Why Employers Shouldn't Care About Facebook Photos of Drinking

Facebook-drinkHR and hiring managers are passing up good candidates who post or are tagged in photos of drinking, according to a new study. The study by Stoughton, Thompson, and Meade, "Big Five Personality Traits Reflected in Job Applicants' Social Media Postings," was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

Explaining the rationale for searching for candidates online, co-author Dr. Lori Foster Thompson said, "Companies often scan a job applicant's Facebook profile to see whether there is evidence of drug or alcohol use, believing that such behavior means the applicant is not 'conscientious,' or responsible and self-disciplined." But posting such content is not correlated with conscientiousness. Further, those who post rated highly on extrovert measures, which employers may value.

However, the study warns companies to avoid people who "bad-mouth" or post negative comments about an employer online. People who rated highly on agreeableness and conscientiousness were very unlikely to post such content.

This advice is consistent with a recent Wall Street Journal article, which reported that 44% of employers would not hire someone found to be "badmouthing employers on social media." The author of this article also suggested, "While some employers may be willing to overlook the occasional rowdy photo or off-color tweet, it goes without saying that any post linking a job candidate to illicit activity such as drinking and driving or illegal drugs, or to racist or sexist behavior, won't go over well."

A recent Harris Interactive/Career Builder study showed that 43% of employers have rejected candidates based on their social media posts, and 48% of them did so because "There was info about candidate drinking or using drugs." These employers may want to reconsider their practices.

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Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of the study findings? Do you agree with the two main conclusions: that Facebook posts about drinking don't indicate poor job qualifications but that negative posts about employers might be a good reason to disqualify a candidate?
  • How, if at all, does this study influence what you will post or how you will handle posts on your Facebook page?