The Kinds of Facebook Posts That Unfairly Cost Workers Jobs . / Credit: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com image via Shutterstock

If you are using Facebook to screen job candidates, there is a good chance you're not looking for the right things, new research shows.

A study from North Carolina State University found that companies that are using the popular social network to weed out candidates they think have undesirable traits may have a fundamental misunderstanding of online behavior and, as a result, may be eliminating desirable applicants.

Researchers tested 175 study participants to measure the personality traits companies look for in job candidates, including conscientiousness, agreeableness and extroversion. The participants were then surveyed on their Facebook behavior, allowing researchers to see which Facebook behaviors were linked to specific personality traits.

Researchers said employers 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, responsible or self-disciplined.

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However, what they found was no significant correlation between conscientiousness and an individual’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," says Will Stoughton, the study's lead author.

Companies that are looking for extroverts — such as those hiring for sales or marketing positions — may be doing themselves an even worse disservice, as the study found that those with a more outgoing personality were significantly more likely to post about drugs or alcohol on Facebook. Researchers said employers weeding out those applicants are likely to significantly limit the pool of job candidates who are extroverts.

The study's authors did find one online indicator strongly correlated to the personality traits that employers look for. Study participants who rated high on both agreeableness and conscientiousness were also very unlikely to bad-mouth or 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 bad-mouth others — not necessarily those who post about drinking beer," Stoughton said.

The study, co-authored by NC State professor Lori Foster Thompson and associate professor Adam Meade, was recently published online in the in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking journal.

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