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Lesson Plan Booster: The ‘Facebook Score’ and Hiring Decisions

A new development in the ever-evolving realm of social media has given parents and educators something new to worry about.

“Digital responsibility” is a major buzzword for middle- and high-school educators, and schools increasingly are teaching teens and pre-teens about the consequences of inappropriate posting to social media platforms. Now, professors from three universities have developed what is being called the “Facebook Score.” The score, meant to infer personality and other employee characteristics based on a person’s social media presence and behavior, is expected to be used by human resources departments across the country when making hiring decisions. This score isn’t just taking into account inappropriate postings, but other aspects of online behavior such as how often a candidate posts and how many friends s/he has.

Grade level:  7-12

Student learning objectives

Students will understand the so-called “Facebook Score” and how companies are expected to use it. They will examine the implications of the score for their social media behavior and consider how the choices they make online could be viewed negatively by a potential employer. In addition, students will discuss how using this type of metric could (1) be considered an invasion of privacy or (2) potentially open the door to discrimination in hiring practices.

Preparation

Familiarize yourself with the “Facebook Score,” how it is tabulated and how employers may use it to filter the candidate pool for a given job.

Created by Donald Kluemper, a management professor at Northern Illinois University, along with researchers at Auburn University and the University of Evansville, the score is a quantified composite of five personality traits. The metric uses an applicant’s social media profiles as the data source to measure conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. The end result is a number, or score. Employers can use a pool of scores to create a “desirable” range, much like a credit score. If a candidate’s score is not in the desirable range, the employer can decline to advance him/her to the next round of interviews.

NBC News breaks the down the five personality traits as they pertain to the “Facebook Score”:

Conscientiousness - This is someone who appears to be well organized and hard-working, and that’s reflected in the way s/he sets up his/her Facebook page. Maybe there are a lot of detailed posts, or photos of the person working hard at something.

Emotional stability - You seem to be someone who looks at the glass as half full, and seem able to handle stress. That means your page is lacking lots of negative and down-in-the-dumps type posts, and you’re not overly emotional in terms of what you write or the images you post.

Agreeableness - This is all about someone who’s able to get along and doesn’t engage in Facebook conflicts, especially heated debates with friends.

Extraversion - Here’s where lots of Facebook friends come in handy because lots of friends is a predictor of extraversion. Also, photos of you in social situations with lots of people (as long as they’re appropriate) are a good thing, compared to pictures of you alone on your couch.

Openness - Travel and intellect play into this category. If you appear open to different experiences and viewpoints, then you’re viewed as open. If you’re posting stuff about classic literature you’ll probably score higher than if you’re dishing about the latest trashy novel. And photos of international travel are also a big plus.

The metric is still in its infancy, but the initial study has proven the metric to be fairly accurate. A study that appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology examined 56 people who were all assigned a score based on their social media profiles. The score was used to predict the level of success each employee would achieve. Six months later, their performance reviews mirrored what their “Facebook Scores” predicted.

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The important thing to keep in mind with respect to the “Facebook Score” is that the score comes after an initial screening for inappropriate and potentially illegal online behavior. Candidates who post inappropriate pictures or content will be removed from the candidate pool and will not receive a “Facebook Score” at all.

Kluemper is urging caution in terms of using the score. “This is one study and the sample size is not that large,” he explained. “A lot more studies need to be done.”

He also admits he’s worried about potential legal problems with using such personality tests during hiring.

Introducing discussion to students:

We already know that college admissions officers and potential employers sometimes look at applicants’ social media activity as part of their screening processes. (One study found that one in four college admissions officers reported accessing online information about candidates.) With the creation of the “Facebook Score,” this practice has become more formal. Despite warnings against making this score a part of the hiring process too quickly, experts believe companies may begin to do just that. Because the ability to get a good job is one of the most important things in a person’s life, it is important to consider how your online behavior can help or hurt your chances of getting hired. Let’s also talk about privacy, fairness and legal issues that arise in connection with the Facebook Score.

Options for student discussion questions:

  1. Is the “Facebook Score” an accurate measure of a person’s personality? What about his/her likely success as an employee?
  2. How is the “Facebook Score” flawed? What does it not tell you about a person that might be relevant to his/her job performance?
  3. Why is the researcher Donald Kluemper urging caution in terms of employers using the Facebook Score? Do you share his concerns?
  4. Is a person’s Facebook profile public or private? When using Facebook, is one entitled to an expectation of some level of privacy?
  5. Is viewing someone’s social media profile without invitation an invasion of privacy? Why or why not?
  6. Is it fair for companies to view a job candidate’s social media profile before deciding to hire him or her? Why or why not?
  7. Should job candidates be concerned that use of this type of metric opens them up to discrimination? For example: Could a hiring manager pass over a candidate who posts an opinion or political view with which the manager disagrees?
  8. Germany currently has federal laws that prohibit employers from scanning social media profiles without invitation. Should the U.S. have a similar law?
  9. If you knew an employer were going to view your Facebook profile today, would you change anything about your current profile? Why or why not?
  10. How can a person’s social media profile be used to gain the upper hand in the job market? (What are some things that will increase a person’s score?)
  11. How can someone protect his or her social media profile from unwanted or unsolicited viewing? How can privacy settings be changed so that only one’s Facebook friends can see his/her profile information, “likes” and photos? (You may want to remind students that on Facebook, individuals must approve friends. This is not the case with Twitter; anyone can follow another person, without seeking that person’s permission beforehand.)
  12. Would you think twice about posting strongly opinionated comments if you thought a potential employer would see them?
  13. Do you think that widespread use of this kind of metric will lead people to be so guarded in their online lives (or so prone to “lying” on Facebook in order to make themselves look good) that the metric itself could be rendered useless?

Related resources

Lesson Plan Booster: Think Before You Hit “Send”
Lesson Plan Booster: Digital Literacy and Online Ethics

Tweets Get Student Expelled: A Cautionary Tale


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
Education World® 
Copyright © 2012 Education World

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