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Why Facebook is not suitable for recruiting employees

It is common practice these days for recruitment screening processes to include scanning of job applicants’ Facebook postings for evidence of potential ‘bad behaviour’.

But a recent US study suggests that employers who reject applicants on the basis of what they find on Facebook may be overlooking potentially good employees.

The evidence indicates that there may be little correlation between some types of ‘online’ behaviour outside the workplace and behaviour on the job.

The study, by North Carolina State University, United States, measured personality traits that were considered desirable in employment among 175 people. These traits included being conscientious, agreeable and extroverted.

The Facebook postings of each person were then studied to assess whether there was any link between the degree to which they possessed each personality trait and the content of their postings.

Employer Assumptions Challenged

It is common for recruiters to conclude that if an applicant’s Facebook postings show evidence of heavy alcohol or drug use or ‘partying’ behaviour, then the applicant may not be very responsible or self-disciplined, and may cause embarrassment to an organisation that employed him/her or, at best, may not be a particularly conscientious employee.

However, the study results tended to refute those assumptions. They found no significant connection between a person’s measured degree of conscientiousness and his/her propensity to post evidence of alcohol and drug use on Facebook.

Conversely, there was a correlation between extroversion and posting evidence of alcohol/drug use.

Yet extroversion is a highly regarded trait for jobs such as sales or marketing roles. The study authors argued that employers who reject such applicants on this evidence alone may be rejecting people who do in fact have the traits required to perform the jobs well.

‘Agreeable’ means likely to be tactful

In better news for recruiters, people who rated highly on the traits of being agreeable and conscientious were very unlikely to ‘badmouth’ or insult other people in their Facebook postings.

This result suggests that if recruiters are going to use Facebook postings as a screening tool, they are justified in hesitating when they find evidence of a person badmouthing others on Facebook.

Editorial Comments

It appears that recruiters who scan Facebook postings for evidence of an applicant’s (un)suitability need to be very cautious. The study results suggest that social behaviour outside work that may be potentially embarrassing will not necessarily translate into inappropriate behaviour at the workplace or behaviour likely to reflect badly on the employer.

The first lesson here is that recruiters should use a variety of screening techniques and make decisions based on the combined overall results, not just rely on one technique that may in any case produce irrelevant results.

Second, any evaluation of Facebook contents must be made only in the context of what is actually relevant to the job and the employer’s business. Evidence of ‘partying’, etc, ordinarily will not be relevant. If in doubt, be prepared to discuss the issue with the applicant before reaching a decision about its relevance.

Finally, it does appear from this study that someone who exercises restraint when commenting to and about other people in a public forum is likely to use similar tact and restraint when employed. On the other hand, evidence of badmouthing online should be regarded as a warning signal, perhaps to be further investigated and discussed, but not conclusive evidence that similar behaviour will occur on the job.

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Further information

JW Stoughton, A Meade and LF Thompson, ‘Big Five Personality Traits Reflected in Job Applicants’ Social Media Postings’, published online in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 1 July 2013. For further information, visit the website.

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