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The Facebook test: Why social Big Data is important

Your online presence could get you that second interview

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HPC blog A study published by the Journal of Applied Social Psychology says that analysing applicant social network pages is a good predictor of how well the newbie might (or might not) fit into your organization.

They’re not talking about the obvious stuff, like status updates about looting stuff from work or faking exotic illnesses in order to get more hangover recovery time. The researchers wanted to know whether posts and interactions on the social nets can accurately assess how job candidates score on the “Big Five” personality traits.

So what are the Big Five? Glad you asked. They are:

1) Openness to experience
2) Conscientiousness
3) Extroversion
4) Agreeableness
5) Neuroticism

How someone scores on these measures determines their fit for particular jobs. For example, if someone skews towards the easy-going/careless side of the ‘conscientiousness’ scale, they’re probably not the best choice to fill an air traffic controller opening. The better the match between the Big Five scores and the requirements of the job, the better employees typically perform.

Researchers analysed Facebook posts from 500+ subjects and found that they were able to reliably indicate how job candidates scored on the Big Five factors above. It wasn’t flawless, and these are subjective measures anyway, but it compared favourably with subject testing and with the opinions of others about the subjects.

If social network activity can predict the kind of person you are, and the kind of person you are can predict just how well you’ll do in a particular job, then why shouldn’t big employers use Facebook as the first screen in your interview process – perhaps before they’ve even talked to you?

A Forbes magazine article on the study quoted one of the researchers saying that Facebook access restrictions make it difficult for employers and the public at large to see a potential applicant’s entire profile.

So the only thing standing between efficiency-minded employers using Facebook as a means of weeding through thousands or millions of potential employees is Facebook’s privacy policy? Now that’s something that should give us all pause. Take a moment for that.

Of course, maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong perspective. Maybe it’s better for companies to be able to qualify/disqualify applicants based on the look and feel of their Facebook pages. It could be that this will prevent employer/employee mismatches, and the resulting unhappiness and occasional gunplay. Who am I to say?

All I know is that we should prepare for a wave of HR consultants pointing to this study and looking for automated tools designed to analyse every aspect of a person’s online identity in order to figure out whether they have what it takes to man the drive-up window next summer. ®

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