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2 Survey of Experts in Social Media in Selection and Recruitment

2 Survey of Experts in Social Media in Selection and Recruitment

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R.N. Landers and G.B. Schmidt

The primary comment category in this content analysis was “Establishment of a

Shared Science.” Comments within this category generally focused upon the lack of

prior research within this domain on which to build. Specifically, they noted the

fragmented nature of prior research literature, suggesting that this fragmentation

was slowing current progress. Authors disagreed on the best way to solve this problem. For example, one expert noted that the literature was only just now beginning

to finish “foundational” development work, establishing conceptual frameworks on

which to base further investigations. However, two other experts stated that the

highest priority is empirical validation, suggesting that if such evidence cannot be

found, there is little value in pursuing other research avenues.

We concluded from this that there are two dramatically different perspectives on

display here. Some experts are approaching social media in selection as an existing

practice. From this perspective, it is the responsibility of researchers to identify

what is currently being done and work to understand it before attempting to influence it. Other experts are approaching social media as a potential selection tool,

regardless of its current use in hiring, wishing to establish its value from a utility or

prediction standpoint before worrying about contextual issues. Both of these views

have merit. If no one can develop a way to get reliable and valid information from

social media, the primary researcher perspective should be “don’t use social media

in selection,” and such evidence is currently limited (e.g., Kluemper, Rosen, &

Mossholder, 2012) or discouraging (e.g., Van Iddekinge, Lanivich, Roth, & Junco,

2013). However, if social media are going to be used by hiring managers regardless

of research findings, and there is evidence of this already, there is still value in

understanding how they are being used in order to direct it in more useful directions

as much as possible. For example, even if evidence ultimately shows ratings from

social media profiles cannot be practically used to predict job performance, they

might still be used to predict person–organization fit.

The second comment category was “Speed of Technological Progress.” Experts

lamented the pace at which specific social media technologies are introduced, noting that the speed of academic publishing cannot generally keep up. It is important

to note that this is a limitation of only certain research literatures, although that list

includes the organizational sciences. In computer science, increased speed of technological progress is the purpose and direct result of research. For this and other

historical reasons, computer science academic conferences (and the resulting proceedings) generally have higher publication standards and are more respected than

journal articles (Ernst, 2006; Patterson, Snyder, & Ullman, 1999). Although the

organizational sciences do not need to shift their publication model to conference in

order to solve this problem, there are alternatives that could help, such as the often

much shorter turnaround time and higher citation rates of publications in online

open-access journals (Antelman, 2004).

The third comment category was “Improving Measurement.” Both experts making comments in this category noted that while conducting their own literature

reviews in the area of social media in selection, they repeatedly encountered studies

with poor measurement methods and research designs.

The fourth comment category, which consisted of only one comment, was the

“Research-to-Practice Gap.” This expert suggested that regardless of the extent of

16 Social Media in Employee Selection and Recruitment…


research conducted highlighting problems associated with incorporating social

media into selection, people will continue to do so because of its ease and attractiveness. In any area of organizational science, measurement issues and the translation

of research into practice are difficult tasks. Although certainly significant challenges

for researchers, we do not see either of these categories as unique to social media in



The Most Significant Challenges Facing Practitioners

The second question read, “What do you see as the biggest challenge for practitioners working in this area currently?” The results of our content analysis appear in

Table 16.2.

The first emergent category, “Supporting Decisions Already Made,” contains

comments related to existing use of social media in selection. Specifically, the tone

from experts indicated that they believe practitioners are likely already incorporating social media into their decision-making process, but without much if any evidence to support that incorporation. The quote highlighted in Table 16.2 reflects

many of the themes we identified in Chap. 1 (Landers & Schmidt, 2016) and summarizes the other comments in this category well: reliability/validity, fairness and

legality emerged as dominant themes within this category. However, it is important

to note that this reaction may be evidence of the practice–research gap; specifically,

practitioners may have collected more promising evidence in support of social

media-based selection than is currently available in the research literature, held

from public scrutiny as proprietary intellectual property and thus a competitive

advantage for the organization. Given the lack of data available in the research literature, any organization finding a way to incorporate social media into selection

decisions that was reliable, valid, fair, and legal would likely have developed a

highly profitable selection tool.

