Facebook snooping more accurate than personality tests, but is it legal?

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Could Mark Zuckerberg help you find the right candidate?

Facebook beats personality tests for judging success at work, but Canadian laws limit using information gathered through social media.

An ever increasing number of HR professionals are turning to social media to check candidate’s background, now academics have confirmed its effectiveness.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology showed a 10-minute review of a  Facebook profile could be a better predictor of the “big five” personality traits than a personality test. The big five are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Lead researcher Donald Kluemper said information from Facebook helped eliminate self-reporting bias.

"You're asking the rater, 'Is this person a hard worker?' On a personality test, the employee would be asked, 'How hard a worker are you?' One of the criticisms of self-reporting personality testing is that it can be faked. On a Facebook page, that's a lot harder to do," Kluemper said.

Anita Nickerson, President of HR One Consulting Inc., said most employers are looking at social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but few will admit it or bring up their findings in an interview because they could run into trouble with privacy laws.

In the future she believed Facebook and other social media pages might be used in a similar way to references.

“It’s part of a process, like when you ask for references. ‘Do I have permission to reach out to your list of references?’” Nickerson said. “Down the road I won’t be surprised at all if we include Facebook, Twitter and all those social media tools... ‘Can I get your references on Facebook – I want to be able to see you on Facebook.’ I wouldn’t be surprised it that’s part of the future.”

Those doing the hiring could run into trouble with privacy laws if they used their findings to influence hiring decisions.

Queens University media professor Sidneyeve Matrix said social media could be a great resource for HR professionals, but it could also make the process more complicated, rather than simpler.

“The biggest thing that gets people talking is social screening – employers taking a peek at social profiles and perhaps finding information that they wouldn’t be able to ethically ask in an interview and the awkward situation that that causes,” Matrix said. “Once you have that information, that you couldn’t have legally asked, you can’t ‘unknow’ it.”

Reliance on web searches could also be a disadvantage for older applicants, who may have sufficient background and experience, but who do not have any online presence, Matrix said.

  • Dee George on 2012-03-21 6:10:33 AM

    Most people have a public persona that they display. A persona that is largely a skillful performance (sometimes not so skillful) they use in order to survive. People let people they trust, usually not their employers, know their real persona. This mask they wear in public helps them survive in hostile environments, which the modern workplace all to often seems to be. An employer demanding to have access to a person's personal Facebook number as a prerequisite to employment is tantamount to asking someone to strip naked in front of a hiring committee to be sure they are in good health. HR people are not psychiatrists, or researchers. For the most part they do not have the skills to truly predict a person's performance on a job. I understand that Facebook would be a good predictor of a person's success at work, but for good or ill, people "bare their souls" in this forum. HR people who consider using people's Facebook information have sunk pretty low on the integrity scale and when people are asked to provide Facebook information they should walk out of the interview giving the one finger salute

  • Peter de Jager on 2012-03-22 1:25:28 AM

    While I have no problem with people 'googling' a prospective hire - what better way to get a snapshot of a person's career than seeing where and how they are referenced in the public sphere?

    However? I draw a very deep, and very clear, line in the sand when it comes to a trend that up until recently I thought was nothing but an outrageous Internet hoax - the trend? Companies asking for the FB password of prospective hires: http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1148973--would-you-reveal-your-facebook-password-for-a-job

    NO company has the right to ask for a private password. I would not even ask my wife for her FB password. We are all entitled to some privacy.

    I'd love companies who ARE asking for this information to name themselves in public - so that we know which organizations place zero value on privacy. I know how I would respond to such a request.

  • Joel Malard on 2012-03-22 4:48:47 AM

    A job candidate that reveals his or her own FB password is signalling a willingness to reveal someone's else personal data for a price. As far as I am concerned that is a kiss of death for the applicant.

  • Angelo on 2012-03-28 7:51:02 AM

    I think employers should be able to snoop social media profiles all they want. University students have been doing that to each other ever since Facebook exploded all over the universities and colleges in North America. Users do have the ability to select what people can and cannot see, so all they have to do is change their settings.

    What I do have a problem with, and what I think is a bit of a privacy invasion are potential employers actually asking for your Facebook password.

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