What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? Facebook Knows

What Facebook Reveals About Candidates

In recent weeks there have been a lot of stories about employers asking candidates for their Facebook passwords or accepting a hiring manager as a friend, apparently sanctioned by HR. This is the kind of behavior that so endears HR to others in the organziation, and why it’s true that no child grows up wanting to work in HR. I suspect this has more to do with some people trying to justify their existence and demonstrate that they belong in the 21st century than with accomplishing anything useful. The problem may solve itself since such acts are a violation of FB’s privacy policy — but never underestimate the tenacity of an HR professional determined to prove their usefulness.

But the more relevant question here is: what do they expect to find?

Pictures of drunken behavior? How does one define that for a still picture? And, if there is such a picture, does that mean this is the candidate’s normal behavior? A company that claims to screen candidates based on their Facebook profiles showed me a picture of a person standing in front what they claimed was a marijuana plant. There are at least seven varieties of plants that can be mistaken for marijuana. Even if it was marijuana, then what does it prove?

Someone I know who was advocating for this same company said it was worth a few bucks to know if a candidate had been making racist statements. This is a perfect illustration of the problem. The first question I would ask is: “If it’s only a few bucks, then just how likely is it the information is any good?” There’s a high risk of false positives. The use of certain words may make it clear that a person is racist, but it’s rarely that obvious. Given the maniacal devotion to political correctness in some quarters, anything can be deemed offensive. For example, some people think that any criticism of the President is a racist statement. So it’s largely a matter of opinion.

It’s All About Me

It doesn’t have to be a subjective process. There is some useful data that can be mined from Facebook. Recent research shows a link between the number of friends a person has on Facebook and the degree to which s/he is a “socially disruptive” narcissist. People who have lots of  friends, tag themselves more often, change their profile pictures a lot, and update their newsfeeds more regularly tend to be very narcissistic — suggesting a toxic personality. Such individuals can be very self-absorbed, vain, and with exhibitionistic tendencies. They need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion, so they often say shocking things or inappropriately self-disclose. They have a sense of deserving.

A person displaying these traits in the workplace can be a very disruptive influence. But then, that may be the new normal. Other research suggests that we’re seeing an epidemic of narcissism, especially in the generation entering the workforce now, which has a highly inflated sense of self-worth. Of course, continued high unemployment may solve that problem (there’s always a silver lining).

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These are broad conclusions and the research needs to be developed further, but it is revealing and indicative of certain traits that should be better investigated when hiring. But this isn’t the first study of its kind. Other research has suggested that social networks in general tend to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support. Facebook just makes it easier (I doubt that anyone would do this on LinkedIn).

What it Means for Recruiters

It’s still early days in the social media world, especially for recruiters, so tread carefully. To reach any conclusions about a candidate would require a careful analysis of their profile, and even then it’s hardly definitive. Charles Handler of Rocket-Hire, who is an expert and does a lot of work in assessments, mentioned that for Facebook to be truly useful in evaluating candidates it would require attaching assessment information to a profile. The profile should be set up so that it collects information related to jobs. This information could then be overlaid onto a breakdown of the job along the same dimensions covered in the assessment. We’re a long ways from that.

Facebook can add some value to a selection process, but not a lot at this point. So much of it is subjective or incomplete. There’s also potential for trouble because using any information gleaned from Facebook can be a violation of privacy. This is the position of the ACLU, which is aggressively supporting legislation to stop the practice. Laws are already being proposed in several states and at the federal level, which would effectively block employers from using any information on social networks as a source of information for screening applicants. That may be overkill, and are a potential goldmine for lawyers, but no one should be surprised. Given how popular such legislation will be, it is virtually guaranteed to pass.

photo from IMDB

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.

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11 Comments on “What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? Facebook Knows

  1. Any organisation who does not have the sensibility to conclude that this is a reprehensible practice is not worthy of consideration as a potential employer anyway.

    As a recruiter I would seriously consel any organisation against this kind of activity and certainly would not condone it under any circumstances.

    We increasingly live in a World where privacy and the right to be who we are is limited by social restrictions. Much of this is incurred by government as a result of security concerns. It is getting ridiculous, and for companies to follow suit is if anything simply pathetic.

    I am a football fan and support Arsenal, because I have photos on my facebook page depicting me with football colours does this imply that I am a hooligan, a gang member and an imbecile?

    Just say no to anyone who asks for your access to your social media profile. Keep Linkedin as professional and keep it open and visible. Keep facebook and the like as private and personal, only connect to genuine friends and family, check your settings regularly and get drunk, go to church, hunt foxes, gamble, attend theatrical societies, join the communist party, be homosexual, love Heavy Metal, like poetry and say what you really think as and when you want. It is no business of your employers unless you make it so.

  2. GREAT article, though my favorite part has to be: “Other research suggests that we’re seeing an epidemic of narcissism, especially in the generation entering the workforce now, which has a highly inflated sense of self-worth. Of course, continued high unemployment may solve that problem (there’s always a silver lining).”

  3. Good Advice as always, Raghav. And like Charles Handler, I am all for referencing valid assessments as the best predictor of the future value of talent. But let’s also keep in mind solid research cited in another recent ERE article– https://staging.ere.net/2012/02/22/facebook-can-predict-job-success-but-dont-go-there-yet/ — that found widely used measure of the Five Factor Personality Model did a POORER job of predicting job or academic performance than ratings made of Facebook profiles. My takeaway from that research is not train up a team to rate Facebook profiles (even if there were legally OK), but to avoid those lame transparent measure of Big Five factors. Instead, use validated performance constructs keyed to the outcome factors (sales, dependability, customer service, Safety Mindedness, problem-solving) that create value on the job.

