Using Facebook to Make Hiring Decisions

Faculty member David Lebel

Faculty member David Lebel

Organizations are increasingly using Facebook and other social networking websites (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) when recruiting and hiring employees. Over 90 percent of employers say they use some form of social networking when recruiting applicants, with nearly half to two-thirds of employers using Facebook during the recruiting process. And according to CareerBuilder, close to 40 percent of companies search applicant’s Facebook or other social media profiles during the recruiting process. Employers use this information for a variety of reasons: to see if a candidate is qualified for the job, fits the company culture, and/or to look for possible reasons not a hire candidate. The use of Facebook or other social networking websites in the recruiting process is now pervasive, yet a key question remains: is this an effective way of recruiting candidates and can it predict whether an applicant will be successful on the job?

Recent research suggests that the answer to this question is a clear and resounding NO.  A forthcoming study in the Journal of Management found that recruiter ratings of candidate Facebook profiles were not related to that candidate’s actual performance on the job, nor to the candidate’s turnover intentions – both of which are key outcomes generally tracked by recruiters. These researchers looked at a sample of undergraduate students who were on the job market and then had recruiters and HR managers assess each of the student’s Facebook profiles along three dimensions: employability, intelligence, and job-related skills. One year later, the researchers followed up with the students and asked them to report their current employment status and whether they planned to stay at that job. At the same time, the researchers also contacted the employed students’ current supervisor to get a rating of their performance on the job. Results revealed that none of the ratings of the Facebook profiles predicted supervisor-rated performance on the job, nor actual turnover, nor employee-reported turnover intentions.

Eye-reflects-FacebookThe recruiter ratings of applicant’s Facebook profiles were not only ineffective at predicting job performance, but they also suggested possible bias in using such ratings. Specifically, the researchers found that ratings of white applicants were significantly higher than ratings of African-Americans and Hispanics, and that ratings of women were significantly higher than ratings of men. The ethnicity and gender differences suggest the possibility of legal problems for employers that use Facebook to recruit candidates. A bias could be particularly damaging for recruiters, as organizations are responsible for demonstrating the validity of recruitment policies in situations in which adverse impact exists. And the results from the study suggest that establishing the validity of these practices  could be difficult.

If using Facebook to recruit candidates isn’t a valid way to predict performance on the job, are there other uses of this method in the recruitment process? One possibility is that employers use Facebook profiles to assess the personality of job candidates. Research from a sample of undergraduate students in the United States and Germany suggests that ratings of an individual’s Facebook profile are accurate predictors of that individual’s personality. The profiles, in other words, were not being used to project a glorified image of one’s ideal self (i.e., an attempt to be a more socially desirable person). Facebook profile ratings were especially predictive of an individual’s extraversion (e.g., sociability, gregariousness, assertiveness) and openness to experience (e.g., creativity, imagination, willingness to try new things). This suggests that Facebook profiles could be used in jobs in which these personality traits might be particularly relevant. Say, for a sales job where sociability is important (extraversion), or for jobs involving innovation or creativity (openness to experience).

facebook2In general, the results suggest that recruiters should be very hesitant to use Facebook and other social networking websites in the recruiting process. And while using Facebook profiles may provide a window into understanding an applicant’s personality, given the potential privacy and legal ramifications, recruiters looking to assess personality should instead use validated personality inventories such as the Big 5 or  the host of personality inventories used by consultants. As a first step, recruiters need to test and validate methods for using Facebook in the recruiting process to show that such methods can actually predict important outcomes such as job performance and turnover. At the very least, as the researchers of the Journal of Management study suggest, recruiters who use Facebook need to develop clear policies and methods for doing so.

As for potential job applicants, given the prominent use of Facebook by recruiters, you may want to block access to your Facebook profile (and most users don’t), as a recruiter may find something unrelated to performance on the job that prevents you from getting hired.

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