Table 16.2 Expert perspectives on the most significant challenges for practitioners




already made

Feeling pressure

to adopt



Speed of




N = 13


Prototypical quote

“Developing effective ways to use social media in selection in ways

that are consistent across individuals, fair, do not invade privacy,

and provide practical lawful value to the selection process.”

“Practitioners will have to balance the desire of their clients to use

social media for selection with the lack of evidence for its validity

(and the accompanying legal issues). They will need to be able to

tell clients, ‘OK, I recommend against using it, but if you are going

to do so, let’s do the screening in a way that will give us the most

useful and defensible data.’”

“I think the challenge is roughly the same as academics, keeping up

with pace of technology. Different than academics, however,

practitioners need to figure out what is out there and figure out how

to employ it in their workplace.”


R.N. Landers and G.B. Schmidt

Comments in the second category, “Feeling Pressure to Adopt,” suggested that

among those not currently using social media for selection decisions, the pressure

to do so is high. One expert specifically noted pressure from clients to incorporate

social media information into selection systems, presumably from the perspective

of sales. Although not noted by the expert, we suspect this pressure comes from the

current faddishness of big data, which is often associated with social media. For

example, researchers outside of the organizational sciences have claimed that big

data techniques enable the extraction of personality information from Facebook

profiles that is more accurate and valid than personality judgments made by other

people, even those closely related to them (Youyou, Kosinski, & Stillwell, 2015).

Given the lack of evidence applying such findings to the organizational sciences,

these experts have highlighted an important disconnect; in a number of cases, highly

visible research in other disciplines is driving the desire for social media in the

selection process.

Finally, one expert made a comment we labeled “Speed of Technological

Progress,” in parallel to the category displayed in Table 16.1. However, rather than

the worry that researchers cannot keep up with progress, this expert noted that practitioners must worry about the specific technologies themselves. We agree that this

is a significant challenge for practitioners, and one chapter in the present book is

intended to provide exactly this type of guidance (Black, Washington, & Schmidt,



Overall Recommendations for Use of Social Media

The third question read, “Should the use of social media in selection be encouraged

or discouraged? Why?” The results of our content analysis appear in Table 16.3.

Table 16.3 Expert recommendations for using social media in selection







N = 13

Prototypical quote

“It should be encouraged but only if it becomes more

standardized, targeted, and objective.”

“Based on what we know currently about the potential risks and

biases that could be more readily acted upon via social media

use, and what we do not know in regard to fairness, validity, and

job relevance, we would discourage employers from the use of

social media content in screening potential candidates. Until

more is known about what elements of social media and social

networking sites (SNSs) should be attended to, and how to

successfully encourage review of candidate data to focus on

job-relevant information that also enhances validity of the overall

selection process, we would recommend extreme caution in the

use of this approach in the selection process.”

16 Social Media in Employee Selection and Recruitment…


Responses to this question were universally negative. Experts making both

Mixed and No recommendations, which constituted all experts we surveyed, were

in consensus that as the current research literature stands, there are too many risks

and too few demonstrated gains to adopt the examination of social media data as a

selection method. Among the majority providing a clear “no,” experts were quite

consistent with this message.

Among the second largest group of experts, who provided more nuanced and

mixed recommendations, two groupings emerged. One group of experts identified

recruitment as a currently valid application of social media in the selection process.

Specifically, by using social media channels, particular groups of potential applicants can be targeted and encouraged to apply. In the United States in particular,

recruitment has been a common tactic used when pursuing affirmative action policies and diversity programs within the boundaries of federal law and most state laws

(Kelly & Dobbin, 1998). These experts generally view the active use of social media

to approach potential job applicants as much safer than the passive use of social

media to collect information about existing job applicants. Importantly, there is little research in this domain as well. Social media used this way is bi-directional;

employers and potential job applicants exchange information (Landers & Goldberg,

2014). It is currently unclear precisely how applicants incorporate information

obtained via social media into their judgments about organizations, although it is

clear that they do play an important role (Henderson & Bowley, 2010) and that

organizations are trying to influence this process (Doherty, 2010).

