You have been searching for the perfect job and it has been a long, arduous process. You have submitted so many applications that you have begun to lose count. Despite having gone on a few interviews, nothing seems to be panning out.
It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. After all, your resume is in top-notch shape, you have a stellar set of references, and you have only been applying for jobs that you are more than qualified for.
After yet another lackluster week, frustration settles in. You decide to commemorate your misery with a Facebook post. You grab your phone, make your best “pouty” face, caption the photo with #FridayFeeling, and upload it to let your followers know just how much this job hunt stinks.
On the other side of town, one of the organizations where you had an interview – and would ultimately love to work – has begun screening potential candidates. As part of their hiring process, an online review is conducted to screen all potential applicants. A quick Google search directs the HR rep right to your Facebook page just in time to see your most recent post – a selfie of you making the infamous “duck face” letting the world know how annoyed you are that you cannot find a job. Not only that, a quick scroll of your feed shows selfie after selfie – without much else. The next potential candidate’s social media profile is also viewed and shows a variety of posts – a few pictures with family and friends, a handful of inspirational posts, and some business-related articles.
Which pile do you think your application is going into?
The Science Behind Selfie-Posting
Selfies – a modern-day form of self-promotion – have become a global pop-culture phenomenon. In fact, the term selfie has become so popular that the Oxford English dictionary officially added the term back in 2013, defining it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”
The act of taking, posting, and viewing selfies has earned a great deal of attention among celebrities – thank you Kim Kardashian – and is wildly popular among the younger generations. For many people, posting selfies has become a daily habit. According to a 2015 study, 98% of 18 to 24-year-olds who were surveyed reported having taken selfies at least once in their lives, with 46% admitting to sharing a selfie earlier that day.
Due to the growing popularity of this trend, researchers have taken an interest in exploring the psychology behind selfie-taking behaviors to better understand potential individual and societal level consequences. The act of taking and posting selfies symbolizes a relatively new but dominant means of online self-presentation. This form of impression management describes how people attempt to present themselves by behaving in ways that create a desired impression.
While the science is still young, there has been a general consensus among psychologists, social scientists, and academic scholars that selfies represent a form of expression that may reveal more than the taker intended.
The Negative Side of Selfies and Self-Presentation
Much of the research on selfies has revealed a number of unfavorable associations including threats to self-esteem, decreased mindfulness, and being viewed as expressively inauthentic. In a 2015 study, participants were asked to judge a set of 33 pictures in terms of their perceived authenticity. The set of images included selfies with clearly recognizable poses (e.g., duck face, posing in front of a mirror, etc.), along with more “normal” photographs with natural facial expressions and poses. The researchers found that participants more often judged selfies as being “an inauthentic way of showing off” in contrast to the images with natural facial expressions and poses.
Other studies have found a link between people who take a lot of selfies and narcissistic, psychopathic, and Machiavellian personality traits. Ohio State Professors, Jesse Fox and Margaret Rooney, are widely known for their research on the personalities of selfie takers. In a 2015 study, they surveyed 800 U.S. men between the ages of 18-40 to inquire about their selfie-posting habits and whether they edited their photos before posting. The participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire measuring narcissistic traits, anti-social behaviors and self-objectification (the tendency to overly focus on one’s appearance). The researchers found that narcissism and psychopathy predicted the number of selfies posted, whereas narcissism and self-objectification predicted whether they would edit the photographs before posting them on social media sites.
“Every narcissist needs a reflecting pool. Just as Narcissus gazed into the pool to admire his beauty, social networking sites, like Facebook, have become our modern-day pool.” ~Dr. Tracy Alloway
This is not to say that everyone who takes and posts a selfie is considered a psychopath, but it does imply a high need for self-gratification, particularly if the photos are posted online for social approval. There a several theories as to why one might seek out that level of social admiration. According to psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, the selfie epidemic represents a desperate cry for help from those who didn’t get enough “mirroring” from parents while growing up. She goes on to say that without sufficient mirroring, “people will look for their reflections in other people’s eyes in order to gain attention, validation and approval.” This makes sense given that narcissistic individuals need validation to nurture their underlying sense of insecurity. As Professor Jesse Fox points out, “They – the narcissists – need to get ‘likes’ to get validation” and social media sites provide the perfect platform to get this done.
The Positive Side of Selfies
For those of you who have mastered the art of selfie-taking, have no fear, it’s not all bad news.
According to a 2016 study published in Psychology of Well-Being, there are some positive benefits associated with selfie-taking. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine conducted a study using a group of college students to explore how different types of picture-taking methods can influence one’s mood. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups and asked to take pictures throughout the day using their cell phones. Participants were asked to either snap smiling selfies, photos of things that made them happy, or photos of things they thought would make someone else in their lives happy. They were also asked to report their moods, three times a day using a smartphone app. After collecting nearly 2,900 mood measurements, the researchers concluded that subjects in all three groups experienced an increase in positive moods. In fact, some participants in the selfie group reported becoming even more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. Proponents of selfie-posting argue that that this form of self-presentation can even be considered a source of empowerment, as it grants individuals a high degree of control over how they present themselves to the world.
Selfies and the Job Seeker
Good or bad…it is important to remember that we live in a digital world. Every action performed online leaves a permanent trail that can be discovered by anybody – including potential employers. Given that selfie-posting tends to be associated with younger generations, it is no surprise that this behavior can run counterproductive to the goals of hiring managers, particularly if they are members of older generations.
A recent survey conducted by Eurocom Worldwide found that nearly 40 percent of companies use social media to research job candidates. Not only that, the survey found that one in five technology firms have rejected a potential candidate based on what they discovered on his or her social media profile. Whether you agree or not, it is common practice to scope out a job applicant’s social media profiles. As such, that is important information to keep in mind the next time you are searching for a new job.
That being said, selfies can also be seen as simply another form of communication. So, the next time you are on the hunt for that perfect job and wish to update your network, try posting a selfie with a big smile and an upbeat caption like “Still holding out for the perfect job…I know it’s out there.”
It can’t hurt right? After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Chen, Y., Mark, G., & Ali, S. (2016). Promoting positive affect through smartphone photography. Psychology of Well-Being, 6(1), 8.
Fox, J., & Rooney, M. C. (2015). The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites. Personality and Individual Differences, 76, 161-165.
Lobinger, K., & Brantner, C. (2015). In the eye of the beholder: Subjective views on the authenticity of selfies. International Journal of Communication, 9, 1848-1860.