How Job Seekers’ Social Media Profiles Affect Employability: Evidence From a Research Study — Photo by CAL Poly Pomona

Social media plays an increasingly important role in recruitment and employee selection. Recruiters are tempted to check on job candidates' social media profiles (SMPs) because SMPs could reveal more dynamic information about the candidates than their resumes alone.

By checking the candidates' SMPs, recruiters can discover their real personality, which cannot be easily achieved even through job interviews. Meanwhile, hiring managers can also assess job candidates' social capital based on the size and the composition of their social networks.

The study

To investigate how social media may affect recruiters' hiring decisions, Antonio Muñiz, who graduated from the master's program at the Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona, and I conducted a qualitative study together. We published our work in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management. This research answers:

The two research questions

  1. What information or job candidate's personality traits revealed on their SMPs gets the hiring managers' attention?
  2. How do such information or job candidates' personality traits revealed on their SMPs affect managers' hiring decisions?

The research method

We conducted 11 semi-structured interviews in 2018 with 11 managers in major hospitality companies, representing the restaurant, hotel, country club, even planning, and managed foodservice sectors. On average, these 11 managers had 19 years of work experience in the hospitality industry. They made hiring decisions, ranging from hiring two to 18 candidates a month. Following the suggestions of ensuring a qualitative study's trustworthiness, we firstly recorded and transcribed the interviews. We then performed a content analysis of the qualitative data. Finally, we reported the narrative results with direct quotes from the informants.

Finding 1: The recruiting channels and legal considerations

The informants rated Indeed and LinkedIn the preferred websites for recruitment and selection. Surprisingly, none of them were aware of any policies issued by their companies about using social media in screening and selection. Many informants also held reservations about using social media in screening because of privacy concerns, the uncertainty of the information revealed from the candidates' SMPs, legal compliance, and time constraints.

Finding 2: LinkedIn is the preferred platform

About half of the informants used LinkedIn in screening. Only one informant admitted that s/he screened candidates' other SMPs besides LinkedIn. That is, s/he also looked at candidates' posts, videos, and pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Finding 3: The preferable content on social media

Most informants favored pictures about food, catering, and events, news articles, and organizational social activities. Having a clear headshot/smiling, professional/appropriate content, positive/motivational content, and activities in general were mentioned once or twice only.

Finding 4: The unfavorable content on social media

Inappropriate language or content, negative posts, personal information on LinkedIn, and anything discriminatory came to the top.

Finding 5: The influential traits that may affect recruiters' hiring decisions

Of the Big Five personality traits, hospitality managers looked for extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Additionally, leadership potentials, professionalism, a good match, the current position held, as well as skills and endorsements, can be influential.

Finding 6: How candidates' SMPs affect employability

Unfavorable content seemed to have a more substantial influence than favorable content. As far as a candidate's starting salary is concerned, the informants only factored in the candidates' skills and experience.

The implications

Besides the research's theoretical contributions, the findings provide helpful, practical implications for businesses, hiring managers, job seekers, and career counselors. We recommend:

  • Organizations should develop clear guidelines about using social media in recruitment and selection.
  • For a minimum, Organizations must provide guidelines or assessment rubrics that are specific to LinkedIn.
  • Hiring managers are advised to follow the company's guidelines and policies if provided.
  • Hiring managers need to justify why and how SMPs are used in screening if no guidelines or policies are provided.
  • Job seekers are highly encouraged to build a complete LinkedIn profile with a professional picture that projects their personality.
  • Job seekers may consider sharing favorable content and should avoid the unfavorable content on their SMPs.
  • If possible, job seekers should have their LinkedIn profile and other SMPS critiqued by their friends, co-workers, and career advisors, as what they would do on their resumes and other application materials.
  • Career counselors should teach job seekers how to build professional SMPs, with specific examples of how they may strategically display the desired content favored by recruiters.

Do job seekers need even more impeccable social media profiles during the pandemic?

This study was conducted in 2018 before the pandemic hit the economy with numerous long-term effects. Nevertheless, I expect that job seekers' SMPs may play an even more significant role in influencing recruiters' hiring decisions for two reasons. On the one hand, more people are forced to leave their jobs, making it more challenging to secure a job offer in a competitive job market. On the other hand, more companies let their employees work from home permanently. The traditional screening methods, such as face-to-face job interviews in the workplace, may no longer be an option for hiring managers.

Back in May 2020, it is reported that 84% of recruiters were adapting to new hiring practices that facilitate remote exchanges. Among them, 58% used LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Instagram to connect with potential hires. It is also believed that job candidates' digital presence will matter even more in 2021 and beyond.

Lastly, it is important to note that the above results were generated from 11 qualitative interviews. Although we took careful measures to ensure this qualitative inquiry's trustworthiness, the results may not be generalized in other settings. Instead, this study's strength relies on its in-depth, narrative results reported by those purposefully selected informants who have abundant first-hand experience of screening job candidates.

Do you believe that people's digital reputation is critical in a job search? How important are job candidates' SMPs in helping them secure a job offer?

Linchi Kwok
Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona
CAL Poly Pomona