The second group of experts noted that although it is probably unwise to adopt a

social media-based hiring strategy currently, evidence reversing that recommendation could be coming in the near future. The only way to remain open to the new

possibilities enabled by a new technology is to consider these possibilities as they

appear, rather than dismissing the technology simply because it is new and untested.

One expert noted this hopefulness by stating, “The use of social media in selection

should be encouraged, because social media behaviors provide a novel opportunity

that could better match employees and employers, thus making both happier.”

Despite the relatively poor state of the current literature, we thus recommend organizational scholars watch the technology closely as it develops, as such developments

can change the social media landscape, and thus the information that can be obtained

from social media, dramatically.


Overall Recommendations for Use of Social Media

The fourth question read, “Would this area benefit from an interdisciplinary perspective (e.g., bringing in technologists or data scientists), or do the organizational

sciences (IO, OB, HRM) have it covered? Why?” The results of our content analysis

appear in Table 16.4.

Responses to this question were almost universally positive. Eleven of the 12

respondents to this question (92 %) suggested an interdisciplinary perspective would


R.N. Landers and G.B. Schmidt

Table 16.4 Expert perspectives on the contribution of an interdisciplinary perspective







Prototypical quote

“Most org science people are not as technically savvy and they

need the help to more efficiently understand how the emerging

technologies work. The tech and data science people don’t

always understand the discipline in which they are applying their

skills. Blending the two together has the potential to help

researchers and practitioners product a beneficial line of research

and in a more efficient manner.”

“I believe the organizational sciences pretty much have the

potential to have it covered, but the pace with which it evolves is

overwhelming. Technologists or data scientist may examine the

issue from a systems perspective, but without bringing in the

human aspect I do not believe they have much to contribute.”

N = 12

Table 16.5 Expert

recommendations for

complimentary disciplines



Data science

Computer science
















N = 12

be helpful, and most suggested specific fields. We extracted the names of these

fields and list them in Table 16.5. Importantly, these counts will not sum to the sample size, because most experts suggested multiple fields. Within this list, psychology emerged as dominant, with data science second. Importantly, this list has been

influenced by the disciplines of those responding to this question. Our pool of

experts included psychologists, sociologists, business researchers, and other interdisciplinary perspectives already; thus, a person’s interpretation of “interdisciplinary” is likely based upon their own area. For example, a psychologist would be

unlikely to say that increased interdisciplinary collaboration with psychologists

would be useful. This list is also based upon the existing familiarity of the experts

with the potential contributions of other disciplines, which varies by expert. Thus,

the number of mentions of each of these disciplines should not be interpreted as

their relative importance or promise to this area. Instead, this list provides guidance

on which areas come to the minds of experts in the organizational sciences when

asked whose perspective would be useful to understanding social media in


16 Social Media in Employee Selection and Recruitment…


With those caveats, psychology emerged as most mentioned discipline.

Comments from experts emphasized the inclusion of complimentary areas of psychology, such as social psychology and personality psychology. Mentions of data

science generally focused upon bringing analytic techniques and technological

expertise. For example, one expert noted that data scientists have greater expertise

with the types and formatting of data available on social media websites; many

organizational scientists do not even know what type of data capture is theoretically

possible on such sites. Researchers describing data scientists, computer scientists,

and technology researchers commonly described those people as possessing skillsets that would account for weaknesses in the expertise of current organizational


Interestingly, most researchers did not consider that people in these fields might

bring content expertise, and several openly questioned their value for anything other

than adding a technical perspective to existing efforts in the organizational sciences.

For example, one expert stated, “Conferring with individuals who understand the

technology and how to develop and manipulate it would almost certainly be helpful

in partnering for the purposes of programming or developing content for research

studies or in developing software to capture pertinent participant data.” Most negative was the lone expert expressing that an interdisciplinary perspective would not

be particularly useful, stating (as shown in Table 16.4), “I do not believe they have

much to contribute.”

