This Is Business; Stay the Hell Out of Your Candidates’ Personal Lives

Mar 27, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

I read an article last week about job candidates being asked for their Facebook passwords so that potential employers can examine their personal activity. It also covers law enforcement agencies making similar demands of their applicants. So at the risk of getting tarred and feathered, here I go.

When did companies decide that it’s okay to invade someone’s privacy? Some candidates said that they feel like they have to say yes to this “request” since they need the work. One individual in the article referred to it as “coercion.”

Any company attempting to take advantage of candidates in this way should be ashamed. This wouldn’t have been considered even five years ago. Just because it has gotten easy to check someone’s social activity doesn’t make it appropriate to ask them for their password or that they “friend” you so you can spy on them. I can almost hear the requester respond, upon asking how s/he would feel if they would feel if asked this, “I don’t have anything to hide.” But that’s not the point. 

Anyone who’s smart enough knows not to post anything that may jeopardize his or her future employment. Why do you think so many people are removing photos, etc., from their Facebook profiles prior to the mandatory Timeline changes? Once that happens, there will be no way to remove past items.

I wouldn’t post anything on my Facebook profile that I wouldn’t want my 90-year-old parents to see, yet my profile is private and viewable only by my “friends.” I have no interest in having people I don’t know snooping around my personal life. So what good would it do for a potential employer to see it? It’s only going to show them that I love animals and periodically share an article or video of interest. I rarely even comment on other people’s posts because I have neither the time nor inclination.

In addition, I don’t have many “friends” on Facebook. The only people I’m connected with are folks from high school, college, or who are in my life. Remember this, folks. Less is more. Call me a dinosaur, but I still prefer to communicate the old fashioned way … orally.

I believe companies are asking candidates for this information to exclude, rather than include, them from consideration. I expect this conversation will gain momentum as more people feel encroached upon in this way. I liken this behavior to a recruiter excluding a candidate because of age. Maybe you’re thinking it’s illegal to do this, but it’s very easy for companies to do (I’m not saying it’s nice) and not get caught, so let it go. It happens a lot.

One candidate interviewed for the article had just finished answering questions, when the interviewer turned to her computer to find his Facebook profile and asked him to provide his login/password. He ended the interview immediately. Good for him. It wasn’t an issue of needing to hide anything. Rather, it was about not wanting anything to do with a company who would make this request. I don’t even want to get in to the fact that the interviewer began to do a search while he was in the room.

In another case a security guard for the Maryland Department of Public Safety who had taken a leave of absence after the death of his mother was asked for his login and password at a reinstatement interview. They wanted to make sure he had no gang affiliations. Really!? Gang affiliations? Maybe he wasn’t really mourning his mother and was actually joining a gang. He said, “I needed my job to feed my family. I had to (comply with their request).”

A spokesperson for Sears Holding Inc. assumes “that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently.” That’s their line to warrant this invasion of privacy. Do they really think people buy this line of bunk? If they wanted to see my background to consider me for a future job they can peruse my LinkedIn profile, which is always public. And I don’t want to step over her comment that they “assume.” Her comment tells me she is incompetent on a multitude of levels I don’t have time to get into right now. Remember what is said about people who “assume.”

I want to make one thing clear before closing out my comments: I am not opposed to looking into a candidate’s background. It’s perfectly appropriate to do background checks and due diligence on all candidates when they’re approaching the finish line. I got information about candidates for years in my practice (and now teach companies how to do this) and they never even knew it.

It is all in how you approach the problem. If you are going to demand access to a candidate’s personal and private Facebook profile (or any other private information, for that matter), you had better make that clear in your job ad or prior to setting up an interview. Create a proper expectation before the candidate comes through your doors. You have no right to throw that curve ball after the fact and once you’ve spent time with a candidate. Put yourself in their shoes.

We are increasingly becoming a “Do as I say, not as I do” society. Don’t be a hypocrite, and have some respect and consideration for all your applicants. Part of the problem with the ease of looking for a person’s profile while sitting at your desk and staring at a computer screen is that most recruiters and HR folks don’t have the first clue how to get G2 if it’s not readily available online. The greater problem is with these departments and the people who are working there. They don’t have sufficient training and expertise to know how to effectively do many things they are required to do. The Internet has made it exponentially easier to be a bad recruiter. Mark my words: you will get screwed as the economy rebounds. More and more candidates will not tolerate this type of behavior from companies.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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