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«“At Face(book) Value: Uses of Facebook in Hiring Processes and the Role of Identity in Social Networks” Introduction Facebook has become one of ...»

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Running Head: “At Face(book) Value”

“At Face(book) Value:

Uses of Facebook in Hiring Processes and the Role of Identity in Social Networks”


Facebook has become one of the most popular social networking sites (SNS), providing

users with a convenient way to communicate and share information with friends and family.

Although Facebook’s mission is to “give people the power to share and make the world more

open and connected” (Facebook, Inc., a), it has expanded from a simple social media outlet to a valuable tool for employers.

There has been a significant amount of media coverage regarding several incidents where employees have been terminated based on their Facebook activity. While employers are using Facebook to monitor their employees, they have also begun to use it as a screening tool when considering potential candidates. Because this is a fairly new trend, a standardized set of guidelines has yet to be established, with employers often assessing job applicants in a subjective manner.

This study investigates how a variety of employers from over six industries (See appendix A) interpret candidate Facebook profile information and how it affects hiring processes. It focuses on Generation X employers aged 31 to 45, because they are often making hiring decisions as members of Generation Y or Millennials, who make up the largest group of SNS users (Bumgarner, 2007), graduate and enter into the workforce.

Social Uses of Facebook Uses of Facebook Several studies show that the primary use of Facebook is for social purposes. Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) found that Facebook users spend a significant amount of time using Facebook to maintain offline friendships. Bumgarner (2007) confirmed that Facebook was primarily used as a social activity, but added it is also used as a directory. Here, concepts of voyeurism and exhibition were also discussed as motivations for using Facebook, where users explore other users’ pages and information. There were also other observations about less prominent, but still notable, uses of Facebook.

Perceptions of Identity through Facebook “At Face(book) Value” SNSs are often serving as the initial impression or the platform through which individuals are being portrayed (Gosling, Gaddis, and Vazire, 2007). Many users claim that Facebook is a convenient tool for shedding light upon the personality and character traits of others.

Studies have focused on whether the self-presented online identity is an accurate representation of the user’s offline identity and have defined virtual identity as one’s representation or appearance that holds true to a different plane of reality. Oftentimes the distinctions blur between an individual’s true identity and the fantasy of who he or she wants to be (Turkle, 2011). Indeed, social networking sites such as Facebook, allow users to reinvent themselves and claim as many electronic personae as one wants (Donath, 1999).

Essentially, Facebook users have control over the information they present to their audience and whom they allow to view particular information. Contrary to the offline reality, this form of privacy control allows Facebook users to methodically present various selfimages to their online audience. Facebook has allowed users to create and adopt a socially desirable identity that they will otherwise not be capable of producing in the offline world.

It can also be argued that the information portrayed on Facebook is congruent to an individual’s actual identity. The similarity in behaviour occurring within both the offline and online world revealed that the online social world might not be all that different from the real-life social world (Weisbuch, Ivcevic, and Ambady, 2009). Continuing with this view, Back et al. (2010) argued that the creation of an idealized identity was implausible. The study found that certain aspects of Facebook, such as wall posts and feedback from friends, provided vital information about an individual’s reputation that were too difficult to control.

This information would condemn an idealized identity to fail.

Privacy Among Facebook Users Current literature consists of articles that use anecdotal information to argue the existence of privacy violations by employers or to provide summary reviews of what is known on this issue.

Along these lines, college students’ self-reported strategies to protect their information include: exclusion of personal information from their profiles, the use of private email messages to communicate, alteration of the default privacy settings and the use of nicknames (Young and Quan-Haase, 2009; Tufekci, 2008). However, some college student users of Facebook are still unaware that other people besides intended “friends” are viewing their profiles and that their information is not safe from these unauthorized viewers (Brandenburg, 2008).

Employers and Facebook Millennials constitute the largest group of Facebook users and were the sole consumers from its inception in 2004 until Facebook went public (Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe, 2007).

Millennials are far more comfortable than any previous generation at publicly disclosing information about themselves, which has led to ethical concerns about employers seeking out Millennial job seekers’ information on Facebook (Anderson and Rainie, 2010).

According to a 2009 CareerBuilder.com survey, 45 percent of employers surveyed claimed to have used SNSs to pre-screen candidates with 25 percent of those employers specifically using Facebook. Sometimes these explorations uncover positive information about potential candidates that otherwise would not be present on a resume or cover letter, however more interesting cases emerge when potentially unwanted information is discovered (Roberts and Roach, 2009). As many as 63 percent of employers viewing SNS profiles have rejected candidates based upon information found within those profiles (Davis, 2007).

Job candidates are unaware if employers are indeed seeking more information about them via Facebook, which can present an ethical issue. This ethical issue uses support from the US Fair Credit Reporting Act that states job candidates must be made aware of employers using their credit report as a pre-screening tool and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that discrimination against age, sex, race, religion and disability in the job placing process is

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and can be used to pre-screen applicants (Clark, 2010).

Most of the employers are now coming from Generation-X, who in turn are more private and less self-oriented than Millennials (Smith and Kidder, 2010; Lyons, Duxbury, and Higgins, 2007). Smith and Kidder (2010) note Generation-X MBA students have a general attitude regarding Facebook use, that if job applicants appear unwise enough to post inappropriate content online, it is acceptable to take advantage of this mistake.

