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 min read

X-ray search in 2022: find any candidate online

This is how to turn a regular search engine like Google into your personal talent search engine using X-ray.

July 25, 2021
Yuma Heymans
December 15, 2021
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X-raying is using a generic search engine, like Google, to search profiles from other platforms, like LinkedIn.

The power of an X-ray search is that you can turn a regular search engine like Google into your personal source of candidates.

An x-ray search is not only applicable to finding LinkedIn profiles, but also any other database with candidates.

It doesn't have to be difficult.

An example of a very simple X-ray search for LinkedIn is this search string in Google:

site:linkedin.com/in java

If you click on this search string, you’ll see the results for yourself.

This x-ray search works, but unless you are planning on screening 18.300.000 search results, you might want to make a search that provides more targeted results.

With this search string you’re searching all LinkedIn profiles that contain the word ‘Java’ anywhere on the profile.

You probably have more specific requirements than ‘does something with Java’, so in this guide we will show you how to build a search string that takes into account individual keywords, combinations of keywords, where keywords should be found and how to make your search more targeted with advanced operators.

We will give you examples of x-ray searches for different platforms.

We will also show you some tools that help you build search strings automatically.

This complete guide on X-raying will let you walk away with:

  1. Understanding how search engines work
  2. Understanding the basics of search operators: Boolean and advanced operators
  3. List with examples of search strings
  4. Search engines designed for finding talent

1. Understanding how search engines work

Web search engines provide us access to almost all content on the internet. The most well known and widely used search engine is Google (92% market share).

Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, Baidu and alternative search engines make up the rest of the search engine market.

These search engines follow a process that is called ‘indexing’, which basically means that they keep track of what content is stored on the internet, where it’s stored and when it’s updated.

That indexed content includes almost anything available on the web, and that includes profiles (like LinkedIn profiles).

Therefore we can find those profiles in a search engine like Google.

The mentioned search engines work very similar to each other (except for some minor differences).

Now we know this, we just need to know how to search Google for profiles.

Search engines don’t have search filters that are made for finding people.

That's why we have to work with something called ‘search operators’.

And that’s what the next part is all about.

2. Understanding the basics of search operators: Boolean and advanced operators

Search operators are used before or between words to target a search.

Targeting a search means that you can indicate to the search engine (let’s assume Google) what the priority of keywords is and where those keywords have to appear on a profile.

For example, take this search string:

site:linkedin.com/in intitle:engineer "front end" (angular OR typescript)

This string finds people on LinkedIn (profiles only) who have ‘engineer’ in their job title, ‘front end’ somewhere in their profile and Angular or Typescript (or both) on their profile.

To understand how this search string is built up, let’s go through the basics.

The quick wins (basic search operators)

Now we know what the function is of search operators, we can start using them in our searches. We start with the most simple but powerful operators.

The first quick win: the site: operator

By starting your search with site: you tell Google to look only for results from a particular website.

By including site:linkedin.com you will only get search results that are coming from LinkedIn.

This works for the main domain (linkedin.com) but it also works for any subfolders, for example when you add /in, you will only find LinkedIn profiles because every profile on LinkedIn starts with this linkedin.com/in. 

Try it for yourself: site:linkedin.com/in

This also works with Stack Overflow for example (a platform for developers), where you can find developer profiles by starting your search with this site:stackoverflow.com/users.

The second quick win: Boolean operators

The Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT.

AND tells the search engine to look for keyword X AND keyword Y. So if you’re looking for an engineer that has as well Angular as Node.js in their profiles, then you use the AND operator. Most search engines handle a space like AND, so you can choose to use a space between keywords instead of AND.

Some examples:

site:nl.linkedin.com/in engineer JavaScript node.js

site:linkedin.com/in "sales executive" saas startup

OR tells the search engine to look for keyword X OR keyword Y. So if you’re looking for an engineer that has either Angular or Node.js in their profiles, then you use the OR operator. By adding OR operators you usually broaden your search because you allow for more variations of keywords.

