Skip to content

Hiring Is A Big Deal – Use The Right Tools


According to a 2020 Harris Poll, 70% of employers check out applicants’ profiles as part of their screening process, and 54% have rejected applicants because of what they found. Social media sites like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram offer a free, easily accessed portrait of what a candidate is may be like, potentially yielding a clearer idea of whether that person will succeed on the job—however, one should be asking if what is seen has anything to do with the job?

Very little of what you find is predictive of performance. What information is discovered is ethically discouraged or, in some cases, legally prohibited from being taken into account when used to evaluate candidates or make your hiring decisions. So extreme caution should be used when accessing this information.

There were three studies conducted offering employers’ insight into recruiting concerns and flaws. In the first of the three studies, the researchers examined the Facebook pages of 266 U.S. job seekers to see what they revealed. Some of the information that job seekers had posted (education, work experience, and extra­curricular activities) covered areas that organizations routinely and legitimately assess during the hiring process. But a significant number of the profiles contained details that organizations will be legally prohibited from considering, including gender, race, and ethnicity (evident in 100% of profiles), disabilities (7%), pregnancy status (3%), sexual orientation (59%), political views (21%), and religious affiliation (41%). Many of the job seekers’ profiles also included information of potential concern to prospective employers: 51% of them contained profanity, 11% gave indications of gambling, 26% showed or referenced alcohol consumption, and 7% referenced drug use.

This may give you a peek into why recruiters love social media—it allows them to discover all the information and details they aren’t allowed to ask about during an interview. Remember, our interviews need to focus on behaviors within the work context.

In a second study, the researchers explored whether such information affects recruiters’ evaluations. They asked 39 recruiters to review the Face­book profiles of 140 job seekers (obtained from a previous larger study) and rate each candidate’s hireability. The researchers then mapped the recruiters’ ratings against the content in each profile. Although the recruiters clearly took heed of legitimate criteria, they were also swayed by factors that are supposedly off-limits, such as relationship status (married and engaged candidates got higher marks, on average, than their single counterparts), age (older individuals were rated more highly), gender (women had an advantage), and religion (candidates who indicated their beliefs got lower ratings). Factors such as profanity, alcohol or drug use, violence, and sexual behavior lowered ratings; extracurricular activities had no effect on scores.

In the final study, the overall outcome: neither group’s assessments of the candidates accurately predicted job performance or turnover intentions, indicating that hiring representatives stand to gain little from probing applicants’ online activity. Details on the third study can be found with the information below.

There are better options! Steps and actions within your control and job preview. Please consider your candidate experience from beginning to end. Think of the questions you are asking: focus on questions that provide insight to the applicant’s emotional intelligence, to their soft skills that make them successful in the job, situational and behavioral questions focusing on their behaviors of the past, as well as cultural questions to confirm the applicant is in alignment with the values and mission of the organization. Ask about work related pet peeves, what motivates them, best work environments, greatest accomplishments, etc. Think about what they are bringing to the table today and what they bring that will benefit the organization in the future so that you are hiring for today and for tomorrow. Ask them what they want to learn. Seriously, you want to develop your employees over time. What do they want to learn? How do they want to learn it? How do they think they learn best? What can they teach others? Wrap this up with your onboarding process and training. Please do not forget or rush this step. This time sets the stage for the employment relationship which equals retention.

Side Note: participants in the studies willingly granted the researchers permission to view their Facebook pages—but as we know in many cases hiring managers don’t need to ask, because profiles are often public. What’s more, previous research found that a third of U.S. recruiters request access to candidates’ Facebook pages, and the vast majority of job seekers comply. As we know, that is changing. More than 20 U.S. states now prohibit employers from asking applicants to pull up their social media pages during an interview or to share their usernames and passwords. EU regulators go a step further, forbidding hiring managers from viewing a candidate’s social media unless that person explicitly consents.

About the research: “What’s on Job Seekers’ Social Media Sites? A Content Analysis and Effects of Structure on Recruiter Judgments and Predictive Validity,” by Liwen Zhang et al. (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2020)


Looking for previously written Advantage eNewsletters or HR ALERTS?