Social networking websites offer a potentially large amount of personal information to organizations about job applicants. However, organizations that implement online screening practices through sites like Facebook may reduce their attractiveness to applicants and current employees.
Previous studies show up to 65 percent of organizations screen applicants through social networking websites, said Will Stoughton, a doctoral candidate in industrial and organizational psychology at North Carolina State University.
Employers claim they screen social networks to find the best applicants and weed out the bad ones -- and it can be easy to find personal information. They typically look on sites like Facebook or Google for pictures of alcohol or drug-related use and remarks about previous employers or co-workers, Stoughton said.
Organizations have even been known to ask interns who have access to Facebook to send a friend request to an applicant. Past research has demonstrated a 50 percent chance that an individual will accept a stranger's friend request, he said.
Stoughton, along with NCSU coauthors Lori Foster Thompson and Adam Meade, conducted a study on the effects of screening in the workplace and presented their research at the 27th Annual SIOP Conference in San Diego in April.
In the study, 175 students applied for a fictitious temporary job they believed to be real and were later informed they were screened. The student-applicants said they would be less likely to take a job offer after learning they were being screened. They perceived the action to reflect poorly on the organization's fairness, trust and treatment of employees. They also felt their privacy was invaded, Stoughton said.
While organizations may conduct social network screening to find the best applicants, they don't always accomplish the intended goal, the study found. In fact, the social network screening process actually reduced an organization's attractiveness for the applicant and likely the incumbent worker, Stoughton said.
"By doing this, you assume the applicants that organizations end up choosing are more conscientious, but no studies show that these individuals are any better," Stoughton said. "They could actually be losing better applicants."
Current employees could also be impacted. If employees see the organization looking at their social networking site, they might be likely to leave because their perception of the companies' fairness and trust has changed, Stoughton said.
Social network screening isn't new. Stoughton said he began his research in 2007 when social networking was just becoming popular. He said he knew the possibility of electronic monitoring could grow along with networking.
The practice of screening candidates' websites faces an uncertain legal future, Stoughton said. As social networking becomes more integrated into society, legal issues could develop and organizations could face invasion of privacy claims, he explained.
The law has already begun to tackle more invasive screening practices with some states banning organizations from asking for employees' Facebook usernames and passwords. Maryland was the first state to implement such a law in April.
Stoughton said he could see a ban of social network screening as a possibility in the future as well. Besides, there are other ways to pare down the applicant pool, Stoughton said.
Alternatives like electronic scanning can look for specific key words human resource personnel may be looking for in resumes in order to get the better ones, he said. "If organizations are going to screen social networking websites," he said. "They should weigh the possible benefits with its costs."
The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is an international group of nearly 8,000 industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists who study and apply scientific principles concerning workplace productivity, motivation, leadership and engagement. SIOP's mission is to enhance human well-being and performance in organizational and work settings by promoting the science, practice and teaching of I-O psychology. For more information about SIOP, including a Media Resources service that lists nearly 2,000 experts in more than 100 topic areas, visit www.siop.org.
Materials provided by Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Original written by Alex Alusheff. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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