Recruiting, Talent

You’re So Vain, We’re Not Going to Hire You

There has been much speculation about who Carly Simon was referring to in her song “You’re So Vain,” with Warren Beatty vainly telling everyone the song was about him when, in all actuality, he was only partly right.


Source: Guzaliia Filimonova / iStock / Getty Images

In 2015, Simon was reported as saying, “I have confirmed that the second verse is Warren,” adding, “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him,” but he’s really only the subject of that one verse. The true identity of Simon’s song has yet to be revealed, and if you think you have an idea, share it in our comments section.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, you may be questioning what all this has to do with recruiting and HR. The short answer: social media. According to researchers at Penn State, job recruiters are less likely to select candidates who appear too self-involved or opinionated in their social media posts.

About the Research

Michael Tews, associate professor of hospitality management at Penn State, and a team of colleagues investigated the effects of three “potentially negative topics” on hiring managers’ decisions. These topics include self-absorption, opinionatedness, and alcohol and drug use.

The team recruited 436 hiring managers from a variety of organizations to uncover how social media impacts their decision-making process. Hiring managers were randomly assigned to view 1 of 16 different Facebook profiles “showing either a male or female exhibiting self‐absorption or not, opinionatedness or not, and alcohol and drug use or not.”

The hiring managers then had to evaluate the candidates’ employability by providing an assessment on them and how they would fit in with the company culture.

The Results Are in

Based on the research, social media posts that show a candidate is self‐absorbed negatively impacted his or her employment eligibility. It was revealed that self-absorption was more important than opinionatedness or drug and alcohol use in driving these negative perceptions.

“Social networking sites are often lamented as incubators of self‐absorption, motivating people to tell others about their every deed and thought,” says Tews. “It could be that hiring managers view individuals who are more self‐absorbed and focused on their own interests to be less likely to sacrifice for the benefit of other employees and the organization.”

If self-absorption negatively impacts recruiters’ perceptions, it should come as no surprise that opinionatedness also negatively impacted candidates’ employment eligibility.

“Social networking sites have given rise to unprecedented numbers of individuals expressing extreme and controversial ideas in a public forum,” says Tews. “People who post divisive subject matter may be viewed as more argumentative and less cooperative. Additionally, their views could run counter to those of hiring managers, which may influence managers’ beliefs in candidates’ qualifications for jobs.”

As for content suggesting alcohol and drug use, this also negatively affected hiring managers’ perceptions of employment eligibility, “although the effect was much smaller than for self-absorption and opinionatedness,” finds the research.

“The social media content we showed hiring managers was fairly benign; there was no reference to binge drinking or actual drug use,” says Tews. “One possible reason for the relatively small effect alcohol and drug use content is that hiring managers may perceive the content as relatively normal. It is also possible that people have become accustomed to references to marijuana in the United States as more states have legalized its consumption for both medicinal and recreational use.”

Bottom Line

“From the employer perspective, hiring managers should be trained on how best to use social networking content in making selection decisions,” suggests Tews. “To maximize the benefit of using social networking content for selection purposes, organizations should set guidelines for what content is relevant and should be examined, specify what content is irrelevant and potentially discriminatory and develop standardized rating systems to make the evaluation process more objective.”

As Penn State’s research shows, the times have certainly changed! Employers want workers who have a team mentality, not people who only care about themselves. As the demand for soft skills continues to be high, maybe candidates’ social media posts are a great way to assess these certain traits. However, making hiring decisions solely based on someone’s social media profile may land you in hot water, so tread lightly.

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