EPMEPM: Technology & Social

Can You Use Facebook as A Screening Tool?

Peter Fletcher give ussome insights from his Social Media Policy for Real Estate Agent scourse regarding the benefits and pitfalls of using Facebook to assess job and tenant applications.

For as long as I can remember, the single biggest problem faced by real estate principals has been recruiting the right staff. For property managers, that problem is choosing the best tenants. In the past selecting the right employees and tenants involved a complex process of information collection, interviews and a healthy dose of gut feel. Invariably there were successes, but equally there were plenty of failures.

Enter Facebook.
Today, a growing number of agents are making use of Facebook to identify and weed out applicants who are variously aggressive, belligerent, or reckless. Sometimes they’re all of the above and more. Still, others refuse to do so, maintaining that Facebook is, or at least should be, a private online sanctuary free from commercial interference.

But for many agents, the allure of a quick check of a prospective employee’s Facebook profile is too great to resist.

So, in what follows, I outline academic research by Kluemper, Rosen and Mossholder that helps to explain why Facebook is such an alluring tool for selecting the best tenants and employees. I make clear why recruiters who choose to review the Facebook profiles of applicants should be clear-eyed about what they’re attempting to discover. Inasmuch as a Facebook profile can reveal information that would serve to disqualify an applicant from further consideration it can also be used far more positively and productively. Finally, I outline how using Facebook exposes agents to significant legal and regulatory risks and the steps that can be taken to mitigate this risk.

According to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (Kluemper, D. H., Rosen, P. A., & Mossholder, K. W. (2012). Social Networking Websites, Personality Ratings, and the Organizational Context: More Than Meets the Eye? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(5), 1143–1172.) the information revealed on a person’s Facebook profile can be an accurate predictor of performance in the workplace. In a 2007-08 US-based study involving 274 active Facebook users, subjects were rated to assess the degree to which they matched one of the Big Five (According to Srivastava “The Big Five are five broad factors (dimensions) of personality traits. They are: Extraversion (sometimes called Surgency). The broad dimension of Extraversion encompasses such more specific traits as talkative, energetic, and assertive. Agreeableness. Includes traits like sympathetic, kind, and affectionate. Conscientiousness. Includes traits like organized, thorough, and planful. Neuroticism (sometimes reversed and called Emotional Stability). Includes traits like tense, moody, and anxious. Openness to Experience (sometimes called Intellect or Intellect/Imagination). Includes traits like having wide interests, and being imaginative and insightful.” Srivastava, S. (2012). Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors. Retrieved July 18, 2012 from http://psdlab. uoregon.edu/bigfive.html) personality types. The study assessors were trained for a mere 2 hours and spent between 5 and 10 minutes on a review of each of the subject’s Facebook profiles looking for behavioral residue; cues such as photos, updates, notes and profile information, that indicated the subject’s tendency to be agreeable and conscientious.

In the researcher’s opinion it should come as no surprise to us that cues to personality types would be easy to find on Facebook.

Examples of how information available through [Facebook] might allow for the evaluation of Big Five traits are not difficult to conceive. Individuals low in conscientiousness, for example, might be distinguished by a failure to demonstrate self-discipline and cautiousness in online conversations or postings. Individuals low in emotional stability might post content demonstrating a tendency toward large swings of personal or emotional experiences. Those high in agreeableness are trusting and get along well with others, which may be represented in the extensiveness of personal information posted. Openness to experience is related to intellectual curiosity and creativity, which could be revealed by the variety of books, favourite quotations, or other posts showing the user engaged in new activities and creative endeavours. Extroverts more frequently interact with others, which could be represented by the number of [Facebook] friends a user has. (Kluemper, D. H., Rosen, P. A., & Mossholder, K. W. (2012). Social Networking Websites, Personality Ratings, and the Organizational Context: More Than Meets the Eye? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(5), 1148-49)

These observations are supported by emergent evidence showing a close relationship between Big Five personality traits and what people post to Facebook. They cite research by Amichai-Hamburger and Vinitzky, who have identified a direct correlation between the number of Facebook friends a person has and extraversion, and further research by Karl, Peluchette, and Schlaegel, who claim that people who rate high on a scale of conscientiousness are less likely to display problematic content, such as photos of drug taking or posts of a sexual nature.

Significantly for agents, the study by Kluemper et al. shows that assessors with little training, and using a basic framework, could make accurate predictions about the chances of success in the workplace in the briefest of reviews of a subject’s Facebook profile.

It would appear, then, that agents have access to the holy grail of recruitment and tenant selection.

But as much as there are compelling reasons to use Facebook to screen applicants there are equally compelling reasons not to. High on the list of those reasons is the risk of being accused of discrimination. Interviewers are wise to avoid questions that touch on a person’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, religion or political affiliation, and yet this information is front and centre on many Facebook profiles.

Using Facebook to assess applications exposes your organisation to complaints made to the Australian Human Rights Commission (For information about equal opportunity and equal rights see http://www.hreoc.gov.au/info_for_employers/law/index.html). The scenario business owners do well to consider is the very real possibility of discovering that an applicant is a member of an organisation for which you have a particular dislike. How would you react, for example, if you received a job application from someone who appeared well qualified but your Facebook research uncovered that they were transgender, or a member of a far rightwing political party that endorsed a position on race relations that you found abhorrent? In both instances laws forbid making a decision on the basis of either of these factors.

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