How the Psychology of Online Dating Can Help or Hinder Recruiters

Brandon Metcalf   June 10, 2014  

Today, single people judge each other based on the exact same Facebook profile that a recruiter would use to vet them. It’s shared research tools and shared intentions that make the intersection between online dating and recruiting worth exploring.

In modern dating, we take it for granted that people use the internet to screen potential partners. On dating websites like Match.com, OkCupid and eHarmony, people list themselves on a marketplace the way an eBay vendor lists goods. They share only the best photos from the best angles; they write witty, catchy messages (or at least try); and they share information that people will find attractive. Some people proudly claim they don’t date online, and then they Facebook ‘stalk’ people they meet at bars. It’s all the same.

In both online dating and recruiting, we evaluate people on three main criteria:

  1. Network – Who do you associate yourself with, and what do they say about you?
  2. Fit – Based on how you represent yourself, who are you? Who would you get along with?
  3. Honesty – Are you the person you claim to be in the bar or on the resume?

Potential partners want to know if going on a date is worthwhile, and recruiters want to know if interviewing a candidate is worth the time. Suitors and recruiters can speed up the processes by analyzing social content, but they can also eliminate candidates at their own expense.

Consider what a suitor and recruiter might both notice on social media:

  1. He ‘likes’ the Universal LARP Association and Jedi Council Forums on Facebook (Network/Fit)
  2. He posted a wild rant about gun control policy, and he shared some wildly offensive memes. He likes misogynistic posts shared by his friends.  (Fit/Network)
  3. He said he’s a social media expert, but he doesn’t seem to have a LinkedIn or Twitter profile. He said he manages marketing communications, but Facebook says he’s an intern (Honesty).

At face value,  might No. 1 be a turn off to a suitor or sales recruiter who tends to favor athletes. Yet for all they know, he might have stopped LARPing in college in now runs ultra-marathons. Our interpretation of social content can be more reflective of our own biases than the candidate’s real character.

As for No. 2, the gun control rant might not have any effect on a relationship or a person’s performance in the workplace, but the choice to publicize that content is troublesome. He might not personally agree with the offensive memes and the misogynistic posts, but why did he allow the public to see that side of him?

Finally, is No. 3 a case of deliberate misrepresentation, or is the recruiter missing something? Did he create and manage Twitter profiles under different names and email addresses from the one he shared? Maybe his expertise in social media comes from managing a social page for a runner’s association? As for Facebook claiming he’s an intern, did he forget to update Facebook?

The point is that social provides a highly limited representation of a person’s reality, but suitors and recruiters have to assume that the person made a conscious decision about the profile content. Recruiters in fact want to believe the profile is deliberate because it makes it easier to nix or shortlist candidates.

Yet recruiters can’t make too harsh of judgments. Look at your own profile. If you found someone with college photos like yours, would you interview the person? Are signs of rowdiness or ‘gottcha’ moments grounds to nix a candidate? I think not. Rather, recruiters should try to get a sense of personality through social patterns. What content does he share? Which of her skills do people endorse on LinkedIn, and do they match the resume?

To be efficient and present a candidate first, recruiters have to buy into the psychology of online dating and make judgments based on network, fit and honesty. That said, recruiters still need to be careful about how they analyze information on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. On social media, love at first sight is unlikely, and that shouldn’t disqualify great candidates.