The Effect of Using Facebook as Background Checks on Job Candidates

Abstract

Employers are increasingly using Facebook as a profiling tool to assist in the hiring process. This report analyzes the effects of using Facebook for background checks on job candidates. This paper establishes that there are dangers in Facebook profiling for both the employer and the potential hire.

These dangers include: inaccurate information, mistrust by employees, and the loss by the employer of individuals who have high potential. The use of Facebook to profile candidates should therefore be stopped and where it has to be used, great caution should be exhibited.

Introduction

Social networking tools have become very popular attracting millions of users all over the world. Facebook is the most active and popular Social Networking Site (SNS) and its most frequent users are college students and recent graduates (Brandenburg 598). These frequent users also happen to be the people who are in the job market, seeking employment opportunities. The information that the users reveal on Facebook might have some implications on their employment chances.

A recent study by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology indicates that over 12% of employers used social networking sites during the hiring process. Of this group, 63% made the hiring decisions based on findings from the social networking sites (Spon 1). The aim of this report will be to analyze the effects of using Facebook for background checks on job candidates.

The focus will be on the implications of using Facebook for background checks both for the candidate and the potential employer. This paper shall argue that while Facebook has some positive contributions to the hiring process, its negative impacts far outweigh the positive and as such, the use of Facebook as a profiling tool is mostly detrimental to both the potential hire and the employer.

Employers Use of Facebook to Run Background Checks

There has been a notable increase in the use of Facebook by Employers to check the background of potential employees. This rise has been attributed to a number of reasons. The use of Facebook in the hiring process also contains some inherent dangers to the employer.

Why Employers use Facebook

There are a number of reasons why employers find it necessary to use facebook in their recruitment process. Some of the major reasons for using Facebook are as follows:

The difficulty of the hiring process

There are an increasing number of applicants competing for similar jobs in all industries. This has made the task of hiring even more difficult than it was in the past since competition is fierce. When faced with applicants of equal qualifications, Facebook profiles can be a useful tool in the hiring process.

A recruiter can screen potential employees based on the information they reveal about themselves on their profiles. Hooker and Rathke state these an employer can single out candidates with desirable traits such as conscientiousness, agreeableness and emotional maturity from the person’s Facebook profile (2).

The cost of the hiring process

The cost incurred during the process of seeking out new employees is high and for this reason, it is in the company’s best interest to reduce turnover by selecting the most appropriate applicants. One of the means through which a company can lower the rate of turnover is by employing people who are dependable. Hooker and Rathke assert that while a resume and interview were sufficient in the past, this traditional means cannot help in the detection of employees who are reliable (2).

SNS profiles may assist in this since an employer can look at a potential hire’s profile and accurately determine their dependability based on what the user’s friends say about them. Facebook can therefore assist by providing information on this trait of dependability thus enabling the company to employ a dependable person who is least likely to leave the company on short notice.

Better information on character

Employers would be interested in finding out whether their potential employees have any questionable relations or interests. Facebook allows users to post anything they wish concerning their lives on their personal profiles. This is information that the potential employer may find useful as they decide on whether to hire the person or not. Brandenburg reveals that by simply clicking on group titles and following the link of Facebook, an employer can find potential employees who have questionable interests (599).

Employers can get useful information that a person may never willingly share in their resume through their Facebook page. Albrechtslund states that younger people are in particular are prone to sharing their uncensored thoughts. The employer is therefore in a better position to judge the real character of the individual from their social networking activities (1).

Public scrutiny

Some of the positions that employers seek to find candidates for are public. This means that the profile of the employee will be open to public scrutiny. For this employee who will be working in a public capacity, the information that they present on Facebook is of importance since it reflects directly on the company.

Lory declares that since such a person will be a representative of the organization, their background information as appearing on Facebook can be subject to scrutiny (40). By running a background check, the employer will avoid any embarrassing revelations about the user in future.

Dangers of Using Facebook

Even as Employers use Facebook in large numbers, there are dangers that are inherent in this screening method for the employer. These dangers are articulated below

Inaccurate information

A study by the National Association of College and Employers revealed that as of 2007, 12% of employers intended to use social networks to screen potential hires (Brandenburg 600). Most employers who use Facebook for vetting purposes view the information on the person’s profile as entirely accurate. They therefore tend to judge the character of a potential employee based on their character on Facebook. As the employers goes through the profile of an applicant, they are bound to find information that is meant to be a joke.

Taken out of context, this information may lead to the employer automatically rejecting the applicant. Engler and Tanoury assert that “Employers may be prematurely dismissing very qualified candidates due to inaccurate assumptions based on a few snippets of their life on Facebook” (9). Employers may therefore lose out on applicants who have huge potential based on conclusions reached on the information in a user’s profile.

Fosters mistrust

Employers carry out the Facebook profiling mostly without the consent or knowledge of the candidate. Facebook plays a huge role in the social and private lives of millions of people.

