What Social Media Can (Really) Tell You About Job Applicants

It's no secret that employers research job candidates' social media profiles to help them make hiring decisions. Most employers, however, may have been inaccurately evaluating applicants' online personas all along: New research has found that employers who quickly dismiss applicants based on unpleasant status updates and incriminating photos from a trip to Vegas may actually be missing out on great talent.

The study, "Big Five Personality Traits Reflected in Job Applicants' Social Media Postings," identified links between job applicants' online behaviors and characteristics that might impact their work performance.

Unfiltered personal communications and photos, comments about others, and references to alcohol and drug use are the key indicators of personality traits that job applicants truly possess — traits that may actually suggest a candidate will be a great hire, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers in North Carolina State University's (NCSU) department of psychology and published recentlyin the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking,

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According to the researchers, a job applicant's social media activities reflect the following five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience.

To get a better idea of what social media postings reveal about personality traits, researchers focused on two broad posting types: those that demonstrated badmouthing behavior, and those that referenced drug and alcohol use.

For instance, those who rated highly in agreeableness and conscientiousness were unlikely to badmouth others in social media, the study found. This doesn't mean, however, that conscientiousness has any bearing on posts that employers often consider red flags.

"Companies often scan a job applicant's Facebook profile to see whether there is evidence of drug or alcohol use, believing that such behavior means the applicant is not 'conscientious,' or responsible and self-disciplined," Dr. Lori Foster Thompson, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at NCSU, said in a statement. However, the researchers said there is no significant correlation between conscientiousness and a job applicant's propensity to post about drug or alcohol use on Facebook.

"This means companies are eliminating some conscientious job applicants based on erroneous assumptions regarding what social media behavior tells us about the applicants," said Will Stoughton, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student at NCSU.

Extraversion is also a trait that's often misunderstood. Consider, for instance, sales and marketing positions that require candidates to have extroverted personalities. Based on data presented in the study, extroverts are more likely to post about drugs or alcohol on Facebook; thus, employers will be limiting their sales and marketing pool of candidates if they automatically red flag those who exhibit drug- or alcohol-related behaviors on social media, the study found.

"If employers plan to keep using social media to screen job applicants, this study indicates they may want to focus on eliminating candidates who badmouth others — not necessarily those who post about drinking beer," Stoughton said.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.