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

Feb 22, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

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 part of a series called News & Trends.
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