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Study: Facebook has pros, cons for job seekers

Study: Facebook has pros, cons for job seekers
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Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 4:46pm

Do a quick search on Facebook, and you're sure to find job talk. A friend who got laid off. A family member turned down for a promotion. Or an old high-school pal celebrating their dream job.

On Facebook, employment status is just one more thing people feel free to share openly, not just with those they're closest to.

While sharing a job loss or termination may make some cringe, Facebook data scientists say there might actually be some advantages to it.

Highlights of a Facebook study, "Facebook use by job-seekers," were posted on the site's data science blog on Thursday.

The study tracked several thousand people over three months with monthly check-ins. Of the 3,000 surveyed, 169 were unemployed at some point during the study.

Authors Moira Burke and Robert Kraut intended to measure stress levels and support from close friends and family on Facebook during major life events. Burke is a data scientist at Facebook and Kraut is with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

To determine how connected people were, Facebook was given permission to track participants' time spent on the social network and some of their actions, but not the content of their actions. For example, they tracked whether participants left comments on their friend's photos, but not what was said.

In short, everyone who engaged directly, and a slightly more than average amount, with close family and friends experienced more support and were more motivated. They were also less stressed and were generally able to expand their networks.

The study also found that people who regularly engaged on Facebook found jobs much faster than those who didn't, although researchers said they did not have enough information to know where they found out about these jobs or if anyone in their networks played a direct role.

But the study also found that for a small subset of job seekers, stress levels increased when close friends or family members would repeatedly ask, "So how's the job search going?" Stress also increased when participants received unwanted advice or pushed the job seeker to "try harder."

"I feel worse about my job when using Facebook," one participant wrote. "I find it really hard to connect with people who care about me/my life. I get a lot of pity comments on Facebook."

Although social networks can be ideal places for support during a crisis, participants found there are limits to online compassion.

One study participant said she felt worse during her unemployment, especially when reading News Feed updates about celebrations.

"No one really shares sad or depressing stuff," the study quotes the participant as saying. "They must have some concerns but most of my contacts act as if they do not. So in comparison, I feel worse."

There's a lot of debate about whether the Internet is "good" or "bad" for us; this study shows that the effects really depend on whom you're talking to and what's happening in your life," said Burke in an email. "In this way, the online world is much like the offline. For the job-seekers out there, recognize that this is a stressful period, but you're not alone and your close friends may be able to help."
 

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