Many have called semantic search the future of resume search technology. But what exactly is semantic search?
Imagine search engines that don’t get hung up on the particular words that you and your perfect candidates use to describe a given profession. Instead, semantic search interprets the meaning behind the words and concepts.
If that simple concept still sounds murky, there's good news: to reap the benefits of semantic search, you don’t need to know how it works.
Here’s a glimpse behind the curtain of semantic search that will help inform your use of it.
The Power of More Accurate Search
Basically, semantic search gets down to the meaning of words -- the terms of your query and the prose in the resume database -- to separate the wheat from the chaff much more effectively than conventional search.
“Semantic search creates strong job searches for the employer so it doesn’t take hundreds of clicks to sift through the results,” says James Sinclair, principal at OnSite Consulting, a hospitality consultancy in Los Angeles that performs executive searches for clients.
Maybe the most surprising aspect of semantic search is that it lets you describe who you’re looking for, almost as if you were speaking with a networking contact who knew all the top candidates out there.
“Our semantic search incorporates an engine that looks at context and addresses a lot of language pitfalls in resumes,” says Earl Rennison, vice president of architecture at Monster. For example, Monster’s Power Resume Search resolves misspellings, abbreviations (standard and otherwise) and synonyms and variations in terms. For example, SOX, Sarbanes-Oxley and Sarbox are all understood to refer to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Recruiters find that it’s more effective to search on specific, hard skills, like C# programming, than on soft skills like team player. Those all-important soft skills are best evaluated by hiring managers and HR professionals in personal interactions.
Finds Candidates on their own Terms
Semantic search is necessary precisely because human language is so full of variations. “Candidates don’t create resumes thinking about how you will search for them,” Kforce vice president of recruiting Glen Cathey told attendees of SourceCon 2010.
Semantic search uses webs of related terms and their meanings to uncover resumes that use words closely related to your search terms. So, for example, when a recruiter or hiring manager runs a search on programmer, the results may also include jobs titled software engineer and developer, since they are potential synonyms.
Skills and traits are then weighted in semantic search to produce optimal ranking of results. Monster’s Power Resume Search gives more weight to a candidate’s experience that’s more recent, for example.
Even in the current buyer’s labor market, perfect candidates are often elusive. Thus Power Resume Search lets recruiters designate each desired skill as either required or nice to have.
Using Technology to Meld Information
To match your search query with the best candidates, semantic search combines advanced analytics with real-world knowledge of occupations in many industries.
“For each resume, the technology extracts concepts and tags sections,” says Rennison. “Then we analyze and summarize all the information in the resume,” to produce a conceptual portrait of the candidate.
Monster’s subject-matter experts encode knowledge from many professional fields, Rennison adds. They define a concept, find all the ways of referring to that concept, and determine where the concept fits in the “semantic space” of industries and occupations.
Here’s one such example: because advertising is a form of marketing communications, a resume with advertising copywriter in its Job Experience section can be presumed to belong to a candidate who has some marketing experience.
“Unless you have the right technology, making all of this come together is exceptionally difficult and fraught with problems,” says Rennison.
For instance, parsing errors can cause some words to be misinterpreted because their context is misconstrued. If a CPA’s resume states that she is marketing herself as a forensic accountant, the resume search engine should not classify her as a marketing professional. Sophisticated semantic search will analyze where in the resume marketing appears and interpret the word in that context.
Will Semantic Search Reshape Recruiting?
Who needs professional recruiters when semantic search is available? Most employers who have been using recruiters will find that these human experts will remain essential to the sourcing, recruiting and hiring cycles.
“Recruiting for top management still requires the personal touch,” says Sinclair. Additionally, concludes Cathey, “Intelligent search and match applications are not a replacement for creative, curious and investigative recruiters.”
Armed with semantic search in their tool belts, “recruiters can focus on developing relationships with clients and candidates,” says Rennison. Since semantic search streamlines the discovery of candidates, he adds, “recruiters can devote more time to determining whether candidates meet the promise of their resumes.”