In almost every hiring process, there are competent, qualified candidates who don’t get a job offer.
Ask people why this is, and they might suggest such things as strong competition, poor interview skills or a lack of experience in a particularly important area. Few would answer: “because they put too many exclamation marks in their private Facebook statuses.”
Yet this could indeed be a hiring deal breaker in the not-too-distant future. Why? Because our social media profiles are set to become ever-more important to employers. Even seemingly minor traits, like our punctuation choices, will influence our job prospects.
Mirror, Mirror, on the Facebook Wall
Our social media reveals a lot about us. It shows who our friends are, where we work, what music we listen to, where we go on holiday, and even what we’re thinking, in the form of status updates or tweets.
Even our “likes” can reveal a great deal about us, as a research team at the University of Cambridge found out. Their computer program analyzed the Facebook likes of volunteers before making predictions about aspects of their personality. After just ten likes, the computer proved a better judge of a person’s character than their colleagues. Given 70 likes, the computer could outperform a friend, and 150 likes made it more accurate than a family member. After shifting through 300 of your Facebook likes, this computer would know you better than your partner or spouse.
The average Facebook user has 227 “likes”. Michael Kosinski, the lead researcher, enthuses about his technology’s potential to transform recruitment.
Why Would Employers Want This?
For many hiring managers, pinning down the personality of their applicants is key. This is because they want to employ a great “culture fit”; someone whose temperament suits the aims and ethos of the business and the role. Such employees gel better with existing staff members, stay longer, and perform better.
Moreover, Kosinski’s data can be used to analyze a candidate’s competence in the various soft skills employers look for – things like responsibility, decisiveness and self-motivation. Still wondering about those exclamation marks? The reason they may be regarded as a warning sign by hiring managers is because people who overuse them on their social media also tend to be reckless and overconfident.
Our social media is filled with similar tells. Claiming on your CV that you’re responsible and diligent? Better check that when you make plans with friends you use precise instructions (“let’s meet at 7.30pm”) rather than general, open-ended comments (“let’s meet tonight”).
When Will Employers Start Using This Data?
Odds are, very soon. In fact, an attempt to use social media to judge people was announced by the insurer Admiral in late 2016. Admiral planned to use the data to generate car insurance quotes for drivers. (And yes, an abundance of exclamation points would have worked against you). Unfortunately for Admiral, Facebook blocked the project, citing privacy concerns.
However, there’s no guarantee that Facebook – or indeed, any other social media platform – will always refuse to hand over its data. Moreover, employers are already using social media to make decisions about candidates, as hundreds of internet stories of people being caught with inappropriate photos, statuses and comments will attest.
Companies are also likely to put pressure on candidates to voluntarily share their data, perhaps by forcing job applicants to apply via Facebook.
Are There Any Benefits for Candidates?
Yes! One’s of Admiral’s reasons for its social-media scheme was to offer cheaper insurance to new drivers who couldn’t prove their responsibility through years of no-claims history. Inexperienced job seekers could similarly gain. If their social media proves that they are hard-working and reliable, employers may be more willing to take a risk on them despite a lack of work experience or hard skills. That will help both ambitious career starters and people who want to make a career change later in life.
Moreover, the culture fit employers are screening for is important for candidates too. Having a job that suits your work habits and interests will make you happier and more successful. Indeed, because different companies want different things from candidates, most personality traits thrown up by social media analysis will strengthen your application in certain companies. Exclamation-mark-users may be sought out by employers who want staff who try new things and take risks.
What About the Negatives?
There are legitimate downsides to placing too much emphasis on data-driven decision making. For a start, although the software can detect personality traits with impressive accuracy, it is still fallible.
Moreover, it ignores the fact that many people are capable of adopting and sustaining a more professional personality for the workplace. Just because someone uses text speak on Twitter, for example, does not mean that they are incapable of creating well-written client emails. People change, but social media is forever. Software that burrows far into the past when making judgements may assess people only as they were once, and not as they are now.
Once this software is widely employed, savvy candidates will simply edit their social media to reflect the qualities employers want. Not only will this negate the point of the software, such manipulation of personal expression is enough to send George Orwell spinning in his grave.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
Being judged on your Facebook likes seems like a terrifying prospect. But the fact is that employers have been using even the slightest of signals to make sweeping decisions about candidates for years. CVs containing a single typo have been unceremoniously thrown out. Middle-aged candidates are assessed on academic results they gained decades ago.
Incorporating our social media data into the hiring process will not eliminate bias and unfairness. Neither will it exacerbate it. No matter how much our technology advances, job hunting and hiring is likely to remain a process that is challenging, time-consuming, and, occasionally, unfathomable.