Hire that Facebook party animal

Don’t be afraid of the job applicant with a beer in both hands

Hire that Facebook party animal


One morning in 2011, a 24-year-old Georgia high school teacher named Ashley Payne was called down to the office of her school’s principal and given an ultimatum. She could resign from her position or be fired. She hadn’t looked at a student the wrong way or practised corporal punishment. She had had a drink. To be precise, she had two—a glass of wine and a pint of beer, simultaneously, on a European vacation in 2009. The problem, though, was that a picture of this minor indulgence made its way onto Facebook, where—despite Payne using the site’s highest privacy settings—someone saw it, and brought it to the attention of the school’s principal. Payne took the high road: She resigned.

The “Facebook firing” is now an unfortunate fixture in Western professional culture, a warning to the working population at large that normal social behaviour, when captured and chronicled online, is aberrant and offensive. Having a beer after work—sometimes with your colleagues—is a socially acceptable activity. But upload a picture of that socially acceptable activity onto the Internet and it is rendered unacceptable. More than half of modern-day employers screen job applicants’ social media profiles for pictures like the one that implicated Payne, which means that this trend in cyberprohibition isn’t just getting people fired—it’s preventing them from getting hired, as well.

The logic behind this brand of professional prudishness, however maddening, is fairly simple. It’s not the beer-drinking itself that throws employers off; it’s the supposed lack of judgment inherent in making your beer-drinking public. The assumption is that if you lack judgment in this element of your life, you’ll lack it somewhere else, too—perhaps at work. This assumption, however, is deeply flawed.

A new study by psychology researchers at North Carolina State University suggests that employers who overlook otherwise capable job candidates because of “photos and text-based references to alcohol” may do so at their own peril. Researchers Will Stoughton, Lori Foster Thompson and Adam Meade collected personality data and social media behaviour data on a group of 175 university students.

“There are lots of articles giving guidance [to job candidates], saying, ‘Clean up your Facebook profiles,’ but we were interested in providing some data for employers to think about,” says Foster Thompson. “What we found,” she says, “is that people who post pictures of beer are no less conscientious,” nor are they less likely to make responsible, valuable employees. In fact, “people who are extroverted and more gregarious [qualities employers specifically look for, she says] are most likely to post pictures of beer.” Foster Thompson says the study was inspired in part by the fact that companies spend thousands of dollars developing the perfect social media screening tools, without assessing if their own assumptions about what constitutes a “red flag” are accurate to begin with.

What the study didn’t account for, however, are employers—most of them younger—who have embraced reality on their own. For Michael Morozov, the 23-year-old owner of a Toronto window-cleaning company called Gold Standard, what is to traditionalists a red flag is to him a good omen. Morozov employs door-to-door salespeople and he has an unusual but refreshing hiring criterion. “I prefer that salespeople are party animals,” he says. “If you have a guy who goes clubbing, it shows confidence. This is sales.” His own findings seem to support Foster Thompson’s research: “Some of the most talented people we have, if you looked at their Facebook pictures, you’d never hire them.”

According to business development consultant Kaelah Russell (she interviews employers to gauge what they’re looking for) at IQ Partners, a Toronto headhunting firm, “younger employers are probably more understanding if there are pictures of people out partying. For the most part, they’re easygoing and flexible.”

Someone has to be. If posting pictures of a social night out ups your chances of being an extroverted, gregarious person, then abstaining from the same behaviour actually lessens them.

I have several friends who have just completed teachers’ college, some of whom have or are currently looking for jobs. They have heard Payne’s story and others like it, and they are afraid. One in particular cowers every time someone pulls a camera or smartphone out at a party. Like a Disney-owned Miley Cyrus, she won’t be seen in public smoking or drinking. It’s utterly backwards that a culture so social is at once so introverted and puritan—that job candidates who are now expected to be social media whiz kids must also be social media shut-ins. And all in fear of a glass of beer.

Have a comment to share? emma.teitel@macleans.rogers.com


Hire that Facebook party animal

  1. “Researchers Will Stoughton, Lori Foster Thompson and Adam Meade collected personality data and social media behaviour data on a group of 175 university students.”