From this, we conclude that organizational scientists are in general comfortable

with the conclusions that can be drawn using traditional organizational science

methods but are open to the contributions of other fields. Although these experts

recognized the potential collaborative opportunities, there was no significant enthusiasm for seeking it out proactively. This is one of many common problems faced

when pursuing interdisciplinary research (Morse, Nielsen-Pincus, Force, &

Wulfhorst, 2007). It will likely require a dedicated and pointed effort by a particular

expert or experts within the organizational sciences to bridge any of the gaps to

other disciplines.


Best and Worst Practices

The fifth and sixth questions read, “Imagine an organization incorporating social

media in its selection process in a way you would describe as ‘could not be better/

worse’. What is that organization doing?” With these two prompts, we hoped to get

a clearer picture of expert-supported best practices and most harmful mistakes.

Answers to these two questions varied widely and typically mentioned multiple

themes, so we will summarize these content analyses narratively rather than in a

tabular format.

Three practices appeared multiple times as answers to the best practices questions: First, much as observed among answers to the first and second questions, the

most commonly mentioned best practice was the use of social media as an early step


R.N. Landers and G.B. Schmidt

in the selection process: recruitment. As described above, social media offers an

excellent opportunity to reach out to specific target audiences to invite to apply.

Many social network sites even provide the ability to input unique combinations of

demographic characteristics to whom to deliver advertisements. Organizations that

are using social media in their selection pipeline effectively will be using social

media to reach out to desirable job candidates.

Second, standardization was a common best practice and also appeared multiple

times on the worst practices list. Specifically, organizations that are using social

media in their selection process effectively will have articulated a policy for doing

so that is enforced. Organizations that are using social media poorly will allow hiring managers to peruse social media at will and to incorporate the information they

find there in unclear ways. Relatedly, another set of best/worst practices that

appeared (although less frequently) was documentation. In addition to having an

articulated policy, every element of that policy and adherence to it should be carefully documented, to create a paper trail that evidences the organization’s decisionmaking process in relation to social media, because this provides a degree of support

later, in the event of litigation. Poorly performing organizations will not only allow

managers to do whatever they want, but will also keep no records of these actions.

The third common best practice was reliance upon traditional selection standards. Experts recommended following a traditional validation process, conducting

a thorough job analyses, ensuring job relatedness of social media data collected, and

other standard best practices of selection described in the SIOP (2003) Principles.

One expert also noted that even if social media data are not broadly useful to the

prediction of job performance, there may be special cases where social media data

may be highly job-relevant. For example, for the job of social media manager, social

media presence and social media content posted might be considered a work sample

test, which has a significant research literature demonstrating its relationship with

job performance (Roth, Bobko, & McFarland, 2005). Those considering social

media should be careful to neither embrace nor reject social media data completely;

the situations where social media data are useful to selection itself are likely to be

quite nuanced.

Three practices also appeared multiple times in response to the worst practices

question. As mentioned before, standardization was the first of these. The second

was a lack of attention paid to legality. Although social media may not be predictive

of job performance, an organization can use any selection measure they would like

as long as they are not unfair across membership in legally protected classes. In

short, no legal system requires employees to only be hired on job-related characteristics, but many legal systems require that the process used does not result in differential hiring within particular classes, such as race, sex, religion, color, national

origin, disability, age, and pregnancy. The worst practice that emerged here occurs

when organizations not only use social media data without evidence, but also fail to

even evaluate the legality of the resulting hiring decisions. We can imagine, for

example, a hiring manager who in a casual perusal of a social media profile notices

that a job candidate is pregnant and makes a hiring decision illegally based upon

that information.

16 Social Media in Employee Selection and Recruitment…


The third worst practice was both a practical and ethical one. Experts condemned

the use of social media to make decisions based upon information that is not jobrelevant. Practically speaking, this suggests that in the absence of reliability and

validity evidence, social media should not be used. Ethically speaking, this suggests

that even if reliability and validity evidence is available, there are situations where

social media data should still be off-limits. For example, although consumption of

alcohol in leisure time might be correlated with various outcomes potentially of

interest (Eftekhar, Fullwood, & Morris, 2014; Karl, Peluchette, & Schlaegel, 2010),

such behavior is not job-related, on the face of it.

