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Social Media as a Hiring Tool?


Why use social media as a selection tool in the first place?

It may be because most of us believe we are good judges of character:  ‘Of course I can get a sense of someone by browsing through his or her photographs and postings.’  Other organizations may be using social media to identify deviant behavior.  Some organizations may just be making sure they are not hiring people engaged in criminal behaviors.  We have even heard of organizations unofficially adopting a “red cup rule”, whereby if a potential employee is pictured holding a plastic red “keg cup,” they are deemed unfit and un-hire-able.  This approach is fairly easy to justify:  ‘If they were concerned about privacy, why would they have posted those pictures for the digital world to see in the first place??’   To everyone who has dealt with or is dealing with this, we  pose the following question:

Is the content of someone’s social media profile related to their ability to perform their job?

In other words, can someone’s pictures or posts be used to predict whether or not they will perform in a professional context?  It is harder to imagine jobs where this would be the case than jobs where it would not.  However, for the sake of clarity, below we describe two jobs – one where social media just might be relevant and another where social media is irrelevant:

Job where social media could be related to success:  The only job we could imagine where social media might be related to performance is for politicians.   Politicians, for example, are the most effective when they have the support of their constituents.  So in this case, social media might very well be a relevant tool to predict the performance of a politician because their public image might be reflected by their social media image.

Jobs where social media is not related to success:  This category involves every other job.  For the sake of example, let’s look at high school math teachers.  Can we use their social media profile to evaluate their mathematical aptitude or public speaking ability (both of which are related to performance)?  Unless their profile is made up of videos of them solving complex mathematical equations or giving speeches, the answer is no.

Other valid reasons to avoid using social media as a selection tool 


  • It is illegal to base a selection decision on certain types of protected information such as religion, political views, ethnicity, and age.  Conveniently, this is exactly the kind of information that people share in their social media profiles.  If a hiring manager gains access to this type of information and then decides not to hire the person, it would be almost impossible to prove that their decision was not influenced by protected information.

Predictive Validity

  • Predictive validity is the ability of a hiring tool to predict future performance.  The good news is that most selection procedures have been validated through empirical research. We are not aware of any evidence suggesting that people’s social media profiles can be used to predict future performance or turnover.  On the other hand, decades of research have shown that certain methods (e.g., structured interviews) predict performance across every industry, type, and level of job.  To learn more, click here for a blog on the Return-On-Investment for Selection Procedures.

Face Validity

  • For applicants and organizations, face validity matters.  Face validity is the extent to which a specific tool or approach is perceived as relevant and effective by the applicant.  For example, potential pilots would view a flight simulator as a very relevant selection tool (high face validity).  Methods with low face validity are potentially frustrating and can negatively impact applicants and employees’ perceptions of the organization.

There are many methods and combinations of methods that can be used to select the best applicants.  However, there are also almost as many unvalidated tools and “best practices” that can lead even the most well informed of us astray.  In the current world of information overload, the best any of us can do is to scrutinize those sources of information and base our decisions on rigorous, reliable, and valid evidence.

Happy Hiring!



Other articles on employee selection:


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8 Responses to “Social Media as a Hiring Tool?”

  1. Ryan Sinclair August 10, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    I just wanted to say thank you for this awesome article. I referenced many of the ideas thoughts were presented in the article. Thank you again. I’m glad to see that there are others out there that feel that employers should stay out of their employee’s private lives!!!

  2. Robert Bullock August 10, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    Thanks for the Comment Ryan – it is alarming how many employers are conducting social media screens. Worse however is the behavior of those who are intimidating applicants into giving their password (if their profile is private)! This is not only unethical, but in the world of employee selection the kind of information that employers gain access to, even when they casually snoop through an applicant’s profile page is not legal information to use for hiring decisions (e.g. race, sexual orientation, religious views, etc.). Likewise, the “red cup rule” is actually illegal in most states, where there are laws prohibiting employers from making employment decisions based on lawful conduct as long as they are off-duty.
    I believe that there will be even more stringent rules protecting job candidates in the future – so at least the courts seem to be headed in the right direction.

  3. Ryan Sinclair August 12, 2012 at 1:45 am #

    Mr. Bullock,
    Thank you for taking the time to read the comment that I left. I usually don’t voice my opinions; but due to recent events plus the school assignment I am writing in my Ethics in Information Technology class at college; I couldn’t pass up the gold mine of a website that you guys have! Thank you again. I will definitey be saving your guy’s website under my “Favorites”!

  4. Robert Bullock August 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    Thanks Ryan! We really try to blog on the most relevant applied research – spread the word and good luck with your Ethics in IT course!

  5. Jevi rehna September 11, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Lovely article and i agree with his post thank you for sharing with us and i read every article of so thanks again…

  6. finance article August 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Hello! I’ve been reading your site for a long time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the great job!

  7. Robert Bullock August 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    Thanks – comments like yours make it all the more rewarding!


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