The Validity of Social Media-Based Career Information.

Author:Sampson, James P., Jr.

The use of social media expands the availability and sources of career information. However, the authorship of this information has changed from traditional print media and multimedia sources created by experts to social media-based career information created by the users themselves. Although variability in career information validity has been an issue for some time, rapid growth in the use of social media creates some unique challenges. The ease with which social media-based career information can spread creates the potential for rapid widespread dissemination of disinformation and biased perceptions. Potential sources of invalidity include intentional bias (with or without profit motive), unintentional bias, restricted range of experience, out-of-date information, popularity bias, similarity bias, and context deficiency. The authors examine potential sources of social media-based career information invalidity and suggest implications for practice to help individuals make the best use of such information.

Keywords: career information, social media, information validity, bias, misinformation


Making informed occupational, educational, training, or employment decisions depends on having adequate knowledge of available options (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004). However, results from a National Career Development Association (NCDA; 2011) study indicated that only 16% of respondents reported using career information for their career planning, and 59% would want more or different information about their options if making another career decision.

Options knowledge includes important characteristics of occupations, programs of study, or jobs. Options knowledge helps (a) motivate individuals to exert the effort needed to make a decision; (b) clarify what is important in terms of individuals' values, interests, skills, and employment preferences; (c) generate and evaluate individuals' options; and (d) individuals implement a decision. Individuals gain options knowledge as a result of their own life experience, by observing others' experience in real life or through the media, and through reading or viewing career information (Sampson et al., 2004). "Career information comprises educational, occupational, industry, financial aid, job search, and related information for career development" (Alliance of Career Resource Professionals, 2016, p. 2).

The delivery of career information is a common element in the provision of self-help to individuals and practitioner-assisted career services to clients (Sampson et al., 2004). The dissemination of career information is found to be the most common use of information and communication technology in the provision of career services (Bimrose, Hughes, & Barnes, 2011). The dissemination of information via the internet and mobile applications has increased dramatically in recent years (Sampson & Osborn, 2014), and many people indicate using the internet when searching for career-related information (NCDA, 2011). In a meta-analysis of career intervention studies, Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) found that the provision of world-of-work information was one of five key ingredients of effective career interventions. In addition, the NCDA (2009) identified the delivery of information/ resources and technology as competency areas for career practitioners and outlined the NCDA standards (NCDA, 2015) related to the provision of career information and technology. Thus, career practitioners must be knowledgeable and skilled in the various formats and venues through which career information exists.

Career information is provided in a variety of formats, including text, images, audio, and multimedia. Over time, the delivery of career information has shifted from print media and analog multimedia to digital content on personal computers, the internet, and mobile devices. The internet has also evolved considerably over time (e.g., Hooley, Hutchinson, & Watts, 2010). Early applications focused on information delivery from author to audience. The notion of a second generation of the internet characterized by substantially increased sharing of information among users is reflected in the concept of "Web 2.0" (e.g., Hooley, Shepherd, & Dodd, 2015; O'Reilly, 2007). This second generation of the internet, which refers to technology characterized as being user centered, open, participatory, interactive, and knowledge sharing, poses a blend of new opportunities and challenges in the creation and delivery of career information. With the next generation of technologies already on the horizon, key opportunities include increased access to hard-to-reach client populations in familiar spaces, at flexible times, and in creative ways. A key challenge is the potential delivery of invalid career information that has been created by individuals and widely distributed. In addition, career practitioners may have to address misperceptions based on clients' acceptance of social media-based career information.

Against this backdrop, we examine potential sources of social media-based career information invalidity and implications for career practice in helping individuals make the best use of social media-based career information. First, we set the context with a discussion of career information validity. This is followed by an examination of social media-based career information, including social media and social media tools, as well as accessing social media-based career information, with examples provided on how different clients might use various tools in career and occupational exploration. Finally, we identify several potential sources of invalidity and discuss implications for career practitioners and researchers.

The Validity of Career Information

Making an informed career decision depends on the validity of the career information available, and career practitioners have a responsibility to "assist clients in determining the validity and reliability of information found on websites and in other technology applications" (NCDA, 2015, p. 17). The eventual appropriateness of a career choice can be compromised if the information used by individuals is invalid. Several recurring characteristics have been identified (e.g., Bimrose & Barnes, 2011; NCDA, 1991, 1992a, 1992b) as indicators of the validity of career information, including accuracy, understandable, lack of bias, reflecting currency (timewise), and comprehensiveness. Other characteristics require that information be "developmentally appropriate, relevant, specific" (Alliance of Career Resource Professionals, 2016, p. 1). Evaluation criteria for social media-based information include accuracy, authority, comprehensiveness, logic, and verifiability (Kim, Sin, & Yoo-Lee, 2014).

With the preceding literature in mind, the following definition and elements of career information validity are proposed. Career information validity concerns the accumulated evidence that an information source is comprehensive, accurate, and relevant for the decision being made, as well as understandable to the decision maker. Comprehensiveness of career information concerns the accumulated evidence that the data presented include all of the relevant topics necessary for making an informed decision by persons at various developmental stages. Accuracy of career information concerns the accumulated evidence that the data presented are current, credible, verifiable, and impartial. The source gathering and presenting the information should be made clear so that the reader can be made aware of any potential bias. Relevancy for the decision being made is the accumulated evidence that the data presented contribute to a specific type of decision an individual needs to make, such as using employment projection data in making education and training decisions. Understandable to the decision maker is the accumulated evidence that the data are presented in a way that is appropriate for the developmental characteristics of the learner.

Variability in career information validity has been an issue for some time (Offer & Sampson, 1999) and remains an issue today (Makela & Kettunen, 2017; Sampson & Makela, 2014). Hooley et al. (2015) noted that "well validated, usable, consistently updated websites based on good research sit side by side with incoherent nonsense" (p. 50). With the explosion of social media, numerous career-related tools are traded virally between users without evidence of validity. A well-designed website with attractive graphics is no guarantee of quality (Sampson & Lumsden, 2000). Hooley et al. further stated that the quality of information available can be influenced by the nature of the provider. Information from public sector sources tends to be impartial, whereas private sector sites vary considerably in quality.

Social Media-Based Career Information

Social media-based career information is defined as perceptual data on occupations, education, training, and employment created by an individual or groups of individuals using various social media tools and social networking technologies with different types and amounts of life experience influencing their perceptions over time. Our examination of social media-based career information begins with a description of social media and social media tools and continues with options for accessing social media-based career information, examples of social media-based career information, and potential sources of information invalidity.

Social Media and Social Media Tools

Social media is defined as a process in which individuals and groups build a common understanding and meaning with contents, communities, and Web 2.0 technology (Ahlqvist, Back, Heinonen, & Halonen, 2010; Kolbitsch & Maurer, 2006). As such, social media refers primarily to types of practices, as opposed to a specific set of technologies (Dohn, 2009). In this article, we distinguish social networking technologies as a subset of social media. Social...

To continue reading