Give Me Your Facebook Password — Or Else!

As much as I hate bowing to peer pressure, in this case I suppose I’d be remiss, as a career blogger, if I didn’t at least touch on the latest “big story” about employment that’s sweeping the country — which is the recent article from the Associated Press that suggests a growing number of employers today are asking interview applicants to share their social media passwords.

You’ll find the article here if you haven’t seen it.  As just one example of the anecdotes cited, the article tells the tale of Justin Bassett, a statistician in New York City who went on an interview and was asked by the hiring manager to provide the password to his Facebook account — so that the information that came up could be reviewed as part of the selection process.

Not surprisingly, this little story has sparked quite a furor.  It’s been reprinted on hundreds of news sites, ranging from MSNBC to the Washington Post, and as a result, I’ve had at least a half-dozen clients contact me to ask about my thoughts on this article. Most people, of course, expressed tremendous anger and exasperation at the thought that employers would ever dare to invade a candidate’s privacy in this way.  And I totally agree.

But, as always, I have a caveat…

While I can understand why this story would get under the skin of somebody who has been searching for work for a while, especially if they’ve been the recipient of cold-shoulder treatment from a number of organizations, I urge job hunters not to overreact to it.  This “article heard round the world” is citing an extremely rare hiring practice that I suspect is used by less than 1% of all the employers in the world today — and that will probably be used even less, in the future, given the uproar this high-profile piece has created.

So while I understand the moral outrage, I implore job hunters not to let this kind of sideshow issue distract or dissuade them from their real mission: staying focused and getting a job.

And even if you should be unlucky enough to ever get a question along these lines, I think your response choices are pretty obvious.  You either give the employer what they want, if you really need a job and (hopefully) have nothing to hide on our Facebook page, or you politely decline to share the information — stating that you use Facebook for personal purposes and don’t really see its relevance to your professional capabilities.  If the employer doesn’t appreciate your perspective on the matter, move on.  You’d probably hate working there.  Or if you’re REALLY offended by the request and want to take a stand, contact an attorney and see if there are any grounds for legal action.  As of right now, the area is pretty gray.  As the article cites:

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

Gotta love these laws that are passed, but not intended to be enforced, don’t you?  Who knows, though.  Perhaps the courts will take a firmer stance on these matters as social media continues to become an indelible part of our lives and careers.

I also wonder if perhaps some of the time, at least, the employers who DO have audacity to ask these questions might have different motives in mind than are assumed by the AP article.  Maybe some of the hiring managers asking these questions aren’t actually expecting you to comply, but merely testing your ability to keep a secret or see how well you respond under pressure.  Or maybe they simply want to see if you’re an active user of social media, assuming such skills relate to the job in some way.  Who knows?  Luckily, again, I think your odds of being asked such a question are right up there with getting hit on the head by a falling meteorite.  It’s just not something a serious job hunter should worry much about, in the big scheme of things.

As always, though, tell me if you think I’m wrong.  Have any readers of this blog been asked a question similar to the ones cited by the article?  And if so, HOW was it asked, exactly?  Love to hear your thoughts…

7 Responses to “Give Me Your Facebook Password — Or Else!”

  1. What bad advice! Applicants absolutely should NOT give any private passwords to prospective employers – never ever!
    What else will they want next – your bank account password to make sure you haven’t bounced a check, your health records to be sure you have no chronic disease, your parentage designation to be sure your not anything but 100% Caucasian?

    Employers that are this intrusive are
    Losers! Feel glad you aren’t working for them – they probably strip search you before you’re allowed to leave the building!

  2. I have two general comments:

    First is an interesting conundrum for those employers viewing potential employee personal information. How can any individual guarantee that will not see or use information from the personal web page that they are by law not allowed to use: Sexual Orientation? Family Status? etc… (yep, Cliff, I’m with you).

    Second is how I “hope” I would handle this: “I have personal concerns about handing over my password. I will gladly log on tot he account if you allow me access to the computer keyboard.”

  3. Under B. Edwards theory…due diligence should include invasion of one’s privacy. As a recruiter myself (yes, B. Edwards I do “think from that point of view”) I would suggest that predictors of success are not going to be contained on someone’s FB page. What will be contained on FB is a candidate’s personal life. B. Edwards infers that personal photos of guns or from a visit to Las Vegas will give a heads-up (clue) of liability issues. Last time I checked liking guns or visiting Las Vegas is not an illegal activity, and further, nor a predictor of success (or even failure) in the workplace or even a clue of liability concerns. Under B. Edwards point of view he/she would consider a candidate’s photos of guns or Vegas sufficient enough cause to not hire someone because these are clues / predictors of potential carnage or fraud in the workplace. B. Edwards would find on my FB page a picture of me with a glass of wine in my hand — a clue to alcoholism? likely a high incidence of medical use and/or medical leave?, routinely tardy for work? likelihood of coming to work hung over or (gasp) drunk? Utilizing FB in pre-employment screening is arbitrary and haphazard, and one slippery slope…for employers. B. Edwards point of view demonstrates why restrictions exist for pre-employment screening.

  4. I wish job seekers were to try to think from the point-of-view of HR or other hiring managers. As one myself, in recruiting we have to make a hiring decision sometimes based only on resume and phone and/or in-person interview. Sure there are reference & background checks, etc. but does that really give me enough info to “predict” that a person would be successful in a job. To predict success, I need more info in the following areas:
    – What people have done
    – What people want to do
    – What people can do

    The resume and interview ONLY demonstrate the first area. I need to somehow infer that info to the other 2…so I can understand where trying to fill-in the gaps with a person’s facebook account may be helpful. Additionally, candidates may forget there is not only costs to hiring the wrong person, there can be liability issues as well. Say the position is a public agency (i.e. police, fire or public school teacher) and there are clues in facebook to suggest the person is into guns or porn, etc. or a position in finance and the person likes to gamble, etc. If there are reasonable measures and tools that an employer can use to screen these candidates, then the employer is simply doing it’s due diligence.

  5. While I have no experience with companies who might be doing this, maybe a good response might be something like this.

    “You realize of course that Facebook accounts are not only part of a person’s identity, their misuse can cause serious and irreparable damage to the account holder. I have not shared this password with anyone. However, I’ll be happy to turn over the password if you agree to sign this liability\hold harmless\ non-disclosure agreement for any damage whatsoever that I may incur from any misuse of my Facebook account from whatever cause. I’m sure you would want me to protect your company’s proprietary information in the same manner.”

    The agreement would be very broad and require the company to pay for any and all litigation and pre-litigation costs stemming from the agreement or any misuse of the Facebook account. Any company would be crazy to sign it but might be impressed by a candidate who seems to have thought of everything.

  6. I do not have a Facebook page, nor do I use Twitter or any other social network app besides LinkedIn. (BTW, I restrict my LinkedIn network to professional contacts.) Should an employer ask me this question, I would ask what my personal life has to do with my professional life. If the interviewer persisted, I would say that I do not have a Facebook page. I am sure that the interviewer would be incredulous, but I would say, “Search the web and look for me.”

    This is clearly an invasion of privacy, and unless someone were desperately in need of a job, such a question ought to be inconceivable. If the unethical nature of the question is any indication of what the work environment may be like, there may be additional compromises on the part of the employee after the hiring process is concluded.

  7. Apparently, FaceBook is warning employers against this practice, saying that it is an invasion of privacy and could also leave the company vulnerable to legal liabilities. Example given: if an employer finds out that a person is a member of a protected group, then doesn’t hire them, the applicant could sue them for discrimination. I can’t imagine what fascinating info is in other’s profiles, but mine’s rivetingly dull.

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