The use of this site as a background checking tool results is an invasion of user’s personal privacy. In the event where the candidate becomes aware of this unauthorized screening, they may develop a felling of distrust towards the employer (Engler and Tanoury, 11). While it is not wrong for employers to want to know more about their applicants, using Facebook is inappropriate.

Leads to polished profiles

There is a real danger of Facebook profiles being misused. Engler and Tanoury predict that as recruiters continue to use Facebook as a means of screening, Facebook users will polish their profiles to suit the eyes of the recruiter (10). As a matter of fact, students have become more reserved and hesitate to post personal information in their profiles since they fear how a prospective employer may view the same information.

A user will more likely remove all information that may be seen as “inappropriate” from their profile so as to entice recruiters. This will not mean that the user has changed their lifestyle. As such, an employer will not be able to get a glimpse into the character of the potential employee through their profile. Instead, the employer will be presented with an eloquent profile which was edited specifically to impress them.

Impact of Facebook Profiling for Potential Hires

There are various impacts that are associated with Facebook profiling for the potential Hire. These impacts may be positive or negative depending on the profile of the particular potential hire.

Positive Impacts

A potential candidate can use Facebook to improve their chances of landing a job. A user can create a Facebook profile that aids in their professional life. Hooker and Rathke discovered that the professionalism exhibited on the Facebook profile of an individual influenced the employer’s decision on whether to hire them for a professional role (6).

Research indicates that social profiles have an impact on an employer’s first impression of the potential hire. With this in mind, a person can create a favorable online presence that endears them to the potential employer. Lory states that college graduates can use Facebook to network and increase their likelihood of landing a job (40).

Negative impacts

Many people post information on their Facebook profiles that is meant to be seen by their friends only. With this notion, the users post items with their friends in mind and they do not anticipate that potential recruiters will be recipients of the information. This means that the information posted is casual in nature and is not necessarily an accurate representation of a person.

A recent study states that some Facebook users intentionally misrepresented themselves in an attempt at humor or so as to gain social approval (Peluchette and Karl, 96). Users therefore exaggerate their alcohol or drug use in Facebook posts and join groups that do not depict who they are. An employer going through the user’s profile will not know that the profile content is false and a person may therefore be judged wrongly from their profile.

While potential job candidates can exploit Facebook to increase their likelihood of being hired, most do not. The reason for this is because most candidates remain ignorant of the effect that their Facebook profile has on their employability. If properly used, Facebook can assist a person to advance their careers through the construction of professional relationships.

However, at present, many recent graduates’ Facebook profiles contain information that would damage their employment opportunities. Research by Peluchette and Karl indicate that students were somewhat naive about the potential negative consequence that the material they posted on Facebook could have on their employment prospects (96).

Discussion

Facebook has been credited with enhancing the social lives of many people. This site has enabled people to both keep in touch and also meet and befriend new people, therefore widening their circle of friends. Even so, the site has many dire consequences when a person is seeking employment. While ideally, a person’s social life should be separate from their work lives, this is not the case. One’s personal life as articulated in social networking sites can have an implication on their professional life.

From the numerous uses highlighted for employers using Facebook to screen potential employees, it may be assumed that Facebook leads to employers hiring better employees. Engler and Tanoury argue that Facebook screening could actually have the opposite effect (10). Facebook user’s knowledge that prospective employers may look into their profile will result in false profiles. The user will actively try to come up with a “clean” profile which only lists what the user thinks the recruiter may approve of.

Engler and Tanoury point out that that if employers continue to rely on Facebook to vet candidates, Facebook as a social networking website stands the risk of being changed into a collection of impersonal resumes (11). Hooker and Rathke actually advise users to place information on their Facebook profiles with potential employers in mind (8). Such a trend will result in professionalization of profiles since such profiles are noted to positively influence the decision making process of recruiters.

Even so, Facebook will at least for the near future continue to be a favored recruiting tool by many employers. Lory asserts that more and more employers continue to use Facebook to assess candidates and there is nothing to prevent this behavior (28). Employers see Facebook profiles as a useful hiring tool and as such, it can be projected that they will keep using it. It is therefore up to the candidate to change their privacy settings and ensure that they only post appropriate information on their pages.

Conclusion

This paper set out to argue that the use of Facebook for profiling potential hires has a negative impact both for the potential employee and the employer. Descriptions of the reasons why employers make use of Facebook for vetting purposes have been articulated. From the discussions presented, it is clear that many employers deem Facebook to be a valuable tool in the hiring process.

Even so, this tool has many inherent disadvantages which place both the employer and the potential employee at a loss. For the potential hire, the information that appears on their profile may be used to judge their character with negative results. The employer may also be misled about a candidate’s personality from their profile.

While Facebook has gained great relevance in contemporary society, this paper has demonstrated that there are risks that a user faces. A person seeking employment may suffer some loss as a result of the information that appears on their Facebook profile.

The employer on the other hand can make false judgments concerning the potential employer based on their Facebook profile. The use of Facebook to profile candidates should therefore be discouraged and in the instance that it is used, great care should be taken to avoid the pitfalls that this paper has highlighted.