With all the excitement around semantic search we still live in an era of keyword (and more specifically Boolean) search. In sourcing, one of the keyword categories I rarely see used properly are the target companies. It’s an extremely important one though: Even weak keywords can turn into great ones if you add a parentheses consisting of potential target companies to your string. The keyword combination (consultant | consulting | advisor etc.) is a pretty general one resulting in many people not suited to your positions.

Combine it with a parentheses containing recruitment agencies and you pretty much know what you will get. This article is meant to help you gather target company names and create a proper parentheses in your Boolean string – of course a list of target companies can be used for so much more (market intelligence, sales, job search etc).


Asking about the competitors and vendors in the intake call is a great start to assemble a list, but you can easily create it from scratch as well. One of the most important tools for this is  the company search database by Dun & Bradstreet. The database for some reason has 2 search interfaces, here and here. On the Hoovers interface you can get a list of companies based on the industry, country, revenue and number of employees, while on the Alacrastore interface only on industry and country. The reason why I am sharing both is that even though Hoovers offers more search options (!) and a fresher version of the database with more results (!!), it has an annoying tendency to push your searches to an error page. If the search you want to run is not succeeding there, Alacrastore is still a great way to look for target companies. From the deep list of results you can select the in-scope companies with googling for their company page and checking if their activity is really matching your profile.

Another way to find your target companies is to leverage Social Media. LinkedIn and Xing offer great company search options (with the latter being useful only if you source in the DACH region). You can list all the companies on both networks in a certain location, industry and size. Many companies will have a page on these sites as well but like with the databases, double checking on Google is advised.

Once you have a couple of companies on your list, you can use the related: operator in Google. This handy operator results in a list of similar webpages – most of the time those websites are the competition. Check this out and you will see what is it capable of. The best practice is to use related: immediately after you double checked a company site and decided it is really a good target company for you.

After you assembled a number of companies, it’s time to turn them into a parentheses of your Boolean string. A couple of tips on this:

Add some keywords related to the name of the industry. Some people are not using the name of their companies in their CV-s or profiles, they simply describe them with something like “world-famous oil&gas company” or “pharmaceutical research centre” (ohhh privacy).

-In other cases your industry name will be a part of the company name, and you can leave the long version of the company name out of your string (Airlin* instead of American Airlines, British Airlines etc.).

-Don’t forget about the abbreviations though (Tata Industrial Services – TISL).

-Do not make your string overcomplicated, shorten and use asterisk wherever possible (pharma* instead of pharmaceutical, novart* instead of Novartis AG).

Adding a target parentheses will modify your whole string – typically you can be more loose in other parts.

Now with your great string you are ready to go and you can just harvest the awesome candidates, right? Think again! Do not forget about the pure essence of agile/lean/efficient/100-other-possible-ways-how-your-company-might-call-it sourcing: the continuous analysation of your results to find patterns to include more good candidates and exclude more false positives. During your search you will find some more interesting company names – add them – and you will find out some company names are in reality resulting mostly false positives – drop them / NOT them depending on your other string parts. This is as well the ultimate way to find target companies. If all other methods fail for some reason (f.e. industry too specific) you can start searching for good candidates with other keywords, then check those candidates and reuse the gathered intelligence by running searches for people with similar company background. There is no perfect and universal solution to source, but you can rarely shoot too wide if you are focusing on target companies. Just be sure you are not focusing on a too small sample of target companies and be willing to add/drop from the list.

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