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Companies That Screen Social Media Accounts Alienate Job Candidates

Research from North Carolina State University shows companies that screen the social media accounts of job applicants alienate potential employees – making it harder for them to attract top job candidates.  In some cases, social media screening even increases the likelihood that job candidates may take legal action against the offending company.

“The recruiting and selection process is your first indication of how you’ll be treated by a prospective employer,” says Will Stoughton, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the research. “If elite job prospects feel their privacy has been compromised, it puts the hiring company at a competitive disadvantage.”

The researchers did two studies, which returned similar results.

In the first study, 175 participants who had applied for a job online were told that their Facebook accounts had been reviewed for “professionalism,” and that a decision on whether they’d been hired was forthcoming.

Of the 175 participants, two-thirds reported finding the prospective employer less attractive because they felt the Facebook screening was an invasion of privacy that reflected poorly on the company.

In the second study, 208 participants were asked to envision a hypothetical scenario in which a prospective employer reviewed their Facebook profiles for professionalism. Half of the participants were asked how they’d respond if they had gotten the hypothetical job, while the other half were asked how they’d respond if they hadn’t gotten the job.

The job offer made little difference, with 60 percent of participants in both groups reporting a negative view of the potential employer due to a sense of having their privacy violated.

Further, 59 percent of participants in the second study said they were significantly more likely than a control group that wasn’t screened to take legal action against the company for invasion of privacy. This question wasn’t included in the first study.

“This research tells us that companies need to carefully weigh whatever advantage they believe they get from social media screening against the increased likelihood of alienating potential employees,” says Dr. Lori Foster Thompson, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the paper. “Elite job prospects have options, and are more likely to steer clear of potential employers they don’t trust.”

The paper, “Examining Applicant Reactions to the Use of Social Networking Websites in Pre-Employment Screening,” is published online in the Journal of Business and Psychology and was co-authored by Dr. Adam Meade, a professor of psychology at NC State.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Examining Applicant Reactions to the Use of Social Networking Websites in Pre-Employment Screening”

Authors: J. William Stoughton, Lori Foster Thompson, and Adam W. Meade, North Carolina State University

Published: Online Nov. 22, 2013 in the Journal of Business and Psychology

DOI: 10.1007/s10869-013-9333-6

Abstract: Purpose – Social networking websites such as Facebook allow employers to gain information about applicants which job seekers may not otherwise share during the hiring process. This multi-study investigation examined how job seekers react to this screening practice. Design/methodology – Study 1 (N=175) employed a realistic selection scenario examining applicant reactions to prospective employers reviewing their social networking website. Study 2 (N=208) employed a simulated selection scenario where participants rated their experience with a proposed selection process. Findings – In Study 1, social networking website screening caused applicants to feel their privacy had been invaded which ultimately resulted in lower organizational attraction. Applicants low in agreeableness had the most adverse reactions to social networking website screening. In Study 2, screening again caused applicants to feel their privacy had been invaded, resulting in lower organizational attraction and increased intentions to litigate. The organization’s positive/negative hiring decision did not moderate the relationship between screening and justice. Implications – The results suggest organizations should consider the costs and benefits of social media screening which could reduce the attractiveness of the organization. Additionally, applicants may need to change their conceptualization of social networking websites, viewing them through the eyes of a prospective employer. Originality/value – This investigation proposed and tested an explanatory model of the effects of screening practices on organizational outcomes demonstrating how electronic monitoring, privacy, and applicant reactions can be integrated to better understand responses to technological innovations in the workplace.

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