Other worst practices mentioned included adopting new social media as selection procedures simply because they are trendy, making attributions based upon

social media postings, failing to document, allowing people making hiring decisions access to information about protected class membership via social media

screening, and inconsistency across individuals in terms of both decision-making

and access. For example, some job applicants may be less likely to have particular

social media profiles than others, and deciding based upon this information may be



Crucial Areas for Further Study in Social Media

in Selection and Recruitment

This book throughout its chapters has strived to significantly move forward our

understanding and analysis of the use of social media in selection and recruitment.

Despite this, there are still many areas that required additional examination. Given

the results above, we present in this section some of the highest priority areas for

additional empirical and theoretical examination. Some needed work represents

incremental steps building forward from current research, whereas other questions

will require significant foundational work and smaller steps.

Both short-term and long-term needs are important to consider. While we may

want current practice to be well-informed, we must also consider how practice and

development will be shaped and influenced by current research and practice. As

discussed by Black et al. (2016), the details of social media use in selection change

frequently as both the technologies and the way individuals use these technologies

change. Understanding only the current environment of social media in selection

and recruitment is a problem for long-term success, so we promote an approach

incorporating both short- and long-term research goals.

To that end, we have developed and described below the four major questions

most central to advancing research in this domain: (1) what useful information can

be extracted from social media data, (2) how should this information be integrated

into selection processes, (3) how can such data be used fairly and ethically, and (4)

what about our answers to these questions change outside the context of the United

States, where most research has been conducted to this point?



R.N. Landers and G.B. Schmidt

Question 1: What Useful Information Can Be Extracted

from Social Media Data?

A major thrust of the existing work on social media use in selection and recruitment

is related to determining its potential value for organizations. Can useful information be extracted from social media, and what does that information look like? This

is the most common question addressed in many of the previous chapters and a

major part of the discussion of the author survey. We anticipate that a significant

portion of the future work undertaken exploring social media use in selection will

likely be addressing this question, with our chapter authors being part of that charge.

Despite the great interest in and inherent value of the predictive value of social

media data, empirical examination of the issue has been sparse to this point.

Kluemper et al. (2012) found that the five-factor model personality ratings when

assessed by rating social media profiles correlated with job performance, hirability

ratings and academic performance, although with a small sample for job performance. In contrast, Van Iddekinge et al. (2013) found that recruiter ratings did not

predict job performance or turnover intentions, with ratings also favoring whites

and women, suggesting the potential for adverse impact. While both of these studies

are informative, two studies are insufficient to draw any broad conclusions. Future

studies need to both replicate these results as well as consider the various contextual

factors varying between them, including population differences and procedural differences related to decision-making. Job performance is an important outcome for

selection criteria and thus needs to be the focal outcome examined, but operationalizations of job performance vary widely and should be considered carefully. Studies

across industries and job levels will also help to determine potential moderators and

boundary conditions.

Kluemper et al. (2012) and Van Iddekinge et al. (2013) both asked raters to make

evaluations of people based upon social media profiles, but asked them to do so for

different variables. The raters in Kluemper et al.’s (2012) study were asked to look

at social media content specifically as to how it related to personality characteristics, while the Van Iddekinge et al. (2013) recruiters were asked to make judgments

on general suitability and specific KSAOs such as adaptability, creativity, and intelligence. The effectiveness of reviews targeted this way are likely to vary by both

target factor and rater experience/training, and future research should consider this


Job-related tasks seem likely to impact the link between social media data use

and job performance. For example, applicants to a job that involves online marketing might have social media data that is predictive of overall success. Jobs with

vigilance-related tasks, such as security guard or quality controller, may have underlying KSAOs related to both vigilance and attention paid to information sharing that

may be predicted by the quantity of social media content available. Researchers

must consider both the KSAOs that social media behavior indicates and the behaviors themselves as potential predictors. Because social media behavior is the outcome of a person-by-situation interaction, there are two potential origins of useful

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