CLEMSON — Social media websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have dramatically changed how we socialize, but they also have the capability of changing our professional futures, according to a Clemson University researcher.
Julie Wade, a member of Clemson’s Social Analytics Institute who recently received her Ph.D. in management, tackled a curriculum that included a heavy dose of business analytics. According to Wade, social media can be a double-edged sword for job seekers because while some companies actively utilize social media channels for recruiting purposes, many also use it to screen candidates. What they uncover during these social media probes sometimes influences hiring decisions.
In her 350-page research paper, “Social Media and Hiring: How Does New Technology Change an Old Game?,” Wade said her findings indicated “political opinions on controversial topics did elicit a reaction and would seem to influence hiring and whether a person would make a good employee or not.”
“There hasn’t been much research done on how social media influences job hiring,” said Wade, a Youngstown, Ohio, native who has accepted a teaching position at USC-Upstate in Spartanburg. “Some surveys say 90 percent of organizations use social media channels in making hiring decisions. But the academic research that specifically examines the decision-making processes employers use when selecting the best job applicant is scarce. That’s why we wanted to analyze this topic.”
To better understand how social media affect the hiring process, Wade created 24 social media accounts with photos and realistic profiles to minimize anyone viewing them as fictionalized. The profiles were populated with opinionated conversations on such controversial topics as legalizing marijuana, gun control and the Affordable Health Care Act.
The profiles, which were evaluated by human resources personnel at an area company and students in Clemson’s MBA program who had professional human resources experience, definitely elicited reactions, Wade said.
“Our findings validated that strong political opinions expressed on social media did appear as if it would influence hiring and bring into question whether a person would make for a good employee or not.
“The type of reaction, though, often depended on the individual who would be interviewing and what their beliefs reflected on controversial political issues.”
Among other findings, the research found there was plenty of room for bias in the hiring process based on an individual’s personal beliefs.
Wade said making judgments on a prospective employee isn’t anything new in the hiring process, but in the case of social media, many companies don’t have structured guidelines or policies in place to prevent personal biases and prejudices from affecting hiring decisions.
Conversely, the research model also tested positive comments about a person’s employer or work accomplishments. “In those cases, there was a very positive response to the posts,” Wade added.
Wade said Clemson’s Social Analytics Institute had a significant impact on her career direction.
“Working as a graduate student with the Social Analytics Institute led to my research this topic. It’s an untested area in research and an uncharted area for how businesses should navigate this new landscape,” Wade said. “My desire is that this work will prompt more to research the many ways we are affected by a rapidly evolving social media landscape.”