The growth of social networks has spawned a new business practice whereby prospective employers often review an individual’s Facebook page, or other personal social media content, as a pre-screen for the hiring process.
William Stoughton, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University, believes the organizations may be committing a breach of privacy or, at the very least, creating a negative impression of the company for potential employees.
Stoughton is lead author of a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology and believes this unauthorized use of social media could even lead to lawsuits.
In one experiment, Stoughton and his research team, Drs. Lori Foster Thompson and Adam Meade, examined the reaction of applicants to prospective employers’ reviewing their social networking websites.
In another part of the research, participants had to rate their experience with a proposed selection process through a simulated selection scenario.
In both cases, participants rated how they felt about their privacy being invaded and if the attractiveness of an organization was diminished because of such strategies.
In the second experiment, participants were also asked whether they’d consider seeking legal justice if social network screening occurred.
The results demonstrate that applicants perceived pre-employment screening of social networking websites as an invasion of privacy, and might even consider suing an organization for it.
Notably, Stoughton’s team found that people are very sensitive to their privacy being compromised, regardless of whether they are offered the job or not.
It could even discourage candidates from accepting offers of employment if they interpret poor treatment of applicants as an indication of how they would be dealt with as employees.
Prior research has shown that people who do accept an offer of employment while being selected under unfair procedures are prone to unfavorable attitudes post-hire.
The negativity resulting from perceived procedural mistreatment during the hiring process could carry forward onto the job, leading to low performance and high turnover.
Stoughton advises applicants to reconsider using their Facebook pages as private forums for casual discussion with their friends, and to rather adopt a much more guarded tone.
He hinted at the demand for a new, so-called “scrubbing” service in which objectionable material is removed from clients’ presence on the Internet.
This might be especially valuable for people applying for sensitive positions, such as jobs requiring a security clearance.
“Social network spying on job candidates could reduce the attractiveness of an organization during various phases of the selection process, especially if the applicant pool at large knows or suspects that the organization engages in such screening,” Stoughton said.
“Because Internet message boards and social media provide easily accessible forums for job seekers to share their experiences and opinions with others, it is very easy for a soured applicant to affect others’ perceptions of an organization.”