While most companies now recruit job candidates through social networking sites, screening applicants with such sites hasn’t caught on nearly as much, according to a recent SHRM study—and maybe that’s a good thing. Three new studies from social science researchers underscore how tricky it can be to make judgments about employability from what’s online.
In the first study, researchers set out to see if the information about people on Facebook was predictive of how they’d later perform on the job. Chad Van Iddekinge of Florida State University, Stephen Lanivich of Old Dominion University, Philip Roth of Clemson University, and Elliott Junco of Accenture asked recruiters to review the Facebook profiles of graduating college students and rate statements along the lines of “I can see how this person would be an attractive applicant to an organization” and “I would further consider this person for employment if they had the skills to fill an open position.” A year later, the researchers followed up with the graduates and asked them to fill out a questionnaire about their work experiences, and also surveyed their supervisors. How recruiters had felt from the Facebook profiles didn’t correspond to turnover or to supervisor ratings of job performance.
That said, the researchers point out that their study was hardly a perfect test of the usefulness of social media information. First, their results come from recruiters and supervisors at different organizations, which is unrealistic and potentially problematic if a big part of what recruiters get from looking online is a sense of whether or not a person will fit into the culture of a particular firm. Second, recruiters in the study didn’t see the graduates’ resumes, which meant they couldn’t weed out candidates based on more job-related information. It’s possible that when a hiring professional has a more inclusive picture of a job candidate, the sort of information that’s online could be useful in making fine-grained distinctions.
The study also sheds light on the potential dangers of using social media sites: recruiters in the study tended to rate graduating students higher when their Facebook profiles revealed that they were female or white. Similarly, a second recent study, by Alessandro Acquisti and Christina Fong of Carnegie Mellon University, suggests that some employers might be less likely to hire candidates when their social and professional networking sites indicate they are Muslim. The researchers ran experiments both online and in the real world, sending some 4,000 resumes to actual employers. Only a small fraction of the employers checked the social media and professional networking sites the researchers had set up, but the researchers nonetheless found that “Muslim” candidates tended to get fewer calls when the employers were located in politically conservative areas. The researchers found no effect from social and professional sites that suggested an applicant was gay.
RELATED POST: How to Hire for Diversity
One final factor for hirers to consider is the sort of signal social media searches might send to job candidates. In a third study conducted with college undergraduates who were applying for a job, researchers J. William Stoughton, Lori Foster Thompson, and Adam Meade of North Carolina State University told some applicants that the hiring organization had checked Facebook for “professionalism.” Those students had worse opinions about the organization, on average, an effect that didn’t change even if the organization wound up offering the student a job. The researchers concluded that “applicants view social networking websites as a space separate from their work environment.” Although whether hiring professionals do is a different question.