A soon to be published study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology – ‘Social Networking Websites, Personality Ratings, and the Organizational Context: More Than Meets the Eye?’ – claims that a quick review of social networking website (SNW) profile pages of job applicants on sites such as Facebook can be a better indicator and predictor of job success than standardized tests used by many human resources departments, according to an exclusive report in The Chicago Tribune’s ‘I Just Work Here’ column. The story “Facebook and job performance” is available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/tribu/ijustworkhere/ct-biz-0220-work-advice-huppke-20120219,0,6069219.column. An early view of the study is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00881.x/full. The Tribune column reports that one of the lead researchers on the study, a management professor at Northern Illinois University, said the purpose of the research was to establish how much reliable information on job applicants can be gathered from scanning the Internet and “try to assess the personality traits in a similar way that they might be assessed by a standardized test.” The study found that “a 10-minute review of a Facebook page” could yield not only ‘red flags’ – past indicators of possible future problems – but also “an unvarnished look at a job candidate” and clues to “character and personality.” According to the Tribune column, the study involved trained “raters” who spent five to ten minutes evaluating 274 Facebook pages of job candidates and answering questions related to personality. The researchers followed up six months later for performance reviews from the supervisors of 69 of the job candidates – approximately 25 percent of the original group – and found that the quick Facebook evaluations more accurately predicted success than standard tests. A published excerpt from the study explains more: “Those high in agreeableness are trusting and get along well with others, which may be represented in the extensiveness of personal information posted. Openness to experience is related to intellectual curiosity and creativity, which could be revealed by the variety of books, favorite quotations or other posts showing the user engaged in new activities and creative endeavors. Extroverts more frequently interact with others, which could be represented by the number of SNW (social networking websites) friends a user has.” However, employers should still approach the area of social network background checks with great caution, according to Attorney Les Rosen, founder and CEO of background check firm Employment Screening Resources (ESR). “No discussion on background checks these days is complete without an analysis of how the Internet is used for finding information about job candidates,” says Rosen, author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ the first comprehensive guide to employment screening. “But social media checks can land employers in legal trouble since information found online is not always risk free or true.” To help employers better understand social media background checks, Rosen wrote a white paper in 2011 titled ‘Managing the Risks of Using the Internet for Employment Screening Background Checks’ to provide an informative introduction to the risks and roadblocks employers face using social network sites such as Facebook for recruitment and employment screening, as well as potential solutions to avoid legal issues. When using the Internet to screen job applicants, Rosen – a frequent speaker on safe hiring issues – warns that employers could encounter legal landmines that include:

  • Too Much Information (TMI) – Discrimination Allegations: Employers may become aware a job candidate is a member of a protected group based on age, race, sex, religion, nationality, and medical condition among other factors which can lead to allegations of discrimination if the candidate does not get the job.
  • Too Little Information (TLI): Failure to utilize social media background checks could potentially expose employers to lawsuits for negligent hiring if a victim could show information was easily accessible online that could have prevented the hiring of a dishonest, unfit, dangerous, and unqualified worker. 
  • Credibility, Accuracy, and Authenticity Issues: How do employers know if information found on the Internet about job applicants is credible, accurate, and authentic – in other words, true?
  • Computer Twins & Cyber-Slamming: Employers need to make sure information on the Internet actually refers to the applicant in question since many people have “computer twins” online with the same names while others suffer from false online smearing with derogatory comments known as “Cyber-slamming.”
  • Legal Off-Duty Conduct: If a social media search reveals legal off duty conduct, a candidate can claim they were the victims of illegal discrimination.
  • Privacy Issues: Everything online is not necessarily “fair game” for employers. The question of whether a job applicant has a reasonable expectation of privacy can depend upon the specific facts of the case being litigated. However, if an employer uses subterfuge, such as creating a fake online identity to penetrate a social network site, the privacy line has probably been crossed.
To minimize the risks of using the Internet for background screening, the white paper offers steps for employers using social media background checks, including developing fair and non-discriminatory procedures to locate information online, using the Internet for screening only after a conditional job offer and consent from the job applicant, and having a person in-house not connected to any hiring decisions review social network sites. Rosen adds that the devil is in the details when it comes to social media background checks. “Until the study on Facebook and job performance is published, it is difficult to assess how defensible the study would be if a lawsuit were filed by a job applicant as a result of a ‘failure to hire’ because of the use of Facebook for employment screening.” The complimentary white paper ‘Managing the Risks of Using the Internet for Employment Screening Background Checks’ is available for download at: https://www.esrcheck.com/Download/. For more information on background checks, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM’ and nationwide background screening company accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) – at https://www.esrcheck.com/ or call ESR at 415.898.0044. Sources: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/tribu/ijustworkhere/ct-biz-0220-work-advice-huppke-20120219,0,6069219.column & http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00881.x/full. About Employment Screening Resources (ESR): Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM – provides accurate and actionable information, empowering employers to make informed safe hiring decisions for the benefit for our clients, their employees, and the public. ESR literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by Founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction held by less than two percent of all screening firms. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), visit https://www.esrcheck.com/ or call 415.898.0044. About ESR News: The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected].]]>

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