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Adi is a social business blogger and community manager that writes for sites such as Social Business News and Social Media Today. Away from the computer he enjoys cycling, particularly in the Alpes. Adi is a DZone Zone Leader and has posted 1233 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Using Facebook to judge employees

01.09.2014
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Over the past year or so there has been a lot of attention given to the practice of scouring a candidates social media profiles for hints around their suitability for a position.  I’ll leave the ethics of such practice to you, but would like to look at the effectiveness of it.

Research from the University of Sheffield suggests that the level of employee engagement we see at work can largely be determined by the personalities of each employee.

Ilke Inceoglu and Peter Warr analysed around 700 employees across the so called ‘Big 5′ personality types and a six item job engagement scale.

They found that two clear personality indicators for employee engagement were extraversion, emotional stability and achievement orientation.  These are the energetic components of our personality.

All of which suggests that a major part of employee engagement is having the kind of personality that can make the best of a given situation.

So how does that apply to Facebook?  Separate research from around the same time found that heavy users of Facebook tended to have the same characteristics as the initial study suggested were the key to good employee engagement.

The perceived zeitgeist around Facebook was continued by a study published in 2012 by Northern Illinois University that suggested you could accurately judge the future success of a candidate by browsing their Facebook profile for a few minutes.  Just as with the Sheffield study from the beginning of this post, the research focused on personality traits.

“Those high in agreeableness are trusting and get along well with others, which may be represented in the extensiveness of personal information posted. Openness to experience is related to intellectual curiosity and creativity, which could be revealed by the variety of books, favorite quotations or other posts showing the user engaged in new activities and creative endeavors. Extroverts more frequently interact with others, which could be represented by the number of SNW (social networking websites) friends a user has.”

Now, of course, there have also been studies exploring the negative side of social ‘research’, be that opening up recruitment to discrimination or damaging the trust between employer and employee.

To add a final dose of confusion to the mix, I present to you a final study, this time from a team of researchers for a new paper in the Journal of Management.  It saw over 400 job candidates for full time positions open up their Facebook profiles to the research team.  These accounts were then analysed by a group of some 86 recruiters to determine how employable they seemed.  The recruiters had no information to go on other than what was on the Facebook pages.

The researchers then followed up with the candidates’ bosses a year later to see how their careers were getting on, and more importantly whether the recruiters instincts were good or not.

Interestingly, there appeared to be no correlation whatsoever between the perception people gave off via Facebook and their subsequent job performance.  What’s particularly interesting is that the recruiters gave low ratings for many of the things you’d normally associate with bad Facebook behaviour (for your career at least).  They gave low ratings to profiles that had drunk photos, sexual references, ample swearing and so on (they also gave low ratings to people with non-white sounding names – see the study up a few paragraphs!), but these things didn’t correspond with poor work performance when the candidates were checked on a year later.

So it seems that the picture is altogether murky when it comes to using recreational social media as any kind of gauge for future career success.  That no doubt won’t stop recruiters trying to use it to assess candidates, nor candidates getting upset about them doing so.

What’s probably more worrying however is that those recruiters making racial judgements based on Facebook pages are also likely to do so in face to face interviews.  That’s a bigger concern than a few drunk photos you suspect.

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