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Facebook Can Predict Job Success (But Don’t Go There Yet)

by
John Zappe
Feb 22, 2012, 5:01 am ET

Facebook, and potentially other social media as well, can be used to assess a person’s potential for job success.

That not-so-surprising conclusion is reported in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, and comes out of two studies — one dealing with academic performance, the other with job performance — conducted on college campuses in Indiana, Illinois, and at Auburn University.

What is surprising about the study is that a group of modestly trained evaluators could better predict success after spending a few minutes on a Facebook profile than could a self-assessment of personality traits often used by industry.

“SNW (social networking websites) ratings correlated with job performance, hirability, and academic performance criteria,” the researchers concluded, “and the magnitude of these correlations was generally larger than for self-ratings.”

Prof. Peter A. Rosen, one of the three authors of the published report, said, “Our research provides evidence from two studies that Facebook can be used by trained evaluators to reliably assess various personality traits, traits shown in existing literature to predict academic and job success and to be legally defensible for selection purposes.”

In one of the studies, a trained evaluation team studied the Facebook profiles of 274 volunteers assessing them on the so-called Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, emotional stability, and openness) often used in pre-employment assessments. Those 274 volunteers did their own self-assessment, just as they might in an employment situation.

Six months later, the two sets of assessments were compared to the performance evaluation given by the volunteers’ supervisors.

Even though only 56 of the students were employed and had supervisors willing to participate, the evaluators’ rating of those students was closer to what the supervisors said than was the students’ scores on their self-assessments.

The second study, conducted in much the same way, looked at academic performance. The final sample size in this study was significantly larger.

The researchers found that the few minutes the evaluators spent studying each person’s Facebook data produced a correlation to job and academic performance that was consistently better than the standardized self-assessment tests.

“Whereas interview-based personality assessments are time-consuming, the average assessment of a social networking profile took 5 to 10 min and did not require a respondent’s presence. Evaluating personality via SNWs may be more cost-effective than more traditional methods,” write the study’s authors.

They caution, however, that before recruiters turn to Facebook or other social network to assess candidate potential, there are legal and ethical issues to consider, not the least of which are potential EEOC problems.

“The potential for legal liability is great, considering the dearth of research regarding whether SNW-derived information validly predicts job performance. Until this is established, employers should use caution when using websites such as Facebook to make hiring-related decisions,” the authors write.

They conclude with this additional caution: “We suggest that SNW-based personality assessment may provide a useful tool for organizational research, but only if further validation research is conducted and consideration of legal risks fully considered.”

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Paul Myers

    So……just how do you assess the so called, Big Five personality traits in just 5-10 minutes of reviewing someone’s facebook page, I’m intrigued, even as a recruiter, I have never made an assessment of someone’s suitability let alone future success based on the facebook profile.

    “The researchers found that the few minutes the evaluators spent studying each person’s Facebook data produced a correlation to job and academic performance that was consistently better than the standardized self-assessment tests.” So where’s the data, what are the numbers, show us, prove it…..

    Also, regarding the 274 volunteers, what self assessment was used. Was it actually releveant to job performance, it would be interesting to see the questions and responses.

    Why was it only focused on the “Big Five” traits, are these the only traits that predict job success?

    I think the headline says it all – “Don’t Go There Yet”

  2. John Zappe

    @Paul – All the data, including the correlations and statistical results, are presented in the report, which you can find by clicking the link to the journal. You’ll find it in the 2nd paragraph.

    Would I feel comfortable predicting candidate success based on perusing their Facebook info? No. But we all do something similar using a thing we call a resume.

  3. Keith Halperin

    @ John: What do they mean by “success”? I’d define it as: “Someone who lasts 2-3 years in a FT job without us wanting to get rid of them before they leave us for their next company”…

    Cheers,
    Keith

  4. Paul Basile

    John,
    Well reported, especially the “don’t go there yet” part. What some people will do to get a headline… Serious science is a great deal more than a personality assessment using the Big Five. Performance prediction works when validated psychometric assessments are used properly. Facebook profiles as predictors? There is, in any meaningful sense, zero data of any reliability in this study and even less logic. Don’t go there, indeed.

  5. Robert Dromgoole

    In my opinion, using personality tests has little to do with a performance profile. I’ve seen analytical engineers, expressive engineers, EVEN arguably emotionally unstable engineers …. and ALL have been successful. Past performance and the ability to actually DO the job are better measures than a personality test (in my opinion). Can the candidate design the ASIC in 6 months? Can the candidate write the code? Can the candidate get sales and close deals? That’s what matters. Not some behavior testing …

  6. Keith Halperin

    @ Robert: Well said.

    Interviewers need to determine only two things for candidate hireability:
    1) Can the person do the job we need them to do (competence)? A personality test wouldn’t address this, but a skills test might.
    2) Would we feel comfortable working with this person on a long-term basis (likeability). You shouldn’t need a personality test to determine if you like someone.

    Cheers,

    Keith “Stop Making Recruiting More Complicated Than It Needs to Be” Halperin

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