Companies look at wrong things when using Facebook to screen job applicants

Jul 02, 2013 by Matt Shipman
Companies look at wrong things when using Facebook to screen job applicants
The study found companies may be looking for the wrong things on social media profiles, and weeding out good job candidates.

( —Employers are increasingly using Facebook to screen job applicants and weed out candidates they think have undesirable traits. But a new study from North Carolina State University shows that those companies may have a fundamental misunderstanding of online behavior and, as a result, may be eliminating desirable job candidates.

Researchers tested 175 to measure the personality traits that companies look for in job candidates, including , agreeableness and extraversion. The participants were then surveyed on their Facebook behavior, allowing researchers to see which Facebook behaviors were linked to specific personality traits.

The results would likely surprise many corporate human resources officials.

"Companies often scan a job applicant's Facebook profile to see whether there is evidence of drug or alcohol use, believing that such behavior means the applicant is not 'conscientious,' or responsible and self-disciplined," says Dr. Lori Foster Thompson, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the study. However, the researchers found that there is no significant correlation between conscientiousness and an individual's willingness to post content on Facebook about alcohol or .

"This means companies are eliminating some conscientious job applicants based on erroneous assumptions regarding what social media behavior tells us about the applicants," says Will Stoughton, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper.

And companies that are looking for extroverts – such as those hiring for sales or marketing positions – may be doing themselves an even worse disservice. The study found that extroverts were significantly more likely to post about drugs or alcohol on Facebook. So companies weeding out those applicants are likely to significantly limit the pool of job candidates who are extroverts.

However, the researchers did find one online indicator strongly correlated to the that employers look for. Study participants who rated high on both and conscientiousness were also very unlikely to "badmouth" or insult other people on Facebook.

"If employers plan to keep using social media to screen job applicants, this study indicates they may want to focus on eliminating candidates who badmouth others – not necessarily those who post about drinking beer," Stoughton says.

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More information: The paper, "Big Five Personality Traits Reflected in Job Applicants' Social Media Postings," was published online July 1 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking and was co-authored by Dr. Adam Meade, an associate professor of psychology at NC State.

Job applicants and incumbents often use social media for personal communications allowing fordirect observation of their social communications "unfiltered" for employer consumption. As such, these data offer a glimpse of employees in settings free from the impression management pressures present during evaluations conducted for applicant screening and research purposes. This study investigated whether job applicants' (N=175) personality characteristics are reflectedin the content of their social media postings. Participant self-reported social media contentrelated to: (a) photos and text-based references to alcohol and drug use; and (b) criticisms ofsuperiors and peers (so-called "badmouthing" behavior), were compared to traditionalpersonality assessments. Results indicated that extraverted candidates were prone to postingsrelated to alcohol and drugs. Those low in agreeableness were particularly likely to engage inonline badmouthing behaviors. Evidence concerning the relationships between conscientiousnessand the outcomes of interest was mixed.

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User comments : 3

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5 / 5 (2) Jul 02, 2013
As someone who is involved with hiring technical staff at a major software company, FB doesn't factor for me unless the candidate makes a deal of it. And frankly, using FB to actually screen candidates is just lazy HR. Get an HR staff that knows what they're doing and stop wasting your time with this sort of low-value intel.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 02, 2013
Someone who allows an employer to view their Facebook page probably doesn't have the judgement needed for the job.
Enviro Equipment Blog
not rated yet Jul 04, 2013
As a small business that doesn't have an HR department, I can personally tell you that not only do we use Facebook to screen applicants for at least one occasion it stopped us from hiring someone that we thought would otherwise be an excellent employee until we checked his Facebook statuses and saw that half of his pictures was with him drinking with friends. because this position involves driving our company vehicle, we didn't want to take the risk of hiring a heavy drinker as sometimes our deliveries have to be done during the nighttime hours.

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