As employers become increasingly selective about whom they hire, it appears that some are taking the bold step of asking applicants for full access to their Facebook profiles, which means handing over one’s username and password. It is unclear how widespread this trend is, but one thing is clear: while social media has been a boon to job seekers’ ability to expand and utilize their network, there are many pitfalls associated with these sites that can derail a successful job search.
Hopefully, the trend of employers seeking access to candidates’ private profiles is a short-lived one. As word of this practice has spread, the public outcry against it has grown exponentially louder. Several state legislatures are working on laws that would prohibit companies for making these types of requests and even the United States Senate is investigating. Facebook also issued a statement on its blog and is considering measures that would make it more difficult for non-members to access someone’s account.
The vast majority of job seekers will probably never encounter an employer-made request for social media access. For the few that do, it is undoubtedly a very difficult situation. We remain at a point in the recovery where finding employment is still a significant challenge. Millions of job seekers have been out of work for six months or longer, with many job searches stretching to one and two years. If presented with the option of handing over one’s Facebook username and password or being eliminated from consideration, many job seekers are likely to provide access to their profiles. Candidates who are currently employed or have in-demand skills, on the other hand, have the luxury of saying NO.As coverage of this practice expands, it is likely to prevent many companies from adopting it, due to the potential for negative public relations. The other benefit of the expanding coverage is that Americans will be more cognizant of their online activities and how they could impact their career and/or job search. There are plenty of people out there who leave their social media profiles open for all to see and give absolutely no consideration to what they post. It is important to understand that more and more employers are looking at whatever they can to inform the hiring decision. Whether it is a photo from a raucous college party posted on Facebook or incendiary comment on Twitter, employers are looking for anything that reveals more than candidates typically share in interviews. Even a seemingly innocent remark on some social or political issue could put your candidacy at risk, if the hiring manager doesn’t happen to agree with your point of view.
So, if you have not done so already, take the time to review the privacy settings for all of your social media profiles. Make sure that only friends, family or other trusted members of your network can access your personal information, photos and comments. Alternatively, take the time to “clean up” your profile or create one that you would be proud to show employers. If you belong to groups that are related to your occupation or industry or if you post links to the latest news or research pertaining to your industry, you want employers to see this. LinkedIn is particularly conducive for creating a professional profile, but there is no reason Facebook cannot be used in the same manner.
If you have taken the time to create a professional profile on Facebook, you put yourself in a much better position if asked to reveal your username and password, as you can grant them access without providing either. Just respond by saying that you prefer not to provide your username and password for privacy and security reasons, but that you would be happy to add the interviewer as a friend. You accomplish two things by doing this: 1) you avoid putting yourself in the awkward position of saying “no” to the interviewer; and 2) you add another person to your network. If you end up not getting a job offer for some reason, you have befriended a contact in the industry in which you hope to work. That can be a valuable advantage.
If asked to hand over your username and password and you refuse, whether out of principle or out of fear that the content will disqualify your candidacy, you should definitely do so respectfully. Your initial reaction may be one of outrage or indignation and you may have the urge to “tell off” the employer and storm out of the office. You should resist that urge. There is a chance that the interviewer would not hold the refusal against you, but if you have a tirade about the request, there is little chance of your candidacy surviving. “I understand that you want to make an informed decision, but I would prefer not to provide that information.”
Another way you may be able to defuse the situation is to ask the interviewer what he or she hopes to learn from accessing your profile and offer some other way for you to provide that insight. “Is there something specific you are seeking? I would be happy to tell you more about my personal interests and activities outside of the office.”
In the end, if an interviewer is intent on accessing the private areas of your Facebook profile or any other social media content you have created, there may be little you can do to change his or her mind about the relevance of that content. At that point, you have the option to grant access and hope that nothing in your profile raises a red flag or refuse and likely eliminate yourself from consideration. Chances are you will never be in this situation. However, it is important to realize and accept that employers are looking well beyond the resume and your interview answers for clues that will help them make the best hiring decision. This is definitely something to keep in mind as you contribute to the social network.