LinkedIn launched its Chinese simplified version site in February 2014. Before that, despite being present in mainland China for over ten years, the platform had just over 4 million registered users in China. Following the rebranding (领英, ling-ying ) and localization of its services, LinkedIn finally took over in 2014. As of 2018, it has 44 million registered profiles in China. That makes China the 3rd largest country in LinkedIn users (the US tops the ranking, with 150 million users; India is second with 52 million).
Now the company is facing headwinds in China: in June 2017 it saw the departure of Derek Chen, LinkedIn’s President for China and key to the company’s growth in its recent past; in December last year the platform blocked advertising jobs posted by individuals to comply with local regulations; and other players such as MaiMai and Zhaopin seem to be growing at a faster pace.
Whichever way things turn out in China for LinkedIn, there is no question its current 44 million users in the mainland are a great asset for sourcing purposes.
Get Access to Candidates Beyond LinkedIn 100 Profiles Limit
LinkedIn allows for a maximum of 100 profiles when conducting a search. To tap into those 44 million profiles for recruitment purposes, the best option then is to get a LinkedIn recruiter premium account. But if you do not hire that often, or simply consider that your resources are better invested elsewhere, we want to share with you a new–old trick to research candidates in LinkedIn without the need to invest anything. You will still need a LinkedIn account nevertheless, but this you can have it for free.
We say old & new trick because this technique – commonly referred as X-ray search – is as old as the search engines; and since both LinkedIn and search engines evolve constantly, they render today’s latest trick obsolete tomorrow.
What is an X-Ray search? Basically, it is searching online in a “smarter” way than simply typing keywords in your search engine. X-ray searches involve the use of search operators. For this article, we will focus fundamentally on the search operator site:, which returns web pages belonging to the specified site, and touch slightly upon others.
Our site of reference to conduct our x-ray search is going to be cn.linkedin.com. As for the search engine, since we are in China, we will use Microsoft’s Bing (note though that most of the search operators work across other search engines as well).
Let’s imagine that you have the following assignment: to recruit a seasoned quality manager in the chemical industry for an opening position in Chongqing.
In the Bing search box we could then input something like this:
site:cn.linkedin.com/in intitle:”quality manager” + “Quality Manager” near:3 present +Chongqing +Chemical -assistant -(dir|title|groups|company)
Now, let’s explain:
- site:cn.linkedin.com/in: the operator site: tells the search is to run only at cn.linkedin.com/in. We indicate the subdomain cn.linkedin.com rather than the domain linkedin.com because we want to focus on profiles in China. LinkedIn user profiles are still found in two sites: /in and /pub. However, searches under /in are likely to produce more results than searches under /pub. But you could try with both /in and /pub.
- intitle: “quality manager”: the intitle: search operator will find pages that include the specific keyword in the indexed title tag. Because our keyword is a string of two words (quality + manager) we use “ ” to indicate that we want to search only for the exact match “quality manager” (and not, for example, “quality product manager”).
- + “Quality Manager” near:3 present: here we are indicating to look for the following string of text: “Quality Manager” unknown-word1 unknown-word2 unknown-word3 present. In LinkedIn profiles we often have the word present placed after the current position of the candidate. Since we prefer to seek for candidates that are working as quality managers today, rather than at some time in the past, we are indicating to look for the exact match “Quality Manager” in the vicinity of the word current. The operator near:3 indicates there will be 3 words between current and “Quality Manager”. You could also try with one-word separation (near:1) or two-words separation (near:2).
- + Chongqing + Chemical: these are two additional keywords we want Bing to search in the pages contained within the subdomain cn.linkedin.com/in. The plus symbol (+) indicates the AND operator (you can write either AND or +).
- – assistant: we mentioned that we are looking for a seasoned quality manager. Therefore, an assistant quality manager or a quality manager assistant is not a candidate we are interested in. The minus symbol (–) plays the same role as the NOT operator. There are other words that you could try here, like junior, jr. , or assisstant (note that the last one is a misspelling of assistant). Think about how often you find misspellings and abbreviations in resumes: it is useful to keep these in mind also when crafting your searches. An additional tweak would be to use the near:x operator to exclude from the results those profiles where assistant is close to the job title.
- – (dir|title|groups|company): these are a list of words known to be part of LinkedIn URLs that point not to an individual’s public LinkedIn profile but to a directory (dir), a promotional landing page (title), LinkedIn group pages (groups), or a LinkedIn company site (company). With the minus symbol (–) we indicate we don’t our search to contain the specified keyword after it. The pipe symbol (|) is equivalent to the OR operator. In Google-based searches we can use the string: inurl:(dir|title|groups|company) which aims directly to the URL. Unfortunately, in Bing (or Yahoo) the inurl: operator does not work, so we use the best next thing which is to look for those words all over the indexed content of the pages.
“X-ray searches are only a good-enough free alternative to bypass some of the limitations imposed by LinkedIn”
Since we are looking for candidates in China we want to produce also a similar search in Chinese, since most likely most of the profiles won’t be in English. Therefore, our Bing query could look like:
site:cn.linkedin.com/in intitle: “质量经理” +”质量经理” near:3 present +重庆市 +化工 –助理 -(dir|groups|title|company)
Note that in the Chinese query the word present is used in English. That is because in our LinkedIn version – although we are using the simplified Chinese one – we still get this in English:
In your version, if you have it in Chinese then adapt the query accordingly.
Additionally for Chinese searches, we should take into account we might use different characters to refer to similar meaning: an assistant is both 助理 (Zhùlǐ) or 助手 (Zhùshǒu); Chongqing is 重庆市, but it can be referred also as 渝 (Yu), its official abbreviation; and for chemical you could go for either 化工 (Huàgōng) or 化学 (Huàxué).
The above Bing query in Chinese produces only one hit (with a search in Hong Kong – search engines will provide different results based also on your location). Trying several iterations, we saw that the main constraint was to have in the search 化工. Removing it from the search, that is, not considering uniquely profiles with chemical in it did give us 12 hits:
site:cn.linkedin.com/in intitle: “质量经理” +”质量经理” near:3 present +重庆市 –助理 -(dir|groups|title|company)
In the search box of LinkedIn, at the time of this writing, you can still use the following operators: AND, NOT, OR, quotations “ ” and round brackets ().