HR practitioners are increasingly using Facebook to learn about their employees, particularly in selection processes. But are social media websites accurate representations of a candidate’s personality?
A groundbreaking study says they are not only reliable but beat interview-based personality assessments and are roughly just as good as candidates’ close friends’ opinions.
The study, published in the latest Journal of Applied Social Psychology, was conducted by US management academics Donald Kluemper, Peter Rosen and Kevin Mossholder.
Experienced HR practitioners evaluating the Facebook profiles of 274 employed undergraduate students with a mean age of 21.
The students were surveyed and their supervisors questioned on the students’ job performance.
‘Five Big Traits’ assessed
The HR evaluators assessed candidates on ‘five big traits’ – openness to experience, extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
For example, they assessed conscientiousness through the extent of self-discipline and cautiousness shown in online postings. Or judge extraversion based on how many Facebook friends the candidate had.
Those traits were then compared to what was considered ‘hirability’ and those ‘hirability’ ratings compared to the supervisors’ rating of users’ job performance.
Kluemper et al found Facebook evaluations “closely parallel[ed]” the well-established findings of the candidates themselves and others who rated them.
“Stated differently, observer ratings of personality traits via social networking websites (SNWs) are roughly as accurate as ratings made by individuals who have detailed knowledge of the ratee[s], such as their significant others and close friends,” the study said.
Social media screening saves time
The academics noted more and more HR practitioners were using social media at early selection process stages.
It was likely there were significant differences in how organisations dealt with social media information but “it wouldn’t be surprising” if protocols were being developed to identify applicants’ potential given its prevalence and organisations’ concerns about legal issues.
However, there were concerns when dealing with social media, including using non-job-related information – such as sexual preference or marital status – to make biased hiring decisions.
“Our findings should not be used as unbridled support for using SNWs in employment selection,” the study said. “In addition to the potential for employment discrimination, there are privacy rights and ethical issues associated with accessing personal information.”
However, it noted screening SNWs for personality – about 5-10 minutes – was less time intensive than interview-based personality assessments and more cost effective.
But it warned “there could be repercussions” as applicants become more aware of HR’s regular use of social media screening.
“Negative applicant reactions on discovering their personal information was used in hiring decision[s] could become problematic and could diminish the potential benefits of SNW assessment[s].”
The study noted further research was needed to test the correlations and identify further personality criteria on social media. It suggested similar studies to tackle more professional SNWs, such as LinkedIn.
Source: Thomson Reuters’ HR Report, 7 March 2012.
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