Monday, February 27, 2012

Background on the "Facebook as Job Predictor" study

An interesting study on Facebook as a job predictor is making the rounds on the internet.  It is a serious study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.   Perhaps its most interesting feature is that it maps the content of participants' Facebook pages onto scales for the Big Five personality traits. 

The Big Five are the five very broad but stable personality traits that have emerged from over 50 years of psychological research on personality and job performance.  The Big Five are sometimes summarized by the acronym OCEAN:  Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (this last measure is often referred to as Emotional Stability, which has a less clinical ring).  Each of the Big Five traits is typically comprised of four or five subconstructs.  (Go to this link to take for free the same Big Five assessment used in the study.)

The Big Five are connected to research on lawyers through the landmark Shultz-Zedeck Predicting Lawyer Effectiveness study.  One of the personality assessments utilized by Shultz and Zedeck was the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), which is seven-scale instrument based on the Big Five.   Shultz and Zedeck identified 26 lawyer effectiveness factors and subsequently assembled a sample of peer and supervisor evaluations on over 1,100 graduates of UC Berkeley and UC Hastings.  The HPI scales were positively correlated at statistically significant levels with a combined 25 of 26 effectiveness factors.   In contrast, academic predictors (UGPA, LSAT and 1st year grades) were correlated with a combined total of 11 effectiveness factors, albeit two of the correlations were negative.

One of the limitations of most personality tests is the self-reported nature of the data.  The test-taker is often interested in managing impressions.  In contrast, the test adminstrators are trying to measure the respondents' actual attitudes and behaviors.  Well, on that count, Facebook reveals quite a bit.  In fact, raters with a mere two hours of training obtained Big Five measures of study participants' personalities that were (a) strongly correlated with the self-reported measures but (b) better predictors of subsequent job performance. 

The implication?  Someday a computer spider may be mining Facebook pages to create employability profiles on job candidates.  Such a product may be too cheap and too useful for employers to ignore -- potentially better and faster, and less discriminatory, than the current ubquitious Google search.

Below is video on the study by the staff of the WSJ:

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