York U study finds online presence could affect job seeker’s hiring chances and salary

Photo credit: LibreShot.com
Photo credit: LibreShot.com

Looking for a job? You may need to polish your online image first. A York University study suggests a job seeker’s online presence can have a profound effect on their chances of getting hired and their starting salary – especially for women.

Jennifer Harrison
Jennifer Harrison

Jennifer Harrison, a York graduate (now a professor at NEOMA Business School in France), and Professor Marie-Hélène Budworth of York’s School of Human Resource Management, found potential employers form an impression and gain insight about a prospective employee based solely on their online image.

It is one of the first studies to systematically examine employment-related effects for job seekers based on information available on the Internet.

Both the job seeker’s social and professional digital properties, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites, can be evaluated collectively by employers. The digital presence of job seekers can play a large role in the decision to hire them and what they’ll be paid. This suggests that those looking for work need to manage their entire online image as potential employers could browse them at any time.

“Job seekers may not be aware of how their digital impressions influence employment-related outcomes,” says Budworth. “People often overlook their online social profiles when job hunting, but potential employers don’t. What they see across a job seeker’s online presence may result in the job seeker being crossed off the list of people to interview.”

The study found that those job seekers who did actively manage their digital image were more likely to be looked on favourably by employers. Budworth and Harrison found that employers paid attention to verbal as well as non-verbal information. Verbal information includes a listing of accomplishments, stories that shed a positive light on abilities, and suggestions of competence in various areas. Non-verbal information includes things like professional photographs.

Marie Budworth
Marie-Hélène Budworth

What surprised the researchers is that women who deliberately manage their digital presence were rated higher by potential employers than men, and that extended to verbal self-promotion and the posting of professional photographs.

“This was particularly interesting as women who engage in image management at their workplaces are usually looked upon less favorably than men who manage their images,” says Harrison. “Women usually experience a backlash effect for self-promoting behaviour, especially when it comes to employment evaluations, promotions and raises, whereas men don’t. Self-promotion tactics run counter to female stereotypes of niceness and likability.”

However, this negative effect is reversed in evaluations of potential employers when the female job seeker managed her image online.

“The research is important,” says Budworth, “because it points to the fact that although not everyone is managing their online image, they should if they hope to land a job or even be considered for one down the road.”

In addition, many employers are looking at people’s digital presence to source employees for the future – a new kind of head hunting. And that, say the researchers, comes with its own set of ethical questions.

The paper, “Unintended consequences of a digital presence: Employment-related implications for job seekers,” is published in the August print edition of the journal Career Development International.