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Why candidates’ social media profiles are a waste of time for recruiters

It has become commonplace for employers to review social media platforms when assessing and recruiting job applicants. Opinions vary about the ethics of the practice, but very little is known about whether it provides employers with accurate indications of a candidate’s suitability for the position or retention levels.

NSW Business School research has found there is little to no correlation between recruiter evaluations of a job candidate’s social media profile and potential on-the-job performance or retention levels.

Since the advent of social media, employers and recruiters have been known to examine candidates’ social media profiles as part of the recruitment process.

Opinions vary about the ethics of the practice, but very little is known about whether it provides employers with accurate indications of a candidate’s suitability for the position, future performance, or length of stay in a position.

Dr Liwen Zhang, a lecturer in the School of Management at UNSW Business School, and her colleagues carried out three research studies over four years looking at the use of social media information in staffing decisions.

Using Facebook as their source, the research team assessed what types of information were available on job seekers’ social media sites, whether the information related to recruiter evaluations and whether structuring social media assessments affected criterion related validity.

Dr Zhang said the main findings of the research revealed social media information including age, gender, marital status, the availability of religious belief, education, written communication skills, as well as information that may be of concern such as profanity, sexual behaviour, and gambling did have an impact on recruiter evaluations.

“We tried to standardise the process to help improve the validity of these assessments. We provided training to recruiters, and provided more standardised evaluation forms, and tried to have multiple recruiters to assess the same applicants,” Dr Zhang said.

“But the results show that this does not really appear to improve the prediction of future job behaviours or withdrawal intentions.”

As Dr Zhang explained, recruiters understandably want to get to the “real” person who might not be revealed in a resumé or an interview. But she recommended a cautious approach to accessing social media profiles in advance of more research in the area.

“Social media is a good avenue for recruiters to reach out to potential job applicants in the recruitment process. However, when things move into the selection phase, we strongly encourage organisations to be cautious about using social media information in assessing job candidates,” Dr Zhang said.

Therefore, organisations may view applicants’ social media information as an honest signal of their characteristics than traditional assessments such as resumes and job interviews.

For example, if a candidate reveals racist attitudes on their social media, they would surely be a concern in increasingly diverse workplaces.

“Applicants’ discriminatory posts and behaviours are often not welcomed at the workplace,” Dr Zhang said.

“We categorise such behaviours and statements as information that may be a concern to an organisation.

“According to behavioural consistency theory, I think it could be fair for organisations to review this information from social media and use it in staffing decisions.

“However, if recruiters use applicants’ protected class information such as ethnicity or marriage status information obtained from social media sites, this will raise legal concerns.”

Of course, if candidates do not want their social media accessed by recruiters, they can change their privacy settings accordingly, although few do.

“There are some theories and conceptual papers suggesting that recruiters may be suspicious about job candidates with incomplete information, for example, missing social media profiles,” Dr Zhang said.

“When anyone examines an applicant’s Facebook profile, it just looks like they are opening a Pandora’s box.”

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