The Psychology of Hiring and Social Networking Profiles

Most of us have social networking profiles these days, and though survey results differ on the exact percentage, a whole lot of hiring managers and recruiters can’t resist taking a peek at them. And of course, the temptation to check out a candidate’s Facebook page is even stronger with a remote team, where you may have limited or no face-to-face contact with the person you’re considering hiring.
But do people get an accurate picture of others’ personalities from their social networking profiles? Is the practice of trawling through online profiles particularly subject to our biases and prejudices? Two psychologists from Auburn University have published a paper looking into the issue.
The study by Victoria Brown and E. Daly Vaughn in Journal of Business and Psychology was written up recently on the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog and suggests that while a quick look at a candidate’s profile may feel harmless, there are actually pitfalls to the practice.
Previous research has found, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that when it comes to our level of extroversion and openness, social networking profiles actually give visitors a fairly accurate portrait of our personalities (though we hide our neuroticism). But that accuracy depends on seeing a fairly long slice of our activity history, and Vaughn and Brown warn that with quick looks “we can also fall prey to drawing conclusions on the bases of a small sample of ‘recent activity’.”
Even more troubling is the likelihood that getting a look at the person you’re considering hiring may bring out your unconscious biases, according to the BPS blog.

The authors also worry that SNS [social networking site] screening may be very prone to biases, given that SNS data gives ready indication of race, age, disability and other factors that shouldn’t be considerations in screening decisions.

The final conclusion? Though it might be tempting to take a look at a potential hire online, the authors argue that you should probably resist, recommending companies forbid “opportunistic online reviewing of some candidates but not others, and listing appropriate criteria,” such as viewing work samples on a graphic designer’s profile. They conclude “it may be better for organizations to ban the practice entirely.”
Is sneaking a peek at a candidate’s social networking profile helpful, or invasive and prone to bias?
Image courtesy Flickr user Robert S. Donovan