Facebook – The New Personality Assessment Tool For Recruiters?

There’s been PLENTY of discussion about Recruiters and Facebook…seems the discussion isn’t about to wane by any means. As of last month, there’s a study from Northern Illinois University College of Business which found that by simply spending five to ten minutes reviewing a candidates’ Facebook profiles is a better predictor of future job performance than the usual personality assessments given to folks during the interview process. Who knew that by simply observing candidates’ behavior on Facebook, recruiters could obtain the same type of personality information that they would learn from an assessment test?

Thanks to this study conducted by Donald Kluemper, a professor of management – there is now substantiation to indicate that the information (some) recruiters were obtaining from Facebook does indeed have measureable value. Viewing photos, wall posts, comments, education and hobbies of one’s Facebook profile predicts job performance!

The legality of using social-media sites to screen job applicants has been a reoccurring and somewhat unresolved issue because employers may open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits (based on race, gender, age, and/or religion). However, think of the time and money saved if employers did use Facebook. Gone would be the need to purchase assessment tools, as well as the nightmare of administering the test(s). It would save time for the employer (we’re talking 5 to 10 minutes to do), as well the time and energy saved for the job candidate who has to complete the assessment(s). That’s a cost savings to all concerned!

Now I pose the following questions to all of you: If you were applying for a position, would you allow the prospective employer access to your Facebook profile instead of taking time out to complete a personality assessment?

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Denise Barnes

No for the same reasons personality tests do not predict the way a person will respond or act in any situation. Recruiting people isn’t like ordering hammers or nails. It’s a human being with cares, dreams, skills, talents, etc. You can’t judge someone’s future performance and accomplishments based on the few “discussions” or posts to their friends. Who knows what their purpose is for sure for their social site(s). I would not trust that information OR the personality tests for that matter to hire someone that I would be working with everyday. Recruiters and managers just need to do their job and be a human talking with other humans.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Do you have a link to that study? Interesting conclusion but I wonder about the methodology. Did the people who analyzed the Facebook profiles do so using established psychological tests? Where these analysts trained in how to properly analyze text? How many profiles did they look at? How did they determine which factors from the profile corresponded to work performance? What kind of jobs did these people perform?

I am rather skeptical of such claims given the lack of scientific validity in fields such as criminal profiling.

1) http://www.pogowasright.org/blogs/dissent/?p=1634

2) http://www.gladwell.com/2007/2007_11_12_a_profile.html


@Andy – Here’s some info. from the study as far as how, what was measured:

Subjects completed a personality survey like organizations might use. These same subjects allowed a team of raters access to their Facebook profile which each rater reviewed their profile, then used what they saw to answer questions (similar to those on the self-report personality questionnaire) about the subject. Researchers then calculated two personality scores for each subject (one from the subject, and the other from the rater).

The second part of the study: Researchers followed students who had been employed 6 months or longer. Student’s supervisor where asked to completed a performance evaluation. They then compared those scores to the personality scores from Facebook.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Thank you. Three problems from reading the study jump out at me:

1) Illegal information
“We stress that although SNW profiles may provide useful screening information, clearly there are issues to be faced when dealing with social networking information. Information readily available on SNWs might not be legal to ascertain or could increase the liability of an organization because of the potential for adverse impact. Although some employers might attempt to focus on job-related social networking information, there is also non-job-relevant information that could be used inappropriately for evaluating applicants (Fuller, 2006), resulting in biased hiring decisions (Purkiss, Perrewé, Gillespie, Mayes, & Ferris, 2006). During a job interview, an employer may avoid asking questions regarding race, religion, sexual preference, or marital status because of potential legal issues. However, such information may be posted or obvious in an SNW (Kowske & Southwell, 2006).”

2) Small sample
“Our studies are not without limitations. Although the relationships examined between other-ratings and self-ratings of personality in Study 1 were based on a sample size of 274, correlations pertaining to supervisor-rated job performance were based on a small sample (n = 56). Also in Study 1, evaluators of hirability were instructed to base ratings on an entry-level managerial position in the service industry. Specific job descriptions were not provided because we wanted to tap into broad impressions of hirability.”