    The Weirdest People In The World:

    “Sampling from a thin slice of humanity would be less problematic if researchers confined their interpretations to the populations from which they sampled. However, despite their narrow samples, behavioral scientists often are interested in drawing inferences about the human mind and human behavior. This inferential step is rarely challenged or defended – with important exceptions (e.g., Medin & Atran 2004; Rozin 2001; Triandis 1994; Witkin & Berry 1975) – despite the lack of any general effort to assess how well results from WEIRD samples generalize to the species. This lack of epistemic vigilance underscores the prevalent, though implicit, assumption that the findings one derives from a particular sample will generalize broadly; one adult human sample is pretty much the same as the next.”


    • You really should have pointed out that “WEIRD” in the article you cite is an acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic” nations..

      Of course, if you had, it would have been immediately apparent that your comment is completely irrelevant to an article about WEIRD employers hiring WEIRD employees.

      That’s of course beyond the fact that its also simply copyright infringement.

  2. Why do people feel like they can just take your picture any time they want without asking, or wondering if you would like them to?

    • Well given that she voluntarily posted the picture on her own Facebook page, doesn’t seem like that’s an issue here.

      • Part of the post referred to people, including teachers being camera shy:

        “One in particular cowers every time someone pulls a camera or smartphone out at a party”

        Perhaps read a bit past the headline before deciding what is “an issue here.”

  3. How is it the high road to resign? That was probably the easiest road, one that they would be willing to give her a reference afterward and possibly some severance.

    The high road would have been resisting all the way into court in order to let them and other companies know that you can’t just fire someone because they do something for fun that is entirely legal and not even inappropriate in the situation.

    Christ.. the puritans are rising again.

      • Wow. Reading that story makes it even worse. Poor lady was threatened with losing her entire teaching license if she didn’t quit, and of course doing so makes any later court action a lot more difficult.

        The high road still would have been resisting from the beginning, but with that additional information, I can hardly blame her for not taking it.. that’s an awfully large risk to take.

  4. I know this is not new news, but hearing about these kinds of cases freshly disgusts me everytime… who is to say this anonymous email didn’t come from a jaded ex with the express purpose of harming her? I certainly hope Morozov’s attitude prevails with employers in the future… so that when they get a complaint like this, their first resposne will be the all too logical… “so what!?”

    • If you read the article john g linked, it actually sounds like the complaint may have come from a disgruntled co-worker of hers.

      • Utterly poisonous… sounds like a plot by an evil stock character in a bad sitcom… I picture a shadowy form rubbing their hands together as they finally get access to her FB page (she must have thought the were friends as her security was set to the higherst)… “EXCELLENT, she has unwittingly given me the tools of her own demise!!! BWHAHAHAH!”
        Too bad this one doesn’t have a cookie cutter feel-good Disney resolution.

  5. The whole situation depends on what kind of job you have. For example, salesmen have to be somewhat extroverted and confident; I do not see any harm in hiring someone who posts pictures of them drinking with his/her friends as long as he/she is diligent and hard working. On the other hand, teachers are looked up by their students and they are often their students’ role models. They need to understand that some students might look them up on social media. For younger students who do not understand the concept of social drinking, a photo of their teacher having a drink, no matter how drunk they look might give off an impression that their teacher is not responsible.

    So it does not surprise me that the teacher in the article was given an ultimatum. It is not just their friends who are on social media, but young kids who do not fully understand some of the things adults do.

    • Read the article john g linked to. The “parent” who complained never gave their name.. and Ms. Payne says that her facebook profile does not allow students on it.

  6. Why does everyone still want to be a teacher? We have an oversupply as is. They are draining the finances of the province. Get a job and training in engineering or computer science. That way you make a real contribution to society and you won’t be leaching off the taxpayer like the teachers.

    • You’d best get back to your bridge. Someone could cross it while you’re out here.

    • But who would “teach” you computer science or engineering?

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  8. Part of the problem with a photo is the context of the photo as well as the photo itself. Both require nuanced judgment which is often lacking.

  9. It goes beyond photos. How about your “likes” as well. Could a potential employer have issues with you “liking” references to a specific political party or to a particular position on a social issue. These kinds of things would never be discussed in an interview situation… but you are putting it all out there on Facebook. It’s a brave new world… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21699305

  10. “I prefer that salespeople are party animals,” he says. “If you have a guy who goes clubbing, it shows confidence. This is sales.”

    – This is why I am a scientist and not a commerce major. Thank God for intelligent people…..balances things out.