Can Facebook Predict Future Job Performance?

If only recruiters had a tool from which they could glean valuable information regarding candidates’ personality traits that would help determine fit without having to administer arduous assessments and reference checks during the interview process. According to a recent study, they do: It’s called Facebook.

Donald Kluemper, a professor of management at the Northern Illinois University College of Business, along with a team of researchers, found that five to 10 minutes of perusing candidates’ Facebook profiles was a better predictor of future job performance than the typical personality assessments given during interviews.

By observing candidates’ behavior on Facebook, recruiters are able to extract validated personality information that could go a long way in determining their next hire, according to the study.

Since Facebook’s expansion to include any user over age 13, recruiters have used the social networking platform — and many others — to screen and validate job candidates informally, said Paul Harty, president of outsourced recruitment services firm Seven Step Recruiting.

But prior to this study there has been little evidence to suggest that the information recruiters were gleaning from Facebook had any measurable value, Kluemper said.

The researchers asked a group of subjects to complete a personality survey akin to those commonly used by organizations. The goal was to gauge five key personality traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, emotional stability and openness.

The subjects then allowed a team of raters access to their Facebook profiles, which each rater perused and then used to answer questions about the subject that were similar to those on the self-report personality questionnaire, according to the study. For example, students were asked to rate their agreement with the statement: “I am the life of the party.” For the raters, the question was phrased: “Is this person the life of the party?”

The researchers then calculated two personality scores per subject — the first based on responses from the subject, and the second from the raters’ responses. Kluemper’s team found that the raters actually had a good grasp on the subjects: Raters were able to answer questions regarding the subject “about as reliably as would be expected of a significant other or close friend.”

In the second portion of the study, the researchers followed a subset of students who had been employed six months or longer. Students’ supervisors were asked to complete a performance evaluation. They then compared those scores to the personality scores from Facebook and found that scores derived from the social network acted as a more accurate measure of that subject’s job performance than the scores taken from the self evaluation.

“Someone that is more emotionally unstable, they are going to [appear] down in the dumps [on Facebook],” Kluemper said. “It will reflect in the way they have conversations with other people.”

Another reason Facebook may act as a more accurate assessment is that users are less likely to put up a false front — as they might during a self-reported personality test during a job interview, Kluemper said.

While recruiters use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to get a sense of a candidate’s online profile, many still consider LinkedIn, which was designed as a networking tool for professionals, to be the tool of choice in finding and assessing talent, said Seven Step’s Harty.

Even after learning of the results of Kluemper’s study, Harty is skeptical that Facebook — in its current form — could ever become a formalized tool for recruiters. Its use, he said, is more likely to remain informal.

But Facebook’s separation from the professional networking space could change. BranchOut, a tech company that aims to create the largest professional network on Facebook, claims to have millions of active users in more than 60 countries. Task Rabbit, Monster.com’s BeKnown app, as well as SimplyHired are other firms that seek to use Facebook as a platform for users to create professional networks.

Kluemper acknowledged there are potential legal issues surrounding the practice — which the researchers did not take into account the first time around — that would need to be resolved. In addition, more studies of this nature need to be conducted to ensure the accuracy of the results.

Facebook, through a spokeswoman, said its goal is to remain a platform for users, recruiters and app developers to connect, but not necessarily to build its own tools or aim initiatives specifically for recruiting purposes.

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@talentmgt.com.