3) Limited sample population
“The participants in the studies were all college students, because they represent the largest demographic cohort using SNWs. As other, more professionally oriented SNWs (e.g., LinkedIn) grow in popularity, it may be possible to replicate similar types of studies with other demographic groups.”

I do agree with the conclusion:

“We suggest that SNW-based personality assessment may provide a useful tool for organizational research, but only if further validation research is conducted and consideration of legal risks fully considered. In the context of employment selection, the current practice of using SNWs should be scrutinized more carefully by those who make employee selection decisions. However, equally important is the need for further academic study and guidance regarding emerging technologies such as SNWs in the context of a wide range of applications to organizational research.”


@Bill – Agree about the discrimination aspect.

As someone who’s networked with a lot of recruiters, and despite the perceived or actual discrimination which occurs due to screening candidates with social media sources – I believe this practice is more common than you might believe.

There’s been many “surveys” done, and almost half of employers surveyed are using facebook, twitter, etc. to learn about job candidates (even current employees!). Microsoft and CareerBuilder conducted some of their more informal surveying a couple of years ago – and at that time, they both reported that 45% of employers admit to using social media in this fashion. Last November another study was done, and their finding was that 90% of employers utilize social media.

Any survey when analyzed will show some sort of bias/slant – everything always gets judged – kinda like the recruiter who uses Facebook to determine the individual being considered for their Communications position isn’t a good fit. Fast forward to when the candidate doesn’t get the job – the candidate says it’s because their profile showed pictures of their 50th Birthday party, and they happen to be female. The employer says their nonselection has nothing to do with age or sex, but it was a matter of their need to hire someone who can use propper grammar. What happens next gets determined by the judge and jury!

Interesting tidbit:

I recently read that thee Federal Trade Commission determined that organizations who research how you spend your personal time/hobbies does not violate your privacy. In the last year or so, I have noticed the trend that the Internet is becoming “fair game”.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I’m with Denise on this discussion. Personality tests are not the way to make selections, just as Facebook profiles are not valid either. The only valid method of selection is to base qualifications based on experience and education, not personality or social networking profiles. Don’t worry though, most government personnel can’t even access Facebook and most don’t have the time or need to request access to personal accounts. Thi is a waste of precious time and resources, not to mention an invasion of privacy.

Courtney Shelton Hunt

I have written about the issue of social screening extensively, and I have commented about this particular study in several places. It’s getting a lot of attention because the idea is both intriguing and off-putting, but as Bill notes the study has too many limitations to enable anyone to draw any strong inferences or conclusions.

Tricia, I challenge a number of your assertions about how common this practice is, and how the trend is toward “fair game.” I have seen the exact opposite occur, as more organizations are recognizing that accessing people’s social networking activity – especially that which is intended to be private or personal – is ethically dubious at a minimum, and creates a host of legal risks that aren’t worth taking. In fact, I recently read a study that showed the activity was in decline. I expect – and certainly hope – that this Digital Era “worst practice” will eventually disappear. BTW, are you able to provide a source for your interesting tidbit? If it’s the letter from the FTC I think it is, it doesn’t come close to a determination “that organizations who research how you spend your personal time/hobbies does not violate your privacy.” We all need to be careful about spreading misinformation…

People who want to explore my perspective on social screening are invited to read the initial and most recent pieces I’ve written on the subject:

Social Screening: Candidates – and Employers – Beware

Demanding Access to Individuals’ Social Networking Accounts: A Digital Era Worst Practice



As far as my “assertions about how common the practice is, and how the trend is toward ‘fair game’”? Challenge away. Having been a recruiter for a number of years, I have spoken with many recruiters at job fairs, and other HR professionals about this topic. My experience is that this is pretty commonplace…right or wrong. Agree about the ethical issues (I discussed them in this blog if you will recall), however don’t people do things despite knowing that something is unethical, illegal, immoral, etc? In the recruiting circle, folks admit to doing it.

Here’s why my belief that this practice is popular amongst recruiters – it comes not only from information I’ve heard at networking or workplace events, and also comes from what I have read as well. I’ve read plenty of survey results (by different organizations) which indicate recruiters use social media in this fashion. I would predict if you call up a recruiter and ask them directly, they will deny it. Provide an anonymous survey or questionnaire – they are more likely to fess up to it. Much like smoking that cigarette you know is bad for you, but you do it anyways, never admitting you indulged.

