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Social media snooping on job applicants: The effects of unprofessional social media information on recruiter perceptions

John Bret Becton (Department of Management and International Business, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA)
H. Jack Walker (Department of Management, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, USA)
J. Bruce Gilstrap (nQativ, Lubbock, Texas, USA)
Paul H. Schwager (Department of Management Information Systems, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 13 June 2019

Issue publication date: 22 July 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how HR professionals use social networking website information to evaluate applicants’ propensity to engage in counterproductive work behaviors and suitability for hire.


Using an experimental design, 354 HR professionals participated in a two-part study. In part 1, participants viewed a fictitious resume and rated the applicant’s likelihood to engage in counterproductive work behavior as well as likelihood of a hiring recommendation. In part 2, participants viewed a fictitious social networking website profile for the applicant and repeated the ratings from part 1. The authors analyzed their responses to determine the effect viewing a social network website (SNW) profile had on ratings of the applicant.


Unprofessional SNW information negatively affected ratings of applicants regardless of applicants’ qualifications, while professional SNW profile information failed to improve evaluations regardless of qualifications.


Anecdotal reports suggest that many employers use SNW information to eliminate job applicants from consideration despite an absence of empirical research that has examined how SNW content influences HR recruiters’ evaluation of job applicants. This study represents one of the first attempts to understand how HR professionals use such information in screening applicants. The findings suggest that unprofessional SNW profiles negatively influence recruiter evaluations while professional SNW profile content has little to no effect on evaluations.



Becton, J.B., Walker, H.J., Gilstrap, J.B. and Schwager, P.H. (2019), "Social media snooping on job applicants: The effects of unprofessional social media information on recruiter perceptions", Personnel Review, Vol. 48 No. 5, pp. 1261-1280.



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