On The (Job) Hunt
Human resources professionals are tracking your online and social media presence. Think you know what they're looking for? Take our quiz, designed by NC State sociology professor Steve McDonald, to find out.
Looking for a job? Applicant beware.
A recent study is bringing to light how human resources professionals review the online and social media presence of job candidates. It’s called “cybervetting,” and researchers say it can introduce bias and moral judgment into the hiring process.
“Some workers have a social media profile that sends the right signals and can take advantage of cybervetting,” says Steve McDonald, corresponding author of the study and a professor of sociology at NC State. “But for everyone else, not only are they at a disadvantage, they don’t even know it, much less why. Because they don’t necessarily know what employers are looking for.”
Take our quiz to see if you can identify what might be considered red flags.
What is the most commonly viewed social media site when it comes to cybervetting?
B. LinkedIn. About 70% of the HR professionals in our study were engaged in some form of online screening. The majority of respondents reported reviewing information about actual or potential job applicants via LinkedIn, followed by Facebook profiles and information that could be gleaned through a Google search. LinkedIn was favored as a way to easily find and screen candidates.
What is the most common rationale that HR professionals use to justify cybervetting?
A. Reducing risks of hiring bad employees. HR professionals explained that they could use content from the internet and social media to mitigate risky hires. They also sought workers who they thought were a better “fit” for the culture of the organization and those individuals whose personal lives best exemplified their notions of “ideal” workers.
Cybervetting is unique from other forms of hiring evaluation because…
C. It frequently involves an assessment of morally acceptable behavior outside of work. When evaluating online content, cybervetters often rely on their personal notions of morally acceptable behavior, coding some actions as positive (like volunteering) and other actions as negative (like drinking alcohol). Cybervetting is no more rigorous than other forms of employment screening. It does not require an especially unique set of tools or skills — one only needs access to the internet to search for job candidates and draw inferences about their behavior.
What is problematic about using moral criteria to evaluate online content?
D. All of the above. Cybervetters often draw conclusions that are faulty or uncertain, such as assuming that a person who is holding a red Solo cup in a photo is drinking alcohol. Notions of morally acceptable behavior tend to align with our perceptions of different social groups. The types of content they liked to see tended to be more commonly associated with white, masculine, youthful, upper class and heteronormative lifestyles. Cybervetters also made many assumptions about how their screening criteria were hypothetically related to job performance, but made few attempts to assess whether their inferences were correct.
Which of the following organizations are least likely to engage in cybervetting?
C. Government and nonprofit organizations. HR staff from governmental and nonprofit organizations expressed the greatest skepticism about cybervetting and placed the greatest limits on this activity. Previous research suggests that these organizations maintain a greater operational emphasis on equity and transparency, which could explain their hesitancy. By contrast, personnel from private staffing and employment agencies were most enthusiastic about cybervetting. They tended to ignore the negative consequences of cybervetting, perhaps in part because they were removed from many of the organizational risks of cybervetting — i.e., they were not actually hiring or working with the people they were screening.
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