hiring

Facebook profiles predict job success

Feb. 22, 2012 at 3:08 PM ET

If you think just keeping your Facebook page free of drunken photos will help you land a job, think again.

Facebook facts that make you look worldly and popular may say more about you to a hiring manager than anything else. Photos of your trip to Bali; status updates on how much you enjoyed reading “War and Peace”; and thousands of Facebook friends apparently translate into a job candidate who will do better on the job.

At least those are the findings of a new study by a trio of universities that looked at how Facebook profiles predict job success.

“We came up with a Facebook personality score and that correlates with job performance,” said Donald Kluemper, a management professor at Northern Illinois University, who, along with researchers at Auburn University and the University of Evansville, conducted the study that appeared in the recent issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

The researchers looked at five personality traits among Facebook users, including conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. The traits are known as the “Big Five” in psychological lingo and are often used in organizational studies, Kluemper said.

The Facebook users, 56 total, were given a personality score by independent evaluators and six months later those ratings were compared to evaluations completed by the supervisors who the users worked for. And guess what? The higher the Facebook personality score the higher the job performance rating by supervisors.

So what gets you a high personality rating exactly?

Here’s how Kluemper broke it down:

Conscientiousness: This is someone who appears to be well organized and hard-working, and that’s reflected in the way they set up their Facebook page. Maybe there are a lot of detailed posts and profile, or photos of the person working hard at something.

Emotional stability: You seem to be someone who looks at the glass as half full, and seem able to handle stress. That means your page is lacking lots of negative and down in the dumps type posts; and you’re not overly emotional in images or in what you write.

Agreeableness: This is all about someone who’s able to get along and doesn’t engage in Facebook conflicts, especially heated debates with friends.

Extraversion: Here’s where lots of Facebook friends come in handy because lots of friends is a predictor of extraversion. Also, photos of you in social situations with lots of people are a good thing, compared to pictures of you alone on your couch.

Openness: Travel and intellect play into this category. If you appear open to different experiences and viewpoints, then you’re viewed as open. If you’re posting stuff about classic literature you’ll probably score higher than if you’re dishing about the latest trashy novel. And photos of international travel are also a big plus.

Based on this research, scoring high in all these categories means you’re more likely to be an ideal employee. That kind of predictor would probably make any hiring manager salivate, especially in today’s tough job market where they have to weed through thousands of applicants.

Kluemper is not advocating that HR use his groundbreaking social-media research just yet. “This is one study and the sample size is not that large,” he explained. “A lot more studies need to be done.”

But, he admitted some ill-advised HR folks may try and hang their hats on this one study, and that worries him because using such personality tests could be on sketchy legal grounds.

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Indeed, personality tests and a host of other pre-employment screenings, including everything from criminal to credit background checks, have come under fire when used in the hiring process because of privacy issues and also because some impact certain groups adversely. Social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn have even made the problem biggerbecause so much information is now available online that the job seekers themselves put out there.

“We’re not advocating employers use this technique,” Kluemper said about the Facebook ratings.

Unfortunately, it may be hard to put the Facebook personality cat back in the hiring bag.

And speaking about cats, if you want to put those adorable videos of kittens on your Facebook page - a popular pastime for many users - keep in mind what you may be projecting into cyber space.

Research by University of Texas at Austin psychologist Sam Gosling found that "dog people are more extraverted, more agreeable and more conscientious than self-described cat people."  

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