Social media is changing the way we live and do business. Employers are increasingly using Facebook to screen potential hires. Guidelines concerning ethics and privacy haven’t been established for this practice nor has evidence for just what content helps employers determine best hires.
Florida International University researchers looked at employers across six industries—advertising, education, food and beverage, health, information technology, law enforcement and travel—and found them judging attitudes, lifestyle and personal appearance by looking at Facebook profiles of job applicants.
But these judgements are often subjective and denying a candidate based on their online image is not only questionable ethically; employers may be weeding out qualified candidates and hiring those of lesser calibre.
At least 65 percent of companies are screening job applicants with social networks and a North Carolina State University study has confirmed that most companies make mistakes in judging an applicant’s content. The scientists found that employers often look for the desirable traits of agreeableness, conscientiousness and extroversion but they don’t understand what to look for, what truly signifies these characteristics in online postings.
For instance, employers often consider postings about alcohol or drug use red flags that knock candidates out of the running. But finding evidence about drug or alcohol use doesn’t necessarily mean that an “applicant is not ‘conscientious,’ or responsible and self-disciplined,” states psychology professor Lori Foster Thompson. And there is no evidence that people that don’t post such content make better employees. Lack of this content is no guarantee that a person doesn’t use drugs or alcohol. Extroverts, whom many employers are looking to hire, are much more likely to post about using drugs or alcohol.
The researchers did find a correlation that can contribute to future guidelines for applicant screening via social networks: people that are agreeable and conscientious aren’t likely to badmouth or insult others on social networks.
If you’re using Facebook profiles in your hiring process, you may want to consider that job-seekers are well aware that their online presence may influence your decision and may have deleted postings that don’t fit the bill for their job search period.
Until research can shed more light on how one’s online personality in a social arena may differ from their work contribution and what kind of social media content is truly connected to desirable traits in an applicant, you may want to refrain from such practices.
That’s because another study by the North Carolina State University researchers found that online screening can affect how you are viewed by potential job candidates and the employees working for you now.
The study found that when applicants were informed that they had been screened via a social networking site, they were less likely to accept a job if offered one. The participants felt that their privacy had been invaded. The screening caused applicants to perceive the company as unfair, untrustworthy and uncaring of employees. These perceptions may also affect employees in your employ now, decreasing engagement and increasing turnover.
Transparency and reputation are crucial for every business today and screening present or future employees via social networks can harm how you are perceived by consumers, stakeholders and the world at large, especially if you seem to do so in underhanded ways. Some companies ask employees or interns to “friend” potential applicants. Others ask for Facebook usernames and passwords outright. Considering the disconnect between such screening and the usefulness of its application, considering that ethical and privacy laws will begin to evolve concerning them, and considering the risk to your corporate image, Facebook screening of job candidates doesn’t seem like a good investment.