There’s another reason to feel a twinge of envy toward those acquaintances with 1,000-plus Facebook friends. You know, the ones whose walls are an impeccable mix of photos from their recent vacation in the Amazonian rain forest and their favorite Dostoevsky quotes. According to a new study, their fabulous online lives are impressive to employers, too.
To find out if there is a relationship between how someone presented themselves on Facebook and how they were viewed by employers, researchers at Northern Illinois University, Auburn University and the University of Evansville first created something they call a “Facebook personality score." The score is calculated from how users rank on five personality traits: conscientiousness, emotional stability, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. The researchers then evaluated the Facebook profiles of 86 subjects, rating them on the absence or presence of each of the five traits and assigning an overall score to each. Six months later, researchers compared subjects’ personality scores with performance evaluations submitted by their employers. The results, published in The Journal of Applied Social Psychology on February 1, showed that positive Facebook personality scores correlated with better performance ratings at work.
The study isn’t the first to find a link between a strong social media showing and the hiring process: As MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan pointed out in his column on MSNBC, a 2010 study from Microsoft revealed 70 percent of company recruiters admitted to rejecting applicants based on information they online.
To date, no employer has formally adopted the Facebook Personality Score system -- Donald Kluemper, management professor at Northern Illinois University and co-author of the study, admitted to MSNBC that the sample size was small, and there could be legal implications for HR departments evaluating applicants in this manner. The system does, however, provide a common-sense framework for putting your best self forward on Facebook.
With that in mind, here are explanations of the five traits that make up your Facebook personality score and our tips for how to demonstrate that you posses (or at least know how to look like you possess) what employers are looking for:
SLIDESHOW: How To Impress Employers On Facebook
Kluemper says conscientiousness, which he defines as being "well organized and hard-working," is one of the five most important traits to demonstrate on your Facebook profile. (To see full definitions of each trait, see MSNBC's excellent post on them here.) To show your conscientious side, regularly post pictures of yourself engaged in activities you're passionate about and share articles on topics of importance to you -- or, better yet, posts you wrote about those topics. Note: Prospective employers probably won't view your excellent management of your Farmville crops or achieving "mayor" status at your local White Castle as examples of hard work.
To show "emotional stability," Kluemper recommends avoiding "lots of negative and down in the dumps type posts" and to refrain from being "overly emotional in images or in what you write." Okay, so the Internet is not the place to complain about your pimple (or God forbid, post morbidly obsessive photos of it). It's also not the place to rant against "haters" (who can forget Chris Brown's post-Grammy Twitter rant ?) If you're upset and need to vent, do it offline. Otherwise, you risk looking cray cray -- and to more than just employers.
Kluemper defines an agreeable person as someone who is "Able to get along and doesn't engage in Facebook conflicts, especially heated debates with friends." While Facebook -- like life -- would be a boring place without conflict or at least differences of opinion, it's important to pick your battles. Do you want to be known as the woman who tears apart her colleagues for their fashion choices? Or the one who creates an online dialogue that leads to something positive, like getting Betty White to host SNL?
Kluemper recommends showing off your outgoing side online: "Photos of you in social situations with lots of people are a good thing, compared to pictures of you alone on your couch," he told MSNBC. While I'm sure there is a time and a place for that MySpace-esque photo shoot of brooding self portraits you took in front of a mirror (like, say, MySpace 10 years ago), you may want to go through your Facebook Timeline and delete anything that smacks of navel-gazing. While you're at it, those keg stand photos don't quite cut it when it comes to "photos of you in social situations." Try to find that happy middle ground between "I spend my days alone" and "I spend my days sleeping off the night before."
Kluemper suggests that Facebook users strive to display "openness" on their profile: "If you're posting stuff about classic literature you'll probably score higher than if you're dishing about the latest trashy novel. And photos of international travel are also a big plus," he told MSNBC. While we can't all afford to fly off to Bangkok for the weekend and there is a fine line between posting interesting travel photos and the type of bragging immortalized in "I'm On A Boat," there are plenty of ways to show you have a lot going on. If you're not the reading type, post about a documentary, indie film, or band you like -- it will show employers you are so much more than the girl that wishes her friends 'Happy Birthday' when Facebook reminds her to.
At the end of the day, do what you always do: Keep those privacy settings up-to-date. Facebook is all about sharing who you are with the world -- just be selective about which parts of the world get to see those photos from Vegas.