Should I Hire TravlinHigh@Mail.Com or GreekGrl69@Mail.Com?

The first piece of information recruiters acquire from online applicants is their email address. Does the email address say something useful about the applicant? For example, what kind of worker might Boo_Butt27@Mail.Com be? Are they more stable than CrazyMonkey1615@Mail.Com? Should you take a chance on SquidGobbler@Mail.Com, or will FaithSoldierMan@Mail.Com be a more dependable employee? What can an email address really tell us about an applicant?

Just as names, clothing, and handshakes can shape first impressions, email addresses can influence impressions and are often accurate reflections of personal attributes including: skills (MglSkier@Mail.Com), interests (AvsRule@Mail.Com), personality (BeeCapricious@Mail.Com), etc. Recently researchers have been busy trying to find out how much we can tell about a person based on their email address alone. For example, Back, Schmukle, and Egloff (2008) asked students to complete a personality measure and then gave the students’ email addresses to a group of judges. The study found that judges were able to guess how students scored on conscientiousness and openness using only their email address.  

More recently, researchers from Minnesota State University and SHL Group tested whether applicant email addresses were related to their owners’ job related qualifications. Judges rated the work-related appropriateness (inappropriate, questionable, and appropriate) of over 15,000 email addresses from applicants who had completed an online battery of tests when they applied for jobs online. They found that applicants with addresses rated as inappropriate or questionable scored lower on measures of conscientiousness and professionalism and had less work-related experience compared to those with addresses rated as appropriate. Surprisingly, cognitive ability was not consistently related to type of email address in this study. 

What are the implications of this research? Hiring managers could use inappropriate or questionable email addresses as a yellow flag indicating that the individual may be less conscientious or professional than other candidates. If you do not measure these things through assessment, they can be confirmed or disconfirmed via interview or reference checking. However, more research is needed before we use applicant email addresses as a decision point in a selection system. For applicants reading this, if you are using an unprofessional email address – change it before applying for a job! There are no advantages to having an unprofessional email address.

Author Note: The email addresses in this article are from real applicants and were only modified slightly to protect applicant anonymity. Yes, people really do apply for jobs using email addresses such as TravlinHigh@Mail.Com.