  4. I agree with Tom. It is pretty unrealistic to begin trying to label job applicants using terms like “socially disruptive narcissist” what exactly does that mean in regards to his/her ability to to a job? There is no doubt that a time is coming when a myriad of data points collected from an individual will be used to predict all kinds of things related to their future behaviors. This is already happening in the area of consumer behaviors.

    It will become increasingly important for Psychologists and others who are interested in understanding human motivation and behaviors to relate these purely empirical patterns back to human traits and constructs.

    But I digress, I think the backlash against intrusions such as those discussed by Raghav will make this kind of behavior a flash in the pan. As the job market opens up, applicants will have options that will allow them to walk away from employers who hold such inane policies.

    Hey it wasn’t so long ago that employers used lie detector tests. Try that today and see what happens!

  5. I might be a little too focused here, but the research referenced in this article (Christopher Carpenter’s paper “Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and Anti-social Behavior”), really doesn’t address whether the number of friends a Facebook user has, nor the frequency of their tagging or updates, has anything to do with whether someone is a narcissist or not. Instead it looks at correlations between “self-promotional” ratings for certain types of Facebook content and a user’s NPI-16 score.

    Looking at Facebook profiles of candidates is probably a bad idea anyway, but making a decision based on misrepresented research is even worse.

  6. It’s possible to use FB or other social media to gather useful information, I doubt most HR or people in general truly know how to use FB in a valuable way.

    Can’t wait until HR and other business people start getting asked about her/his profile from candidates and employees on a larger scale.

    At some point, I expect momentum to be gained around candidates who publish lists of companies that ask for FB profile access. After names become known, watch those companies struggle to get candidates.

    Going to be very hard to answer why the candidate pool is dry in this market and know that it’s needless practices like this that caused a backlash.

  7. Thanks, Raghav. “…. very narcissistic — suggesting a toxic personality. Such individuals can be very self-absorbed, vain, and with exhibitionistic tendencies. They need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion.” These folks should be identified as such- they sound like they should be fast- tracked for CXO positions….

    @ Darryl:
    “expect momentum to be gained around candidates who publish lists of companies that ask for FB profile access. ” It sounds like the furor a few years ago over companies requiring drug-testing prior to employment. That didn’t stop some companies from continuing to require them…

    @ Everybody:
    As I said a few days ago:
    “You have the right to remain offline. If you give up the right to remain offline, anything you say, write, create, compose, or express in other ways can and will be used against you (accurately or not) by anyone or everyone for any or no reason for the rest of your life and beyond.”

    Keith “http://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/online-privacy, https://www.eff.org/” Halperin

  8. I like this article. If someone doesn’t set their privacy options then I feel like they are not concerned with the information that is available. I am not opposed to searching for public information about candidates. But, if someone sets their privacy options than it means that they do no want you to view the information and I feel like they have a right. It may be possible to learn information about people from their social networks. A Recruiter may also learn something about a candidate in a social setting by following them home and peeking in their window, but how many of us would consider that acceptable. I think it is an area that Recruitment needs to tread lightly. If we were able to go home with every level of employee, I am sure that we could find something we don’t morally agree with, but is that a deciding factor of whether they can effectively do a job. The question stands: What are we evaluating? You are also leaving the interpretations open based on the judgment and morality of the person viewing the information, which, in my opinion, can lead to many problems and lawsuits.

  9. @ Marci: Well said. I think it goes to what a constitutes clear and reasonable definition of “expectation of privacy”. If you don’t eant something known/distributed, keep it behiond a clearly locked cyber-door. Of course, that definition of “locked” may not apply equally to the folks who “rent you the cyber-room”.

    Any byte of data that’s not behind this “locked cyber door”
    should be regarded as a means for someone, somewhere, sometime to try and get money from you or influence you in another way….In “1984,” George Orwell had a description of a future where Big Brother was stamping on a human face-forever and ever. We now can have a more realistic vision of countless “invisible hands” picking our pockets forever and ever…

    🙁

    Keith

  10. As a Talent Manager covering Asia I have never used Facebook to source information to assist me in my selections of viable candidates for one reason only………I myself talk a lot of rubbish, known as “Chewing the fat” on my own FB with FRIENDS not colleagues/peers etc. My FB persona bears little or no relevance whatsoever to the persona I adopt when I arrive at work, walk in a boardroom, face a client etc. I never have current colleagues or clients that I have built a friendship with anywhere near my FB and if they send me a friend request I politely decline and explain why with no offence to anyone as I believe they “get it” and understand this is my private life.

    As for this section “Recent research shows a link between the number of friends a person has on Facebook and the degree to which s/he is a “socially disruptive” narcissist. People who have lots of friends, tag themselves more often, change their profile pictures a lot, and update their newsfeeds more regularly tend to be very narcissistic — suggesting a toxic personality. Such individuals can be very self-absorbed, vain, and with exhibitionistic tendencies. They need to be constantly at the centre of attention. They cannot stand to be ignored or waste a chance of self-promotion, so they often say shocking things or inappropriately self-disclose. They have a sense of deserving”. I have lived, work and travelled the globe since I was 19 hence me having a large number of friends on FB………does this mean I have been deluding myself for years and am actually “self-absorbed, vain, and with exhibitionistic tendencies” , “very narcissistic — suggesting a toxic personality”. I think not!

    I enjoyed how thought provoking this article was for me however it worries me that that armatures are missing the mark by irresponsibly and hypocritically using FB as a de-selection tool.

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