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Employers may misjudge job applicants based on Facebook pages

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FRIDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) -- Companies may be looking at the wrong things when using Facebook to screen job applicants and, as a result, could be overlooking people who would be good employees, a new study suggests.

It is common for employers to assess potential job candidates for certain personality traits, such as conscientiousness, agreeableness and extraversion. For the study, researchers measured these traits in 175 people and also looked at their Facebook behaviors.

The findings might surprise many corporate human resources officials, according to the North Carolina State University investigators.

"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," study co-author and psychology professor Lori Foster Thompson, said in a university news release.

However, the study found no significant link between conscientiousness and a person's willingness to post content on Facebook about alcohol or drug use.

"This means companies are eliminating some conscientious job applicants based on erroneous assumptions regarding what social media behavior tells us about the applicants," study lead author and Ph.D. student Will Stoughton said in the news release.

Discounting job candidates because they've posted alcohol- or drug-related content on Facebook may be an especially bad idea for companies looking for extroverts to fill jobs in areas such as sales or marketing, the researchers noted.

Extroverts were significantly more likely to have postings about alcohol or drugs than others in the study. So companies that bypass these applicants will have a much smaller pool of job candidates who are extroverts.

There was a strong association between one type of Facebook behavior and agreeableness and conscientiousness. People who rated highly on both those personality traits were very unlikely to insult other people on Facebook.

"If employers plan to keep using social media to screen job applicants, this study indicates they may want to focus on eliminating candidates who badmouth others -- not necessarily those who post about drinking beer," Stoughton said.

The study was published online July 1 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

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