Job Seekers Asked For Facebook Passwords: Debate Roars

As part of the vetting process, some companies are asking job candidates to provide their Facebook credentials. Would you? Should you?

Debra Donston-Miller

March 21, 2012

5 Min Read
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It's the job of your dreams. Your resume was one of those selected from among hundreds submitted. You've made it through a phone screener and then several in-person interviews with key company players. You can feel it--the job is yours. Now, all you have to do is provide your Facebook password.

Would you? Should you?

An Associated Press story picked up by the Boston Globe, among many other media outlets, tells the tale of a New York statistician who was surprised when asked by a job interviewer for his Facebook user name and password. The candidate withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would ask for such information. But this was apparently not an isolated incident. It's common practice for companies to check out job candidates' social media presence as part of the vetting process (hence, all those recommendations about not posting compromising photos, inflammatory comments, and the like), but as more and more people utilize Facebook's privacy controls to lock down their profiles, companies are apparently asking job candidates to give up the keys to their Facebook kingdoms.

Is that as invasive as it sounds? Yes, according to social media and HR experts contacted by The BrainYard, not to mention a group of Facebook users who responded with a resounding and collective "No way!" when asked on the social network itself if they would give up their password to get a job.

"I have heard about recruiters and hiring managers performing searches on social media channels when vetting out candidates, but directly asking for a password is akin to asking for the password to an employee's email account or other password-protected material," said Jake Wengroff, global director, social media strategy and research, Frost & Sullivan. "It is a clear invasion of privacy."

The fact that companies feel they can even ask is a sign that we're still in an employer's market, said Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. "They think that in this market, they can do whatever they want," he said. "They don't need the candidates; the candidates need them. They think they can get away with it."

Ari Lightman, distinguished service professor, digital media and marketing, and director of the CIO Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, said the practice may be surprising but is in many ways understandable given the fact that we're dealing with newer technology where legal precedent has yet to be established.

[ Perhaps these hiring managers should consider 4 Rules For Managing Millenials In IT. ]

"Employers and some colleges have been asking for Facebook passwords as a mechanism to better profile potential applicants," Lightman told The BrainYard. "From the employer perspective, they are trying to rule out any illicit behavior that would lead to diminished performance at work or dismissal. I don't think it is too prevalent, but the few cases are becoming very public, especially as watchdog groups like the ACLU become involved."

Lightman said he believes that it will eventually be deemed unlawful to require an applicant to provide a Facebook password as part of the recruitment process. But, in the meantime, what are applicants put in this awkward position supposed to do? Given the still-tight economy, would you hand over your password if asked during an interview?

"I would probably friend the interviewer, but hand over a password? I think not," said one Facebook user in response to this question.

"I would not. There's nothing on my wall or news feed I'd be embarrassed by, but who wants to work for a company that goes to such measures?" said another.

"No way, no how."

"No ... as I would not give my password to ANYONE."

"I would say have a nice day and leave."

"[It's] an invasion of privacy in my book. I don't think [the interviewer] would give me theirs if I asked.

"Not unless they have a court order! I don't want to work for ANYONE that much."

"NO WAY! If they want to know what I post, friend me, but anything else is a huge invasion! Plus, how do I know they won't post something that is totally inappropriate?

"Nope. I'd delete my account before I'd give someone else access to it."

"No! I would tell them what they can do with their job, even if I were desperate for work."

Frost & Sullivan's Wengroff suggests a middle ground, as well as some general advice: "I would agree to walk a recruiter through my Facebook page that I signed in to, but I would not hand over the password," he said. "However, as a best-practice, job seekers--or anyone with a public-facing persona--should always think twice about posting, sharing and commenting on potentially objectionable content on Facebook. It shouldn't have to come down to a job interview to think twice about what you post on Facebook.

Would you give up your credentials under any circumstances? What do you see happening with regard to this issue moving forward? Please comment below or write me at [email protected].

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