Speaking of surveys, I just read an article published today that 1 in 5 five tech firms reject candidates over social media profiles. Another recent article published this month states that this is one of the top 10 trends in background checks: “Social Media Background Screening Checks of Job Applicants Becoming More Prevalent and More Controversial”, As far as what recruiters tell me they do versus what I have read on the subject – I’m not finding much contradiction.

As far as providing the “source” of my interesting tidbit – it is the Wall Street Journal.

As far as the FTC is concerned, whether they found a company compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or dropped an investigation – I suspect it sends a message to recruiters utilizing social medial for background checks that their safe, or somehow under the radar. If I had to guess, many recruiters are probably not going to change their practices until the day the FTC takes some kind of action, or when that big lawsuit happens. As far as their concerned, the Internet is fair game…for now.

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Tricia – I guess I wasn’t clear. Can you provide the exact source for the item you read about the FTC? Sources for the other studies you refer to would be great also. Thanks.

I have found that most social media practices studies have small sample sizes, significant methodological flaws, and are often dated (the recently-published SHRM study, for example). As a result, few of them have enough reliability or validity for anyone to draw substantive conclusions about what they might imply. We can duel away on both this and the anecdotal information we gather, but it’s something of an exercise in futility. We’ll know in due course how everything will shake out.

In the meantime, I prefer individuals and organizations who take a conservative approach, respecting personal/professional boundaries and an individual’s right to privacy and recognizing the long-term benefits of ethical practices. People who play fast and loose are not people I want to work with.

Finally, the FTC’s decision with respect to Social Intelligence has virtually no relevance for recruiters. I think it’s dangerous to assume it sends any kind of message beyond the narrow situation to which it was applied.


Agree about the studies as it relates to Social Media – or any subject matter. Difficult to be timely, unbiased, and all-inclusive.

In my opinion, I would guess that whether you are aware or not, you are working along side someone who does this practice. It might not be the recruiter, but the Manager filling the position. It could even be your boss. I’ve read articles (many of these I’ve provided links for) that such “screening” is happening in private sector, public sector, for prospective employees, current employees, schools, etc.

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Tricia – many, many thanks for sending all the article links. I have read, commented on, and/or written about a number of them. I may say more about the (too-often misinformed and misleading) role of the media in a subsequent comment, but for now I’ll respond to your latest comment:

I’m not so naive as to think that people aren’t engaging in these practices, just as I know that people text while driving, engage in petty theft from their employers, and a host of other questionable, risky, and potentially illegal behaviors. As a proponent of digital technology, however, I do feel it’s my duty, at least in part, to promote the rational, reasonable, and ethical use of these technologies by highlighting both best and worst practices. “Everyone else is doing it” doesn’t make it right…

I have found in my conversations with folks that many who engage in inappropriate social screening are often well intentioned but naive about the risks. Once they are better informed and think things through, however, they realize the dubious value of the practice. As more people get educated, we’ll see normative expectations, policies and even laws shift to create a set of expectations we can all live with. The MSNBC story you shared about the practice of asking job candidates for their login credentials is a great case in point: not only are several states moving to create laws making the practice illegal, the response to the practice is uniformly negative, indicating that everything is not “fair game.” Does that mean that employers won’t still try to get behind privacy restrictions on social networking sites? Of course not. But it does mean that we have general agreement as a society that that kind of social snooping and digging for digital dirt is not okay.



As an HR professional, I have cautioned people with their use of social media. Especially supervisors who “friend” their subordinates. Could end up in a sticky situation when they have that job opening, and don’t select an employee who views them being passed over a result of something their boss had access to viewing online about their off-time work activities.

I wrote a blog about this subject matter here on GovLoop back in 2009. I still do not have a personal Facebook account. It is not that I’m opposed to technology, but for other reasons – I’ve had my identity stolen in the past, plus, I work in the field of Human Resources. Until there are some more defined rules/laws in this area, better to avoid any potential problems.