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Apples to Oranges


by Kendra Clark, for SIOP

There may be unintended consequences to comparing job candidates’ social media profiles.

Social media profiles may be ubiquitous, but their uses vary from person to person.

This information could be important for organizations if they look at social media profiles to help determine if an employee is the right candidate for their job. Legal issues could follow if they use social media as a hiring tool.

SIOP members Shawn Bergman, Jacqueline Bergman, and Brian Whitaker recently conducted a study asking participants what they do on social media and why they use it. The researchers then looked at their answers in light of protected class characteristics: age, gender, and race.

Specifically, they looked at who uses social media the most often, the reasons they use it, and the motivation behind using social media.

They found that members of racial minority groups post, tweet, and upload pictures more often than nonminorities. Men’s and women’s usage were found to be the same. Also, those under the age of 40 were more likely to use social media to promote their social standing than people over 40.

The differences between why people use social media is important, said Shawn Bergman.

“If people are using social media for different reasons, it becomes more difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons between potential employees’ social media profiles,” he said.

This research will be presented at the 29th Annual SIOP Conference,which takes place May 15-17, 2014 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In their study, the researchers asked 669 American adults to complete an online survey.  They asked respondents whether they used social media to find a job, keep up with the news, keep up with their favorite place of business, or keep up with political organizations.

Men reported using Twitter to keep up with the news and follow their favorite business more than women. They also found racial minorities use Facebook to find a job and keep up with the news more than nonminorities. There was no difference found between people over and under the age of 40.

Participants were then asked to explain their motivation behind using social media. Those under the age of 40 were more likely to believe it was important for their Facebook profile to make others think they have a lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and for others to be impressed with their Facebook profiles.

In their findings, the researchers note that organizations could face legal trouble if they use social media as a predictor of job performance or for selecting an employee in the hiring process, Bergman explained. Also research shows minorities have limited access to the Internet but use social media more often.

“Here we can see what different groups of people are doing when they use social media, and it’s not the same,” Bergman said. “This makes it harder to compare and evaluate applicants through social media. That is, the evidence suggests that what people do on social media and why they do it may be related to their protected class status. Thus, it could be a risk for employers to use the information they find on social media when deciding who to hire.”

If hiring managers decide they want to use social media, Bergman recommended making sure the information they collect is relevant and consistent for every applicant. However, he notes that this research, coupled with still ambiguous legal implications, could give organizations a very good reason to stay away from social media in the hiring process altogether.

“Our results support that people use social media for very different reasons, so managers could find themselves in a legal battle if they try to compare potential employees through it,” he said. “Until we get better evidence to say social media is good a predictor of job performance and doesn’t cause adverse impact, I would say it’s not worth the risk.”

This is the second in a two-part series on social media. To
read the first part, You Are What You Facebook, click