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Jan 8, 2014

Here’s a scenario for all you human resource professionals out there:

Let’s just say that most job candidates made their Facebook profiles public. Let’s say that most employers checked their job candidates’ Facebook profiles and used it as the only tool to determine whether that person would be a good employee.

Would you be surprised if I told you that this practice didn’t lead to better, more qualified hires?

A study to tell us what we already know

No. Me neither. Now what if I gave you a crystal ball? Do you think your success rate would be about the same?

A recent study from researchers at Florida State University, Old Dominion University, Clemson University, and Accenture sought to confirm the assumption that Facebook wasn’t a good hiring tool. They could have just saved the time and money and just asked me (but I digress).

In a surprise to exactly no one, the study revealed that, indeed, using Facebook as the sole determinant in a hiring decision was not a good idea.

According to

The study involved the recruitment of 416 college students from a southeastern state school who were applying for full-time jobs and agreed to let the researchers capture screenshots of their Facebook Walls, Info Pages, Photos and Interests. The researchers asked 86 recruiters who attended the university’s career fair to review the Facebook pages, judge the fresh-faced seniors’ personality traits and rate how employable they seemed. Each recruiter looked at just five of the candidates, and got no other information about them (such as a resume or transcript). A year later, the researchers followed up with the now-graduates’ supervisors and asked them to review their job performance.”

Those that were rated the lowest by employers were those with posts that contained profanity, sexual references, pictures of intoxicated individuals, etc. Also concerning were the low ratings of non-whites.

I couldn’t sum up the findings better myself so I thought I’d offer this quote from Chad H. Van Iddekinge, one of the researchers from Florida State:

Recruiter ratings of Facebook profiles correlate essentially zero with job performance.”

Why does the study matter?

Personally, I don’t think the study does matter. In order for it to be relevant, you’d have to believe in the make-believe assumptions I asked you to consider above. Most people do not have public Facebook profiles and most employers aren’t looking there any way, let alone that no one would ever use this as the only tool to determine hiring eligibility and future success.

Now, swap out LinkedIn for Facebook and I would love to see the results of that one. While I don’t think employers only rely upon LinkedIn for recruiting, I do think it’s more prevalent. Plus, it’s more geared toward professional use then any other widely utilized network.

I am, however concerned about the information shared about race. Unfortunately, we live in a society where people have their own personal biases. In most cases, these biases are subtle and we don’t think that they factor in our decisions, but they do.

In past blog posts about the use of social media background checks, we’ve encouraged those that engage in the practice to have one person gather the information, highlight adverse findings and pass it on to a decision maker who is not privy to protected class information.

A well-rounded search

While the study proves that Facebook alone is not a good indicator of job performance, I think it would be wrong to dismiss it, or more importantly, dismiss the value of a social media search to find, screen and hire new talent.

These searches can be extremely valuable when blended with more traditional hiring practices; interviewing, assessment testing, employment background checks, etc. Now, perhaps someone could commission a study that incorporates all of those elements in their research …

Oh, that’s right; there’s no need to waste the time and money. We know that works, but if you want to pay me to conduct that study …

This was originally published on the EmployeeScreen IQ blog.