Why you shouldn’t stalk potential hires on Facebook: study

Every manager knows how expensive a bad hire can be.

When you count the time training and on-boarding, and the attention new recruits need from management, small businesses can rarely afford to get it wrong. 

But bosses turning to Facebook to help them vet candidates have been warned it could lead them entirely astray.

A new study conducted by academics at the Florida State University, Old Dominican University and Clemson University, and published in the January issue of the Journal of Management, throws cold water on the notion that Facebook profiles are an accurate gauge of someone’s professional conduct.

The study captured the Facebook profiles of 416 American college students with an average age of 23, and had them assessed for likely employment suitability by 86 recruiters. A year later, the researchers followed up with the graduates in their new roles, and asked their supervisors to rate their job performance.

There was little correlation between assessed suitability on Facebook profiles and actual work performance, the researchers found. And it seems Facebook assessments tended to favour some groups over others. Female applicants had a leg up on men in the recruiter’s ratings as they were statistically less likely to post about their alcohol consumption or sexual exploits. And those with “traditionally non-white names or were clearly non-white” tended to have Facebook profiles deemed more unfavourable by recruiters. The researchers noted this may be because those of non-white racial and cultural backgrounds were statistically more likely to post things about political causes.

A year after supervising the recruiters, some managers echoed these biases but to a lesser degree than had the recruiters. The researchers concluded that there was no significant correlation between recruiter assessments of Facebook profiles and supervisor assessments, the researchers found.

“The overall results suggest that organisations should be very cautious about using social media information such as Facebook to assess job applicants,” they wrote.

Part of the problem with Facebook is that it’s not a platform designed for professional usage, the researchers note. This means employers can find it very difficult to discount things not relevant to someone’s job performance, whereas more structured screening procedures for potential recruits tend to focus far more on job-specific characteristics, limiting the scope for biases to impact decision-making.

The research contradicts an earlier study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, which found people glancing through Facebook profiles had a better gauge of their personality than those forced to rely on standard personality tests.

Margaret Harrison, the managing director of Our HR Company, tells SmartCompany it’s a complicated issue.

“On the one hand, if it’s out in the open, some people will go looking for it,” she says. “But I’m pleased this study shows there isn’t much correlation. I don’t believe there is. Looking at the things some of the young people in my own family carry on with on Facebook and their university results, it seems clear to me there’s little link.”

Jobseekers should always beware some “lazy” recruiters will check up on their social media accounts, Harrison says. But she doesn’t think managers should get in the habit of it.

“I think it’s a cop-out. You should assess a person’s value on their experience, results, and references. It’s a better indicator of their professional accomplishments.”

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