Back in 2012, we learned that Facebook stalking would tell you if a person was worth hiring. Researchers at Northern Illinois University found that they could predict job performance based on just 5-10 minute reviews of college students’ Facebook pages, based on interviews with their employers six months later. Many people were angry about the study; to this day, I get irate comments on those old posts from people who think it’s invasive for potential employers to judge them on a social media profile designed primarily for their friends. Those people may be relieved to hear about new research that suggests Facebook is bunk as a job performance predictor.
The new study – from researchers at Florida State University, Old Dominion University, Clemson University, and Accenture, which will be published in the Journal of Management — involved the recruitment of 416 college students from a southeastern state school who were applying for full-time jobs and agreed to let the researchers capture screenshots of their Facebook Walls, Info Pages, Photos and Interests. The researchers asked 86 recruiters who attended the university’s career fair to review the Facebook pages, judge the fresh-faced seniors’ personality traits and rate how employable they seemed. Each recruiter looked at just five of the candidates, and got no other information about them (such as a resume or transcript). A year later, the researchers followed up with the now-graduates’ supervisors and asked them to review their job performance. The researchers were only able to get in touch with 142 supervisors — just 34% of their original sample — but that’s higher than the 56 bosses contacted in the previous study.
If Facebook really is being used by employers as a primary tool to judge applicants, the results are disturbing.
“Recruiter ratings of Facebook profiles correlate essentially zero with job performance,” write the researchers, led by Chad H. Van Iddekinge of FSU.
So who were the folks getting the low ratings that didn’t necessarily lead to their being horrible employees? Low ratings went to profiles that included profanity, photos of people getting ‘slizzered,’ strange profile pictures, religious quotes, and sexual references. Low ratings also went to profiles of people who “had traditionally non-White names and/or who were clearly non-White.” Uh oh.
The hypothetical employment pool was 63.2 percent female, 78.1 percent white, 10.8 percent Hispanic and 7 percent African-American. The recruiter on the other hand were mostly white and split as to gender. The recruiters looking at Facebook profiles tended to rate women higher than men, and white individuals higher than African-American and Hispanic candidates. But those ratings were not predictors of their actual job performance.
“Our results suggest that blacks and Hispanics might be adversely impacted by use of Facebook ratings,” says researcher Philip Roth of Clemson. (The equally disturbing possibility here is that we’d see the same thing when those recruiters interviewed those people in person.)
Roth says that human resources staff should warn managers away from using Facebook to review their applicants.
“A lot of people are drawn to it. There’s a big allure to using Facebook. Hiring managers say they want to get a sense of their characters. It’s really hard for people to stop themselves from doing it if they don’t have an HR background,” says Roth. “I wouldn’t want to use a Facebook assessment until I had evidence it worked for my organization. There needs to be a track record of this working before you use it. I don’t think the track record is there yet.”
There are limitations to the study: it’s looking at college graduates rather than more seasoned employees who might “exhibit greater maturity and more vigilance regarding what they post online.” And it was an evaluation of Facebook in a vacuum with no other relevant criteria about these potential worker bees. But it does suggest that Facebook in a vacuum isn’t a good way to decide who you’re hiring. So you might want to keep on actually looking at transcripts and resumes for now, employers.
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