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Is Your e.Impression Costing You a Job?

by Morgen Spon for SIOP


SIOP Members Discuss the Influence of Facebook Profiles on the Hiring Process

With more than 500 million active users on Facebook, many employers are looking to social media networks as well as search engines to screen employees before the actual interview. First impressions are often e.Impressions, but SIOP members say your e.Impression may prevent you from even getting an interview.

In 2006, ExecuNet, a recruiting and human capital firm, conducted a survey of 100 executive recruiters researching the relationship between the Internet and the job-hiring process. According to the study, 77% of executive recruiters use search engines when screening job candidates, and 35% have actually removed applicants from the running based on the information about them on the Internet. A 2006 survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com confirmed that the Internet is used when reviewing applicants. Out of 1,150 hiring managers, 12% referenced social media sites in the screening process and 63% of those managers said they have eliminated candidates because of the information they discovered.
According to SIOP member Angela Farabee, a graduate student at University of Missouri-St. Louis, an e.Impression is defined as “the impression of an individual that develops based on information obtained through available online resources.” These resources include search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, as well as social networking sites, Farabee explained, and e.Impressions can be formed through both information an individual can control and information that is beyond the individual's influence.
“Therefore, an e.Impression does not necessarily include accurate information,” Farabee added.
Farabee, along with SIOP Member Therese Macan, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Missouri-St Louis, and Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Consultant Katie Hanley recently conducted a study on the effects of e.Impressions that they presented at the SIOP 25th Annual Conference. To determine the effects of an e.Impression on an applicant’s chances of being hired, the group conducted a study to observe the effect of e.Impressions in the employee selection process. The study addressed two issues: First, the study addressed how positive, negative, and private Facebook profiles can affect pre-interview ratings (e.Impression), post interview ratings, and overall candidate pursuit. Second, the study assessed the effect of gender on e.Impressions.
In the study, 124 participants came into the lab and took on the role of hiring manager for a marketing position. They were then given two candidates’ Facebook profiles and professionally equivalent resumés, showing similar experience and education. The Facebook profiles contained negative, positive or private information. Negative profile information included anything an employer might not want want to read, Farabee explained, such as profanity.
After reviewing the job candidates’ Facebook profiles and resumes, the participants were asked to rate the candidates based on their pre-interview impression. Next, the participants watched an interview of each candidate. The interview performance of each candidate was equal, according to the researchers, and a post-interview rating was given by each participant. Last, the participants were asked if they would pursue the candidate for a job. The study confirmed that Facebook profiles affect pre-interview ratings as well as overall candidate pursuit, Farabee said.
“Candidates with a negative Facebook profile were rated significantly lower than those with positive or private profiles on both the pre-interview e.Impression and further candidate pursuit,” she explained.
While the Facebook profiles did not have any influence over a participant’s rating of the interview portion of the study, negative profiles decreased the chances of the applicant being hired. In other words, the Facebook profiles didn’t affect the rating of an applicants’ interview, but it did affect the overall likelihood that they would be hired. The research also suggests that women are judged more harshly based on e.Impressions, which Farabee attributed to possible gender double standards within the workforce. An incidental finding was that women who were rated after men were consistently rated lower than the male applicant by both male and female participants.
Farabee said negative e.Impressions can also make the interview process more difficult should an applicant be chosen for an interview. Some findings suggest that if an employer has negative feelings toward the candidate before the interview, the interviewer asks more difficult questions and often frames them in a negative context, thus making the interview process more difficult, which leads to lower interview ratings.
With the prospect of employers examining potential applicants’ Internet information, it may be surprising what information people are making public. Recent studies of Facebook have found that almost half of the comments made involved partying or had photos that were alcohol related, 20% incorporated sexual activity, 25% posted semi-nude or provocative photos, and 50% used profanity (Peluchette & Karl, 2007; Peluchette & Karl, 2008). Researchers also discovered that 25% of users’ wall posts included derogatory information about employers. This type of negative profile content can cost a job applicant a potential interview, according to Farabee.
Job hunters must be aware of the e.Impression they are displaying to possible employers, Farabee explained.
“If an employer finds negative information about you on the Internet you might not get an interview,” she added. “And even if you do get an interview and perform well during it, you still might not get the job because of what was found out about you online; it begs the question, ‘why do you have your profile public?’”  
     Peluchette, J. V. & Karl, K. A. (2007). The prevalence of Facebook faux pas and students’ “devil may care” attitudes. Paper presented at the Midwest Academy of Management Meeting. Kansas City, MO, October 4th-6th.
     Peluchette, J. V. & Karl, K. A. (2008). Social networking profiles: An examination of student aptitudes regarding use and appropriateness of content. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 11(1), 95 – 97.