, resulting in undesired results.

**image source: Quinn Dombrowski

John Childs is a Boolean Recruiting Trainer / Consultant that is available for Boolean seminars, classes, and hands-on workshops. Previously he was a Sourcing Specialist with Research In Motion / BlackBerry. He received his Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Electrical Engineering from Auburn University. During his Masters program he was required to take a class in Boolean Logic. For the last fifteen years he has proven this Boolean skill to be a very powerful tool in recruiting where both speed and accuracy are at a premium. His recruiting has encompassed a wide variety of positions that have included those associated with industries such as semiconductors, telecom, software, hardware, IT, microprocessors, defense, and wireless. He published a Boolean Tutorial about ten years ago which, although quite dated, still offers some good tips on the basics. You can view it a or Shally Steckerl has a much better formatted version on his Arbita site at The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of John Childs and not his employer.


9 Comments on “Boolean Beware: The Case of the Questionable Quotation Marks

  1. Interesting though I have no problem cutting and pasting from Word. I cut and pasted “senior technical recruiter” from Word and returned 5753 results. Without the quotes I got 29,810 and when I type “senior technical recruiter” directly into the search box I got 5753. This tells me the quotation marks in Word are the same as those in LinkedIn.

    Of course there’s a reason why I can cut and paste from Word and you can’t and it has to do with the difference between smart quotes, straight quotes and the proofing options in Word. It’s an easy fix and hear is how you do it in Word 2010:
    Go to the File tab and select Options.
    From here select Proofing and then AutoCorrect Options to the right
    Under the “Replace as you type” section make sure the “straight quotes” with “smart quotes” box is NOT checked.
    Click OK

    Now you should be able to to cut and past from Word.

  2. John,
    Nice article!

    I ran into this issue years (5+) ago with Dice – I noticed that when I built my searches in Word and copied them over, that Dice would not find/preserve the exact phrases I was searching for.

    After calling Dice support – the same “Word brings extra junk along with your text” when you copy and paste from Word to elsewhere was explained to me, and ever since, I’ve used Notepad to craft all of my searches, because Notepad’s quotes “play nice” with all search engines and interfaces (as far as I can tell). You can save all of your searches there, or copy and paste into Word to
    save them and copy and paste from, because the “correct” quotation marks are preserved.

  3. Thanks for the article, John.

    I have been getting around this problem by typing my search string in Notepad and doing the copy/paste thing from there.


  4. Thanks John – thoroughly enjoyed the anaytical dissection of this issue. I chanced upon this as well sometime back and I read something somewwhere and believe it was Irina Shamaeva who hinted that quoatations don’t always translate over. I too have made a note of using a txt file like notepad. Ironically I was helping do an extraction of LI for one of our directors with a new software tool we purchased and had this very issue with the quotations marks in LI and had to re-do them.

  5. Another vote for Notepad, here.

    In general, I do all my “scratch” work in the simplest text editor possible. Though I’ll use MS One Note to preserve my work as I go – great for things that are “in progress”, and easier/faster to pull up or put away as needed than a Word document.

    For much more info than you probably want or need, check out — — and related links.

    Personally, I prefer straight quotes to curly quotes anyway – one of the few hold-overs from my decade-long love affair with blocky mono fonts.

  6. I agree with others here that this is more likely due to MS Word junk. Depending on how the paragraph is formatted, you will see added spaces for line wrapping of long strings. I have been using a google doc spreadsheet to format long strings for sometime. It keeps everything plain text, but I can use the hyperlinks created to open the string in a new tab or window instantly.

    I even created a form as an experiment so you can work out the logic and save each version as you narrow down the needles from the stack.

    It is beyond my coding skill, but using Google’s API you can actually get a response #. So you can test the # of matches while coding the string in your spreadsheet. If I ever get a spare day I will whip up an experiment and share it here (unless this has already been shared).



    First the SourceCon editor has requested I write another article for May specifically on LinkedIn Recruiter. She said she had enough articles on the free version of LinkedIn. So any suggestions you have would be welcomed! Thanks, John

    Big thanks to Chris Lowe on how to make Word type straight quotes instead of curly quotes. Here’s how I did it for Word 2007 which is almost the same as what Chris does for his Word 2010: a) Open up Word b) click on the multi-colored ball in the upper left hand corner of your screen, c) at the bottom of the box that popped up, c) click on Word Options, d) click Proofing on the upper left hand area, e) then look to the right on this same screen and click AutoCorrect Options, f) click on the tab for AutoFormat As You Type, g) there is a check box at the upper right. Make sure “straight quotes” with “smart quotes” is unchecked.

    Hi Glen. It’s nice to hear from the Boolean Black Belt. I chuckled about what happened to you in Dice 5+ years ago. The same happened with me except when I wrote a string in Word and pasted it into Dice, I got weird writing or symbols like I never had seen before or since. Like something out of Star Trek or some ancient civilization.

    Thanks to all for the tip on using Notepad to get quotation marks straight. If I had heard about this earlier I probably would have looked into it. As it turns out I used Word Table with 4 columns; Date, Req # & Title, Recruiter’s name I’m sourcing for, and the strings themselves. At the top of each string I indicate the source (LinkedIn, Monster, Taleo, etc) and date for the purpose of OFCCP compliance. The main reason I keep track of the strings is that I can go up to 15 iterations before finding the right sting. I take the old string, draw a dotted line above it, paste the old string and then start tweaking it. So far I’ve accumulated 400 Word pages of strings in the above format.

  8. Nice article!

    1) Of course, any plain text editor will do, to eliminate extra coding characters. My favorite one is Ultra Edit. To copy any text as plain text, I just use the Windows add-in PureText.

    2) Why are you using keywords like   “IP OR “IP law” ”  ? In my view, the keyword ‘IP law’ is a subset (already included) when you use ‘IP’ as a keyword.
    Similar with other keywords:
    “patent litigation” OR litigation
    “Computer Engineering” OR … OR “Mechanical Engineering” OR Engineering

    Thus you can do this query with less than 442 characters. (352 chrs)

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