What Does an Employer Really Need to Know About an Applicant?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the relatively new practice of U.S. employers asking job applicants to provide their Facebook login information.

Besides the passwords to social media accounts, employers have been known to “shoulder surf” while an applicant logs into his/her account, or request an applicant to befriend a human resource manager, letting him have access to their formerly private information.

I can see the employers’ reasoning: People tend to loosen up more online than they do in person. They’ll post pictures and comments they might never voice aloud, and they’ll show their “real” selves.

But that’s not true in all cases. Some of us are mighty selective about what we know will follow us, maybe forever.

Everything I’ve read suggests this practice is more common with industries where applicants need to pass a background check. Those employers are hoping a quick (or not so quick) peek into a Facebook account will reveal things about the applicant they’re not able to ask — things like age, race, religion, and gender — as well as activities like drug and alcohol use.

I can see why they’d want such information. With so darn many job applicants these days, anything that helps to narrow down the contenders would be helpful.

But applicants rightfully are concerned. After all, most social media accounts require a person signing up NOT to share their login and passwords.

Applicants fear that refusal to hand over such information will be grounds for employers to toss them out of the applicant pool. How can they feed their family and clothe their children unless they have a job?

Shouldn’t there be a division between what one does at work and what one does off work?

Legislators think so.

In fact, some states (Maryland and Illinois, for example) are considering passage of laws preventing employers from asking applicants for privacy information. Two Senators — one from New York, one from Connecticut — have asked the U.S. Justice Department to determine whether this practice is against the law.

I don’t do Facebook (despite constant urgings from friends to the contrary!). Nor am I looking for a job, thanks to being self-employed.

While I don’t have a dog in this fight, I am disturbed by the issue. It seems that attacks on an individual’s right to privacy are growing and relentless. Shouldn’t there be a better way to weed out unacceptable job applicants without resorting to violating their privacy?

Help me out here. What do you think?

20 thoughts on “What Does an Employer Really Need to Know About an Applicant?

  1. Letting them have access to my facebook would be like letting them barge in on a private party that I’m having with my family or friends. Not like I put anything that bad on facebook but it just isn’t any of their business. Just as I would never go on an interview with out wearing makeup. Same thing.

    • I tend to agree, Lynne. I wouldn’t expect a potential employer to ask to read my handwritten diary, but then I wouldn’t put anything on Facebook that I wouldn’t want read by the masses, either. I guess until the laws change, we just need to be very careful about what we post anywhere.

  2. While it is illegal for them to ask these questions, I don’t understand how it is legal for them to request access to your private Facebook account. Though I am a what you see is what you get so FB doesn’t provide much info, I still think it is wrong…it makes me want to delete my account solely on principle…I’m self employed so this doesn’t even currently apply to me.

    • I’m in the same boat, Suzi. I liken it to somebody knocking on the door of your house, then barging in to have a look around whether you agree or not. And when they make it a condition of employment, well, that’s just wrong, I think.

  3. It does seem to me that if you have your privacy settings on Facebook such that it can’t be seen by just a simple search, it almost implies a behind closed doors kind of thing.

    that said, it is scary how many folks have their doors open.

    Also, kids don’t realize the effect their online lives has on college admissions. At freshman orientation, one of the deans of my son’s university made it a point to let the incoming class know that they had looked at FB accounts…I’m sure just at wht was publicly available, but it implied that there were likely kids rejected because of it.

    • True, some people are totally careless with what they have online; others, like me, are super-careful, knowing that potential employers can find out just about anything these days. That said, it seems to me employers always have the right of refusal — if they hire you and find out you lied or misrepresented yourself in any way, they can just as quickly dismiss you. It’s the “hand over your password or be cut from consideration” aspect that doesn’t sit well with me. Like employers, universities can afford to be choosy over who they accept — again, I just would hate to see them use refusal to hand over an FB password as “evidence” of illicit activity.

  4. I’m pretty confident I can say NEVER to handing over my Facebook password to anyone. It has nothing to do with privacy (for me) and everything to do with appropriateness. I don’t post anything the world can’t see. Facebook is not in charge of my privacy I am. I just would not want to be employed by a company or a person who would require or even ask for this information. In some instance schools have tried to insist kids hand over their password and I believe this is wrong as well.
    What can be searched is fair game. I have shown adults and kids how quickly information they believe is private on Facebook can be taken off Facebook and distributed. My advice to young and old alike is unless you would put the information on a billboard in downtown Chicago don’t put it on a social media site.

    • I think you’re right. It all comes down to prudence in posting anything, whether on FB or otherwise. Nowadays, it’s too easy to access whatever is on a social media site. Still, for me, the issue is privacy. If Google+, for instance, leads me to believe that what I post is private if I’ve marked it so, then others shouldn’t have the authority of demanding that it become public knowledge in return for their consideration of me as a potential employee. Or university student. Or whatever.

