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Jun 26 2014

The Perils of Facebook as a Hiring Tool

My new post at the Daily Dot is about Five Labs, an app that analyzes your personality based on your Facebook profile.

Some employers already try to use Big Five personality tests to assess prospective hires under the assumption that certain traits make good employees. At Jezebel, Hillary Crosley suggests that Five Labs could eventually become a hiring tool:

The tool is still in the beginning stages and isn’t a hardcore hiring weapon yet, but it’s clear how it could be. It could also poses problems because who you are online might not be who you are in an office setting. Maybe you’re awesome at work, but you like to go home and be crazy on the Internet? Technically, non-friends can’t see what you post on Facebook—but let’s be honest, the Internet is open to whomever is interested enough to crack your code.

That last sentence raises some concerning and frankly creepy implications. While it’s generally a good idea not to put things on the Internet (under any privacy setting) that would be particularly deleterious if they were to become widely known, we also shouldn’t consider it ethically acceptable for employers to hack into interviewee’s private online accounts in order to test their personalities.

I’d also question the hiring skills of any employer who’s that desperate to access a potential employee’s Facebook; their education, references, certifications, past work experience, and interview should really be sufficient.

As Crosley points out in her piece, most people do not behave the same way at work as they behave elsewhere. This is normal. In fact, this is preferable. I don’t think I would be effective at work if I acted the way I do at home or out with friends, and I also don’t think I would have any friends if I acted with them the way I act at work.

The expectation that many employers seem to be operating from when they stalk potential hires’ social media accounts is that people should not only leave their personal lives out of the office, but also take their work lives out of the office to everywhere else.

This is dismaying, but not surprising, given that the U.S. seems to have a uniquely work-obsessed culture. For instance, Americanswork more than residents of any other industrialized country, and they take the least vacation time. The U.S. also lags behind other comparable countries in terms of laws regulating sick leave and parental leave.

Being expected to take your office self home and into your online life isn’t nearly as bad as not being able to take paid leave to take care of your baby, obviously. But the two could be symptoms of a general cultural inability to recognize that it’s healthier to work to live rather than live to work.

Read the rest here.

5 comments

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  1. 1
    ImaginesABeach

    Have you seen the kinds of words Five Labs is looking for when deciding if you are agreeable and such? They are looking for words like “blessed” and “prayers.”

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Yeah, I saw that. The claim isn’t that saying stuff like that is the REASON you’re agreeable, but that a study of thousands of people found a high correlation between the use of those words and agreeableness. But that still suggests some sort of bias in how Big Five personality tests conceptualize the agreeableness trait.

  2. 2
    miller

    One of my complaints about the Big Five is that most of the traits have normative names. “Conscientious” simply sounds better than “not conscientious”. But who is to say that having a high “conscientious” score on the Big Five test is any better than having a low score? Or, if it really is better in some sense, then it should be demonstrated with evidence, not an assumption snuck in with the name.

  3. 3
    Gregory in Seattle

    Another fad “diagnostic” tool à la the Myers-Briggs test. I strongly suspect that, like just about every other Facebook app ever written, its real purpose is to harvest personal information, address books, interests, likes and preferences so that the data can be sold to spammers.

  4. 4
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Gregory, that’s fairly likely. It’s always important to remember that if you’re not the paying customer, then you’re the product. But this doesn’t stop people watching commercial TV, or reading free magazines, or using free apps, so it’s kind of annoying to see it repeated over and over again as if we’re too stupid to get it. I know. I protect against ads and spam as much as I can within reason. But sometimes I even BUY something they advertise to me.

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