Your Facebook Profile Really Can Predict Your Job Performance
What your mom said is true. If a prospective employer sees that you let it all hang out on Facebook, you're less likely to be offered a job, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. But how well you police your Facebook profile doesn't actually predict your job performance. Rather, the more agreeable and emotionally stable you seem on the social networking site, the better you are at your job.
A fifth of employers give applicants a personality test to judge how good they'll be at a job, according to Peter Rosen, an assistant professor of management information systems at the University of Evansville, and one of the study's three co-authors.
Since so many employers are using social networking sites these days to screen applicants -- 91 percent according to a recent poll -- the researchers set out to see if Facebook was better or worse than a self-reported personality test at predicting an applicant's fitness for the job and job performance.
Keep Your Facebook Conscientious
Rosen, along with Donal Kluemper of Northern Illinois University and Kevin Mossholder of Auburn University had three human resources specialists -- one a professional with eight years experience, and two graduate students -- analyze the Facebook profiles of 274 Midwestern coeds for the "Big Five" personality traits: emotional stability, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. They also assessed each person's "hirability": How qualified is he? Would you hire her?
When it came to the personality analysis, "We let the raters come up with their own assessments," says Rosen. "We wanted them to dig deep: wallposts from the person's friends, pictures, their favorite books, movies, just to get an overall feel for the content."
A lot of friends and interactions, for example, could signal extraversion, while a heft of adventurous photos, books, quotations and creative posts could mean openness to experience. The evaluators spent around five minutes scanning each Facebook profile.
The researchers found that the evaluators' hirability ratings correlated strongly with agreeability and conscientiousness. Rosen says that conscientiousness is scored by "the amount of self-monitoring" that a job candidate shows. "Is the content generally positive? Do they have pictures that people would deem embarrassing?"
Who Needs A Conscientious Co-Worker?
Six months later, the researchers asked the students to respond with their supervisors' contact info, if they were employed. Only a quarter were willing, and those supervisors -- 56 in total -- filled in a survey on the student's job performance: Did they adequately complete their tasks? Did they help out co-workers who had been absent?
It turns out, job performance didn't show any significant correlation with conscientiousness. "It's a somewhat surprising result," Rosen admitted. Job performance did however correlate strongly with agreeableness and emotional stability.
"It makes sense that that's a predictor of job performance," says Rosen. "You want someone who is more even-keeled, who doesn't go into highs and lows in the workplace."
Rosen emphasizes, however, that their sample size of 56 was smaller than they wanted, and the study should probably be repeated on a larger scale. Their major breakthrough, he says, is that Facebook profiles -- if studied correctly -- can yield better personality information than a self-reported test. The students in the study completed their own personality quizzes, and while the results all correlated with the findings of the raters, they were less predictive of hirability or performance.
While employers are clearly using Facebook to judge job candidates, this study suggests that this analysis could be elevated into a kind of science. Our Facebook profiles show more about us, it seems, than we know about ourselves. The researchers end with a cautionary note: Using certain Facebook details to make a hiring decision could, in fact, be illegal.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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