Some examples:

site:stackoverflow.com/users engineer (Angular OR node.js)

site:nl.linkedin.com/in (engineer OR developer OR programmer) Angular

NOT (-) tells the search engine to exclude keywords, phrases or domains. In the case of Google the - is used in front of the keyword. If you’re looking for an engineer who is not focussed on managing a team but on coding you can exclude words like “Team lead”, “Manager” or "Intern" by including '-' in front of the keyword.

Some examples:

site:stackoverflow.com/users engineer (Angular OR node.js) -"Team lead"

site:linkedin.com/in "growth marketeer" -SEA -Advertisements

site:linkedin.com/in "saas sales" manager -intitle:"executive"

For the people new to Boolean; it is important that you write these operators in capital letters, otherwise they won’t work.

Boolean operators can be used in most search engines, including Google, Bing, Yandex but also platforms like LinkedIn and other social media platforms that support Boolean logic.

The third quick win: organize your x-ray

Because you probably want to use several keywords and combinations of keywords, you want to organize your search.

This search:

site:linkedin.com/in sales executive saas enterprise software salesforce atlassian

Will give you LinkedIn profiles of people who simply have all the listed keywords somewhere in their profile.

But who you want to find are sales executives, in the SaaS or Enterprise Software industry, who have worked at either Salesforce or Atlassian.

That’s why you have to organize your search with brackets () and quotations “ “, resulting in way more targeted results.

site:linkedin.com/in "sales executive" (saas OR “enterprise software”) (Salesforce OR Atlassian)

Brackets ( )

Tells the search engine to group certain keywords so you can combine them and separate others. You can use the brackets ( ) to organize your search string with separate combinations of keywords.

Example 1

You have three optional skills that you are looking for, you want to find the candidates who have either one of those. You include the optional skills as keywords between brackets separated by OR statements: (Keyword1 OR Keyword2 OR keyword3).

site:linkedin.com/in sales (saas OR fintech OR finance)

Example 2

You want to look for candidates from specific companies and separate those company keywords from other keywords that you’re using in the search string. So you include the company names as keywords between brackets separated by OR statements: (Company1 OR Company2 OR Company3).

site:linkedin.com/in sales ("open to work" OR "looking for opportunities") (microsoft OR google)

Quotations “ ”

Tells the search engine to search for an exact phrase. Keywords within the quotation marks should be occurring exactly as they are spelled and in the same order.

Example 1

You are looking for a growth marketer. You want to search for the words growth and marketeer in the same phrase. 

site:linkedin.com/in "growth marketeer"

Example 2

You are looking for people who indicate that they are open for work. You include the phrases “open to work” and “open for opportunities” to your string. 

site:linkedin.com/in "growth marketer" "open for opportunities"

Make your x-ray more targeted

You can add operators which make your search more targeted by telling the search engine where to look for the keywords.

For example, starting with intitle: before a keyword tells the search engine to look for the keyword in the title section.

This way you can search for people who have certain job titles.

Intitle:

Tells the search engine to look for the keyword in the title section. What is seen as the title depends on the format of the website that returns the results. This can be for example the job title in a LinkedIn profile but the title can also be the title of a blog on a website. 

Example 1

You are looking for a candidate who is currently a sales executive in a company. You include the intitle: operator followed by “sales executive”.

site:linkedin.com/in intitle:"sales executive"

Example 2

You want to find team members that are presented on company websites. You use the intitle: operator to look for “our team” since that indicates a description of a page on a website that presents the company’s team.

intitle:"our team" cto

Inurl:

Works very similar to the Intitle: operator, but it searches for keywords in the url.

Example 1

You want to find resumes only. You use the inurl: operator to look for urls that have ‘resume’ or ‘CV’ in the url.

inurl:(resume OR cv) python r snowflake

Example 2

You're getting some results in your search that you don't want. They are related to blogs webpages so you decide to exclude the results coming from those pages.

intitle:"sales executive" "open for work" -inurl:blog

Filetype:

Tells the search engine to look for particular file types only. With the filetype: operator you can search for document files (like pdf and doc), data files (like csv and xml) and more. Here’s an overview of file types. Some file types work, others don't, which leaves some room for experimentation.

