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No Job Interview? Perhaps It’s Your Facebook Profile Photo

New research from Belgium finds many potential employers check them out — and draw conclusions about you.


Job-hunters may want to reconsider using a club selfie for their profile photo. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Having trouble landing a job interview, in spite of your impressive resume? Well, a factor you may not have considered could be hurting your chances: your Facebook profile photo.

New research from Belgium finds that, all other things being equal, your central image on the ubiquitous social media site plays a significant role in whether a potential employer calls you in for a chat.

Social networking websites “have disrupted hiring practices,” writes Stijn Baert of Ghent University’s Department of Social Economics. “Job seekers should see the publicly available online information about them as an extension of their resume.”

The study, published in the journal New Media & Society, is based on a field experiment conducted in the Belgian city of Flanders in late 2013 and early 2014. Using the region’s top job-search channel, Baert and his assistants randomly selected 528 vacancies for jobs targeting applicants with a secondary education degree in commerce, and 528 looking for potential employees holding a master’s degree in commercial sciences.

Two job applications were sent to each of the organizations that were hiring, which were identical in terms of “productivity-relevant characteristics.” Each of the fictional job candidates was assigned one of four head shots, which had previously been rated as high, low, or somewhere in between in terms of (a) attractiveness, and (b) the extent to which the image conveys certain positive personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, emotional stability, and openness to experience).

Half the resumes had a photo attached. The others did not, but the researchers made sure that the image would come up instantly on a simple Facebook search.

“We found that candidates with the most beneficial Facebook picture got approximately 38 percent more job interview invitations compared to candidates with the least beneficial picture,” Baert writes.

“We found that candidates with the most beneficial Facebook picture got approximately 38 percent more job interview invitations.”

The impact of the online image was greater “for the highly educated, and when recruiters were female,” he adds.

For three of the four head shots, the effect of the Facebook photo was roughly the same as having the photo attached to the resume. It appears many potential employers read the photo-less application and then went on the social networking site to see what the applicant looked like.

Using a head shot to determine whether to interview an applicant may seem unfair. But Baert notes previous research has found Facebook profiles reflect people’s “actual personality traits and not their self-idealisations.” So perhaps the employers are just being savvy.

Of course, smart job applicants are aware of the importance of projecting positive qualities during an interview. This research suggests that same thought should go into your choice of a Facebook profile photo. It might be smart to round up your more honest “friends,” point them to the image, and ask them a simple question: Would you hire this guy?