Cyber-vetting: Exploring the implications of online information for career capital and human capital decisions

Brenda L Berkelaar, Purdue University


Cyber-vetting is a relatively new selection strategy employing technologies like social network sites to evaluate prospective workers. Increasing use of networked information communication technologies (ICTs) allows employers to extract applicant information to inform personnel decisions. Specifically, this research explores: (a) what sources and informational criteria employers use, (b) how access to this information shapes impressions, career capital evaluations, and human capital decisions, and (c) what or how participants perceive cyber-vetting. Drawing on interdisciplinary literature, five lenses—sensemaking, techno-materiality, legal, impression formation, and careers—frame this research. Results of interviewing and surveying human resource professionals, hiring managers, recruiters, and job applicants suggest employers use ad-hoc seemingly idiosyncratic strategies, incorporating new information sources to evaluate applicants. These processes often occur outside current standards for personnel selection and employment protection. Decisions often rely on stereotypical and iconic information, are affected by information noise and the absence of information, and typically fail to account for alternative perspectives. In addition, different, shifting, and contentious meanings of cyber-vetting shaped by identity, privacy, and perceived generational assumptions create boundary turbulence impacting career capital interpretations and impressions. Furthermore, the incorporation of a new technological criterion, and the increased visibility, changing definitions, and uses of visual, textual and relational criteria alter career capital construction and evaluation. Cyber-vetting informs personnel decisions and therefore affects individual careers, organizational effectiveness, social norms, and their associated material and nonmaterial outcomes (Ciulla, 2000; Deetz, 1993; Jablin, 2001). Addressing micro through macro practices, this research connects to work on privacy, work/non-work boundaries, corporate image, personal branding, and uses of technology-provided information. Theoretically, this project contributes to career theory, particularly communicative constructions of career capital within a global information society. It extends literature on information acquisition and use, specifically the effects of new ICTs in personnel selection and the transformative potential of socio-technical systems. Furthermore, this research identifies new forms of work. Pragmatically, it suggests the need to develop new standards for personnel selection, including an etiquette and ethics of cyber-vetting, a new media literacy, and associated communicative and socio-technical competencies. Moreover, this research informs broader social strategies to address implications of changing hiring practices.




Sypher, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Management|Communication|Information Technology|Organization Theory|Web Studies

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