Example 1

You want to look for CV’s. Resumes are usually saved as pdf files. You include the filetype: operator followed by the file type extension, in this case pdf.

filetype:pdf intitle:(cv OR curriculum vitae OR resume) "sales executive"

Example 2

You want to find lists of attendees of an event that is related to your related domain. Lists are usually presented in excel formats so you include the xlsx as a file type in your search.

filetype:xlsx attendees sales conference

Asterisk *

Tells the search engine to include a wildcard in (part of) the search. This will search for variations of a keyword. 

Example 1

You want to search for manager profiles and realize there are a lot of variations on the word manager. You include manag* because this will pull results like: manager, managed, manages, managing, managerial, management, etc.

site:linkedin.com/in intitle:manag* engineering

Example 2

You want to search for profiles within a niche platform, in this case Kaggle, and you see that on every profile page there is something like “joined 4 months ago”. The number and months/years can obviously differ in every individual case so you can’t search for “joined 4 months ago”. You include the asterisk to search for all the variations “joined * ago”.

site:kaggle.com “joined * ago” amsterdam python

Things to take into account while building your search

Search strings can get as complex as you want. The standard Google search engine for example allows a maximum total of 32 keywords in your search string.

When the threshold of 32 keywords is reached, you see this:

Also good to know, is that search engines are a bit more complex than they seem at first glance. Search engines like Google use ‘semantic search’ which recognizes the searcher’s intent and the contextual meaning of search terms.

This includes recognizing words that don’t exactly match your keyword, but which are closely related to your keyword (synonyms).

For example, ‘developer’ can also match words like ‘development’ and ‘programmer’.

Since Google is not always 100% accurate, you can choose to use your own synonyms separated by OR statement.

3. List with examples of search strings

Below is a list with examples of search strings to showcase the variety of x-ray searches that you can build.

You can also use the examples as a template to base your own search on.

If you prefer video, watch this:

Find engineers in Stack Overflow with Drupal knowledge

site:stackoverflow.com/users Engineer drupal (“ui” OR “ux” OR websites OR “landing pages” OR “crm”)

Find cloud engineers by x-raying LinkedIn

site:linkedin.com/in intitle:engineer AWS ECS Kubernetes Fargate (Grafana OR Kibana OR Cloudwatch) (Bash OR Python OR Ruby)

Find data scientists in Kaggle

site:kaggle.com “joined * ago” python "R" London

Find mobile developers in Amsterdam

site:nl.linkedin.com/in intitle:developer iOS Android (Flutter OR React) Amsterdam

Find growth marketeers

site:linkedin.com/in intitle:"growth marketeer" data (experiment OR iteration OR testing OR tooling)

Find business developers

site:ca.linkedin.com/in Toronto intitle:("sales development" OR "lead development" OR "inside sales") -government -corporate

Find lead front-end engineers

site:uk.linkedin.com/in intitle:engineer typescript node.js react (Docker OR Kubernetes OR Python) (Lead OR Manager) -london

4. Search engines designed for finding talent

As mentioned before, generic search engines like Google are not designed for finding people. X-raying just happens to work decently for finding people when you make use of the right search operators and principles in this guide.

To prevent all the work you have to put into learning how to build X-ray searches and writing them, you can also choose to use a talent search engine, that is designed to find candidates and their information across platforms.

An example of such a search engine is HeroHunt.ai, that finds tech candidates online including their contact details and provides an outreach workflow.

This search engine turns your job descriptions into a list of best matched candidates that you can reach out to right away, without having to rely on x-ray searches or LinkedIn only.

This search engine automates a big part of the manual steps in the process:

  • It automatically builds your search based on your job description
  • It collects data from different platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub, Stack Overflow
  • It takes synonyms and context into account
  • It consolidates the information from different platforms into one profile
  • It gets the public contact details of candidates and presents them to the recruiter
  • It enables outreach from one application

You can try it here.

Bonus: resources for building great searches

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