Limitations in these studies reveal the lack of empirical data on Generation-X employers’ attitudes and reasoning in using Facebook as a tool for pre-screening. More data needs to be collected to uncover the relationship between Facebook profiles and job placement success with Generation-X employers. In order to address the gaps in understanding how potential employee Facebook content is used in employers’ hiring

processes, this study created the following research question:

RQ: How is a job applicant’s Facebook content used by Generation X employers during hiring decisions?

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With a lack of academic studies focusing on our topic, a qualitative approach has many benefits to offer due to its discovery-oriented nature and its strength in discerning unknown variables and relationships (Strauss and Corbin, 1998).

This study used a purposive sample to conduct nineteen in-depth semi-structured interviews with employers belonging to Generation X who use Facebook when making hiring decisions. Each 25-40 minute interview was conducted between October 2010 and September 2011 in Miami, Florida. The recorded interviews were conducted primarily at offices, homes, or public locations and when necessary over the phone. The selection of our subjects contracted after all of the larger corporations declined interviews because of "equal opportunity employment laws."

During the interviews, questions were divided into four genres: respondent demographic and professional information, perceptions of Facebook, Facebook profile screening techniques, and traits valued by respondents for hiring purposes (See Appendix B for interview questions). Once the interviews were completed (See Appendix C for a short transcribed interview), the data were then categorized, classified and labelled where observations are found, compared, grouped, interpreted and analyzed.

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The results generate seven key findings, with three contextual themes preceding four dominant thematic trends. The three contextual themes were: economy and timing, weight of Facebook, and employer curiosity are identified and discussed. In addition, the four dominant thematic trends were a potential candidates: online personal appearance/portrayal, lifestyle image, wall posts likes and interests, and privacy settings.

Contextual Themes Economy & Timing Most respondents claimed they use Facebook as a tool for saving time and money. By turning to Facebook before a potential candidate is selected for an interview, employers are able to “weed” out applicants who do not meet the company profile, which in turn saves them time and money.

However, not all employers interviewed practiced this method as a few stated that they waited until after an interview was conducted to use Facebook in order to give candidates a fair chance at proving himself or herself in person.

Weight of Facebook Employers initially noted that the weight of Facebook is on the latter end of the hiringdecision spectrum with the interview coming first followed by the resume. Only a few of our

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respondents compared a potential candidate’s Facebook profile to a reference letter because they felt it gave similar insight into the overall candidate’s character.

Employer Curiosity Many respondents also stated that simply having a visual image of the candidate made them feel more comfortable during the interview process, especially when conducting longdistance phone interviews.

Some respondents, mainly those born in the later part of Generation X, agreed that they understood and took into account that Facebook is a SNS used on a more personal basis.

They added that they first turn to the professional SNS, LinkedIn, before looking at Facebook.

Thematic Trends Importance of Online Appearance/Portrayal Respondents stated that they look at pictures to determine whether or not the candidates look professional and well groomed. It became quite clear that employers made hiring judgments based on the visual image applicants create on their Facebook accounts.

Lifestyle Image In addition, respondents were concerned with what lifestyle the candidate’s photographs promoted. Overall, the respondents look to see what candidates’ photos say about their personality and disposition. The respondents stated that if, hypothetically, they found something on a candidate’s photos that was completely appalling, they would probably discard his or her application without further inquiry. The respondents went further to say that candidates are creating a persona by the types of pictures they post and that it is hard to expect that others will not pass judgment, whether it is good or bad. As a whole, most respondents largely agreed that they felt a potential candidate’s Facebook profile fairly represented that candidate’s character and his/her work ethics.

Wall Posts, Likes, and Interests The way candidates portrayed themselves through their wall posts, as well as what people wrote on their walls were also crucial in influencing decision-making processes for employers. In addition, the language and tones that were used in these wall posts were also taken into careful consideration. The respondents used this as a judgment of character on the candidate’s part, and to determine whether they were appropriate or inappropriate.

If employers perceive what they see as a lack of respect and self-preservation in candidates’ online writing or in the writing of their online acquaintances, a red flag comes up for those who make hiring decisions. Respondents see certain SNS behaviour and talk negatively translating to professional behaviour. Besides the language and tone, employers also use candidate interests within Facebook’s “Likes and Interests” page to categorize and create generalizations, which also influence employer hiring decisions.

Privacy Setting The majority of respondents agreed that placing personal information on a public medium is not intelligent, even if users were not aware of the privacy settings. The respondents acknowledged that Facebook, being a social environment, is not a top priority and that other resources are consulted first; however, if a candidate is willing to publically expose him or herself then the employer is willing to use that to their advantage.

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Our research confirms a wide variety of employers use Facebook profile information as an integral component in hiring processes. Certain contradictions were found among the majority of the respondents’ answers. Although many claimed that a resume and experience take priority over information found on a job candidate’s profile, they also claimed that the very same information could prevent them from obtaining an interview. This contradiction seemed to unravel as respondents continued to explain or rationalize their thoughts, which

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1) Employers assume that applicants cannot code-switch between documented online social behaviours/activities and work environments.

2) Employers assume social behaviours exhibited in SNS content spill into professional

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3) Employers assume that applicants place heightened efforts into their online SNS identity to carefully craft an image that correctly resembles their true personalities.

4) Employers assume that employee behaviour and identity should extend beyond work hours and places and into employee online SNS content.

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