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Social networking and applicant reactions

Relatedly, in recent years the popular press has made much about the use of social networking sites (SNSs) in personnel selection, both in recruitment and as a potential selection tool. In that time, a research literature on SNSs for these personnel uses has begun to develop, illustrating both the value and risks of using SNSs for selection. Use of SNSs for recruitment appears to have grown rapidly and research suggests that it is especially useful for attracting ‘passive’ job seekers, that is, those who are not actively looking for work (Nikolaou, 2014; Nikolaou, Bauer & Truxillo, 2015). In fact, SNSs such as LinkedIn are becoming part of the standard networking landscape.

However, the use of SNSs for making selection decisions is more problematic. First, the research thus far suggests that the use of SNSs may not lead to valid selection decisions. Van Iddekinge and colleagues (in press) provided recruiters with job applicants’ Facebook profiles and asked them to rate the profiles. These ratings were unrelated to supervisors’ job performance ratings and turnover, and provided no incremental validity beyond personality and cognitive ability tests. Moreover, they found that the ratings tended to favour White and female applicants, suggesting that there could be some adverse impact. In other words, this research suggests that ratings of SNSs may not be valid and may make an adverse impact.

However, applicant reactions are a separate issue, since applicants may not always prefer the most valid selection procedures, such as unstructured interviews. Nevertheless, the research thus far generally suggests that applicants do not react very positively to the use of SNSs for selection. In a sample of participants at a career fair for the hospitality industry, Madera (2012) found lower perceived fairness and intentions to pursue a job for organizations that used SNSs as a selection tool compared to those that did not. Stoughton, Thompson and Meade (2015) examined applicant reactions to SNS in selection across two studies. In Study 1, which involved people who applied for a research assistant position, they found that SNS screening led to applicants feeling that their privacy had been invaded and to have lower organizational attraction. In Study 2, which involved participants in a simulated hiring scenario, the use of SNSs to screen applicants led to increases in perceived invasion of privacy, decreased organizational attraction and increased intentions to litigate. Overall, these studies suggest that using SNSs is perceived negatively by job applicants and may affect important outcomes such as litigation. Indeed, Roth, Bobko, Van Iddekinge and Thatcher (in press) point out a number of potential concerns with the use of SNSs for personnel selection, including the possibility for adverse impact and the likelihood of recruiters over-relying on negative information about applicants - issues which, if known to applicants, should lead to fewer applicant reactions.

Although the use of SNSs for applicant screening is of concern at this point, one can foresee how their careful use, especially those focused specifically on professional issues such as LinkedIn, could lead to more positive applicants. Roulin (2014) found that faux pas postings on SNSs (i.e., showing inappropriate content) on the part of applicants is lower when candidates are informed that employers may use SNSs for hiring decisions. Thus, if the general use of SNSs in recruitment and selection continues such that all applicants use them, and if SNS content were to be in some way standardized across applicants, and if recruiters could be trained in the standardized evaluation of SNSs, much as they are with structured interviews, one could argue that SNSs could lead to acceptable validities and acceptable applicant reactions. While these may be worthy goals we are not there yet, and using SNS for making selection decisions seems risky for reasons related to legal issues, validity and applicant reasons.

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