Social media platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) provide a popular way for people to connect and express themselves online. Although social media is often considered a part of personal life, not professional life, many employers choose to consider job applicants’ social media prior to making hiring decisions. This is done because social media often contains a great deal of information that is readily available, free to view, and does not require the job applicant to be present (unlike a job interview). Additionally, many people assume that social media reflects a more honest representation of job applicants than traditional selection procedures, such as interviews or resumes.
Despite the popularity of screening job applicants’ social media, little is known about what kind of personal information is accessed in the process. Additionally, it is not clear how accessing this information may influence hiring decisions. There are U.S. employment laws that prohibit employers from asking about certain individual characteristics such as age, ethnicity, or religion during the traditional recruitment process. However, such characteristics may become known to a recruiter from applicants’ social media pages. Furthermore, applicants’ social media may include other information that is not relevant to the job but may still impact recruiter perceptions.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN HIRING
New research (Zhang et al., 2020) examines a sample of job applicants’ Facebook pages to determine the types of information that is displayed and how this information may be related to recruiter evaluations. While the exact information displayed on a Facebook page varies among individuals, the authors found that within the sample, a large amount of personal information was made available.
Notably, the authors found that job seekers sometimes disclose information about themselves that employers are prevented or discouraged from asking about in an interview, such as age, religion, and marital status. Unfortunately, some of this personal information was related to recruiter evaluations. For example, job applicants who were single were evaluated less favorably than those who were married or in a relationship, and those who displayed information about their religion on their Facebook pages were rated less favorably than those who did not.
NEGATIVE INFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILES
Additionally, the authors found that some Facebook pages contained information regarding negative behaviors that would not typically come up in a job interview or a resume, such as profanity use, alcohol use, drug use, or sexual behaviors. Perhaps not surprisingly, information about these behaviors was associated with lower recruiter evaluations. On the other hand, potentially job-relevant information (specifically education, work-related training or skills, and written communication skills) is also sometimes displayed on social media. This information was associated with better evaluations.
The researchers also compared recruiter evaluations of job applicants’ Facebook pages to measures of their actual job performance and intention to leave their job. They found that recruiters’ evaluations of applicants’ Facebook pages were not a significant predictor of future job performance or intention to leave the job. Furthermore, structuring the specific way in which recruiters evaluated social media profiles (like a structured job interview) did not appear to improve their ability to make better predictive evaluations.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS AND JOB APPLICANTS
This research suggests that job applicants’ Facebook pages often contain a wealth of information that is easily accessed by recruiters. That being said, much of the information depicted on social media is not job-relevant. Therefore, examining job applicants’ social media does not appear to improve the quality of hiring decisions, despite the widespread use of this strategy.
For applicants, the authors suggest that people be cautious as to what they make public on social media pages, since certain information may unintentionally influence recruiter evaluations. For organizations, these findings suggest that the widespread use of screening social media profiles during the hiring process may not be useful, and the assumption that this improves hiring decisions is unsupported by the findings of this study. The results of this study also support concerns that reviewing job applicants’ social media might lead to personal information influencing hiring decisions. Therefore, the authors urge organizations to reconsider the practice of assessing job applicants’ social media pages until evidence of its benefits is found.
Zhang, L., Van Iddekinge, C. H., Arnold, J. D., Roth, P. L., Lievens, F., Lanivich, S. E., & Jordan, S. L. (2020). What’s on job seekers’ social media sites? A content analysis and effects of structure on recruiter judgments and predictive validity. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.