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You Are What You Facebook


by Kendra Clark, for SIOP

Social media profiles can be good resources for selecting employees—with a catch

By Kendra Clark, for SIOP

In a fast-paced world where employers are under both time and financial pressure, it can be tempting to take whatever shortcuts are available to find the right employees.

One of those shortcuts is to look on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn to gather information about job applicants. However, there has been speculation as to how valid the information found on profiles is at predicting job performance.

To determine how valid profile information actually is, SIOP members Katelyn Cavanaugh and Richard Landers conducted a study comparing personality traits gleaned from Facebook profiles to self-taken personality tests as predictors of job performance.

They found that looking at Facebook profiles for job performance indicators can be just as, if not more, accurate as self-taken personality tests. This research will be presented May 15-17, 2014 at the 29th Annual SIOP Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The researchers conducted the study with 146 undergraduate students that held jobs outside of school.  The students took a self-reported personality test, and then their employers reported their job performances. In addition, the researchers used 25 additional trained undergraduates to code and look through the subjects’ Facebook profiles for performance indicators.

“The early evidence suggests personality information taken from Facebook does incrementally predict job performance,” Landers said.

There are a few reasons the researchers believe Facebook profiles are accurate predictors of job performance, one of them being the history it shows.

“Not only can you find very current information on someone's profile, but you can also access a record of that person's past behavior,” Cavanaugh said. “There is value in that; we cannot capture someone's history in a single personality test.”

Social media gives the employer a realistic photograph of the person, Landers said, so the information is more authentic and more unique than a personality test.

“It’s easier to fake a personality test than on social media,” he said. “On self-report measures, applicants can generally figure out what the company wants them to be and answer to reflect that. On social media, that’s much harder.”

Both Cavanaugh and Landers warn the information from Facebook profiles isn’t enough to stand by itself when looking for clues to future job performance. Cavanaugh recommends using social media as an additional tool for personality to predict job performance.

“Because the information from social media is so unique and new, it’s not recommended that employers replace self-tests,” Landers said. “They are more useful together and to complement one another.”

However, there are also some legal concerns for employers when they are looking at social media as a hiring tool, especially when it comes to looking at profile containing information about protected class membership.

“If hiring managers want to use social media as a selection device, there are steps that need to be taken,” Landers said. “It doesn’t work to just look at Facebook 5 minutes before the interview.”

Landers recommends two steps hiring managers should take to protect themselves. The first is to have a third party “scrub" the profile, or remove all of the potential protected class information from the profile.

 “Otherwise, having access to information like race or gender might make you vulnerable if legal action was taken,” he explained. “You can’t prove you didn’t see it.”

The second step is to have more than one hiring manager look at the scrubbed profile before a decision is made.

“Generally, you need far more than one hiring manager to get an accurate read on profiles and traits,” he said. “It can take up to 15 people to get reliable results.  They need a group, as many as they can find and train them well.”