For decades, many companies have used pre-employment personality tests in an effort to determine whether applicants would fit into the organization’s culture and succeed on the job. It appears, however, that now there’s a free tool available that can predict prospective employee success more reliably than any of the standardized questionnaires on the market.
That tool is Facebook.
. . . Or, at least that’s what researchers at Northern Illinois University’s College of Business recently concluded.
In fact, these researchers determined that spending a mere five to 10 minutes skimming a person’s Facebook posts and interactions provided much greater insight into how he or she would perform at work than many surveys used by human resource departments across the country.
Here’s how the NIU researchers conducted the study:
The research subjects were given one of the personality surveys typically used by many companies to gauge traits such as friendliness, integrity, honesty, emotional stability and impartiality.
The same subjects also voluntarily permitted access to their Facebook profiles and posts, which a team of three researchers rated using a series of personality-based questions based on the ones asked on the standardized personality questionnaire. The example the researchers provided compared the raters’ impression of whether the subject was “the life of the party” after scanning his or her Facebook account against the subject’s self-assessment of the same trait on the survey.
“We were able to conclude that after a five-minute perusal of a Facebook page, raters were able to answer questions regarding the subject about as reliably as would be expected of a significant other or close friend,” Professor Kluemper , who oversaw the study, said.
To further buttress their findings, the NIU team continued to track some of the subjects who obtained jobs. After six months of employment, the subjects’ supervisors were asked to complete a performance appraisal. The researchers then performed a side-by-side analysis of information gleaned from these evaluations against both the Facebook raters’ findings and the subjects’ self-evaluations from six months prior. They discovered that the scores from the Facebook ratings more accurately reflected the subjects’ work performance than their own responses to the pre-employment survey.
Kluemper speculated that the difference in accuracy may arise because, when taking the survey, applicants might try to select what they hoped to be the response the employer was looking for, rather than the truest response, while people tend to be themselves on their Facebook pages.
As Kluemper explains it, ““In five or 10 minutes, our raters could look at the tone of a subject’s wall post, note the number of friends they have, peruse their photos to see how social they were and assess their tastes in books and music. It’s a very rich source of information.”
Of course, HR departments aren’t all going to toss their personality tools out the window and make a mad dash for Facebook when screening applicants—and they shouldn’t. This study was unique in its approach, and its outcomes would need to be supported by similar studies. (I can also envision a host of legal issues that could surface if companies start basing hiring practices on social media interactions.) Nevertheless, these findings are interesting, and they seem to tell us once again, that there’s plenty we can learn about our prospects and customers via their social media networks.