«“At Face(book) Value: Uses of Facebook in Hiring Processes and the Role of Identity in Social Networks” Introduction Facebook has become one of ...»
Assumption number four is similar to the concept of employee branding. Employee branding is a process whereby employees infuse organizational associations of products or brand attributes into their work behavior (Ind, 2001). For employees, this means the brand’s messages are to be incorporated into their everyday experiences instinctively (Mitchell, 2002), in what Harquail (2012) sees as a new twist on identity regulation through psychologically connecting the brand to the employee.
Given the themes and four employer assumptions resulting from the analysis of our
interviews, our study’s contribution to broader theoretical foundations occurs in three areas:
the expansion of the employee branding concept, the contestation of the freedom affiliated with virtual identity, and the creation of a new digital divide.
First, our results expand Ind’s (2001), Mitchell’s (2002) and Harquail’s (2012) conceptual definition of employee branding to include organizational preference to control prospective worker identity and behavior into on and off-line worlds. The original organizational definition limits employee branding to relationships with products mostly during work hours.
With SNSs, employee branding now enables potential employee identity regulation beyond aligning product branding with employees and more with company values, politics, appearances, behavior and religious preferences. Those who seek employment would need to conform to employer identity and behavior preferences in the virtual world, and in their online representation of what they do in the off-line world.
Second, our results contest Donath’s (1999), Turkle’s (2011) and Friedberg’s (2006) theoretical conceptions of virtual identity by challenging conceptions of the Internet as a place of freedom and escape for users. In essence, with employees now examining SNS content of potential employees, the freedom to publically create online identities is curtailed.
For those who seek employment, either documented online life outside of work will conform or will need to conform to employer preferences. If their documented online lives do not conform to employer preferences, then potential employees will need to create an online identity partial to potential employers. In the latter scenario, identity would still fall under a virtual definition, yet it is driven by exogenous instead of endogenous influences. Where the initial rise of the Internet enabled people to have multiple identities, our results suggest the diversity of online identities is likely to shrink. It is likely to adapt and become an extension of an employers hiring tool with individual virtual identity being compromised and at risk of becoming altered to present what an employer desires rather than an individual’s preferred identity.
The irony with this potential outcome of employer preference is that among users, Facebook is primarily conceived of and used for social purposes (Bumgarner, 2007; Lampe, Ellison, and Steinfield 2006; Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007; Zhao, Gramsmuck, and Martin, 2008). If employers are going to co-opt the original intention of Facebook and apply it to what they see as their benefit, then reverberations will likely be felt among SNS users with an eventual shift toward more “professional” content likely to occur. The content, uses
called “professional” values and preferences of employers.
Third, our results also create a new digital divide in terms of online identity. Those who are not dependent on seeking wage labor to sustain their lives in addition to those who own and/or manage businesses/organizations can enjoy more freedom in terms of creating their own virtual identities. Those who are in control get to define the identity or “brand” for the potential employees. Their freedom is curtailed creating a divide in online identity, where those who are financially secure may be themselves, with those who aren’t, can’t.
Although these findings shed light on a growing trend, the study was limited to employers within the Generation X group. For comparative purposes, an equal number of respondents in various industries would be vital to fully access the diversity of practices.
Perhaps researchers would find it fruitful to develop a survey that would reach beyond Generation X employers as a whole. Lastly, the study was limited to a total of nineteen interviews. Future studies may want to increase the number of employers interviewed if possible.
In conclusion, job seekers should be aware that their future employers are closely observing their Facebook profiles in search of a window into their personality. Though this practice raises many ethical issues, it is an emerging phenomenon that has no intention of slowing. Our paper questions if employers are overstepping their boundaries by using personal information for professional hiring decisions and whether or not this is appropriate.
The ethical question of whether employers are providing job candidates with equal opportunities or if image over qualification takes precedence has to be raised. Given the implications of the results of this study, perhaps a universal set of hiring guidelines that addresses the role of SNS content in hiring procedures needs to be publically debated.
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