  5. I don’t think I’d want to be employed by a company that demanded that information. And I am employed by a company that does background checks. Pulling credit is invasive enough. There’s nothing on my FB that I would mind anyone seeing. But still. It’s my private life. On the other hand I DID friend my boss…lol…hmmmmmm

    • Yes, pulling credit CAN feel invasive! There’s nothing on my blog I don’t want viewed, but I guess FB is different. Still, there are plenty of people who turn down companies for asking such private information (they must also have other reasonable offers, haha!)

  6. Debbie, I definitely feel requiring Facebook login information during the application process is invasive, especially when asking their age is forbidden. What people choose to reveal on Facebook is a whole other discussion. I’m pretty wimpy about what I share on Facebook but I sure wouldn’t want to hand over my login information to a prospective employer.

    • I agree, Kathy. There should be a limit to how much probing a potential employer needs to do. I mean, like Lynne said, you don’t necessarily want every Tom, Dick, and Harry barging into your private parties!

  7. As you know, I’m a Facebook hold out…but if I did have an account, I wouldn’t hand over the password. Just like I wouldn’t give them the password to my bank account or any online shopping accounts I have. It’s simply none of their business. All they need to be concerned with is whether or not they think I’m qualified for the job and if I’m a good fit for their working environment. They are free to examine this in interviews and online searches – without my password.

    • Well said, Janna! With all the possible avenues for vetting a job candidate, you’d think they’d know a person inside and out — without having to ask for computer login information.

  8. I have to say, I don’t see anything wrong with employers looking at your FB page. But I adamantly am against having to turn over your password. They’re welcome to see what’s out there. After all, once you put it out there, it’s for all the world to see, and unless they’re your friend, they can only see so much. Social media is a whole new way of sizing up a potential employee. Times are changing and employers are finding this change helpful to deciding. It’s up to the individual to think about what they’re putting up on their page. They should ask themselves, do I want my employer to see this? If no, then don’t put it up. So, in conclusion, password, no. But using social media as a tool to learn more about a candidate, sure. After all, you don’t need a password to see what they’re tweeting, and tweets say a whole lot more about a person than FB.

    • Good point, Monica! I don’t do Twitter or Facebook, so I’m not well versed in these avenues; however, I have no problem with employers, etc. viewing what’s out there (they’d be fools not to!). I strongly object to their asking candidates for their login information as a condition of their employment, though. Same goes for asking them to log in and watching over their shoulders.

  9. I’m typing this at 5:10 in the morning, having fired up my laptop several hours ago after deciding it was time to check into Facebook. Instead, I’ve been catching up on blog reading and thinking again about how the “online” me is such a very tiny sliver of who I really am yet it’s magnified so much by the fact that I attempt to keep the most important things private.

    This week I heard some of the things my son is up to in Hawaii and that he’s always putting pictures up on Facebook. My daughter sent a text from a quickie vacation trip that I didn’t know about. I came to understand in a couple of ways that blogger friends who aren’t blogging as often are now friends on Facebook, so it seems like the party moved without me. Not only am I feeling unintentionally isolated from my “real” friends, who communicate that way, now I’m increasingly becoming isolated from my virtual friends, too.

    I don’t understand Facebook (yet), but I understand that privacy settings are updated frequently and this can cause problems. I don’t want to have to worry about keeping on top of that. There are things I am fine sharing with certain folks that I’m not so fine sharing with others and I want to stay connected to my children but I want to protect them from anyone I might “sort of” know poking into their privacy.

    I certainly wouldn’t want a potential employer to look at any single dimension of myself and decide that’s who I am. It’s my biggest concern about blogging, but at least here I can hide behind a little cartoon character.

    I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know what I think. 🙂

    • I totally get your confusion! I think a lot of us are in the same boat. I don’t “do” Facebook — just can’t seem to find the time or inclination to — and I probably am not the one to judge, but I tend to have strong opinions about privacy. When I checked out Google+, it seemed like the answer (putting people in “circles” and sharing what you wanted with whom you wanted). They have a ways to go, though, before they reach FB’s popularity! I just know I’d balk if a potential employer asked for my e-mail or blogging passwords just to have a look around — NOT that there’s anything incriminating there, but people can take things the wrong way and that might be incriminating! Thanks for weighing in, now go get some sleep!

  10. Debbie, I don’t do Facebook either but it’s because of the concept you mention here–the violation of privacy. I agree wtih you, we have to draw the line somewhere. I understant that in regard to the Web, nothing is private, but employers should not resort to these means to hire people. I also warn the Son that anything he writes, publishes, and especially photos, can be incriminating. Imagine, these kids will soon attempt to join the work force and it’s a shame that their lives will be under a magnfying glass as a result of unscrupulous potential employers. I hope they have the sense to listen to us! 🙂

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