With nearly everyone hooked into some social media source or another, employers have discovered a new, unethical avenue to assess job candidates: asking for usernames and passwords and logging into social media accounts. Particularly Facebook.
High unemployment makes for desperate job seekers, and it’s that desperation that has many falling into this trap–handing over their personal log in data just so that they’re not passed over for a position. But despite the seeming popularity of this new hiring tactic, there are certainly enough negatives to make it worth reconsidering.
What, exactly, can you learn from logging in to a candidate’s social media accounts? Generally, a candidate’s ability to do a job has nothing to do with how they conduct themselves in their private lives. All that a Facebook page will tell a prospective employer is what the candidate ate for dinner, or their thoughts on last night’s episode of 30 Rock. Is that crucial information?
Further, taking pains to uncover this information can put you in a compromising situation. Suppose you log on to a job seeker’s page and find out they are pregnant. Now you know that they’re in a protected class, and if you don’t hire them, they may have grounds to press discrimination charges. If you had stuck to the interview, where it’s illegal to ask such questions, you wouldn’t have this issue.
Anything that you could want to know about a candidate is fair game in an interview, so violating privacy is really unnecessary. Besides, speaking with someone face-to-face is a far better indicator of their employability. You can get a sense for their critical thinking skills, learn about their prior experience, and even throw in a few curveball questions to keep them on their toes.
Interviews are a two-way street. Smart job seekers—which are the kind you want to hire—spend much of the interview process assessing potential employers, looking for the best fit. If you are invading their privacy before they even sign a job offer, candidates are more likely to feel harangued than welcomed into the fold. Your top choice hire might be the top choice for other hiring managers as well, and you cut your odds of winning a great employee when you ask for their Facebook password.
Even after you’ve requested a candidate’s personal log in information, checked out their profile and made sure they were a perfect fit, you’ve really only been lulled into a false sense of security. You don’t need to plan for any embarrassing social media misfires—you know your team better than they know themselves. Except, people are unpredictable. Someone with a completely respectable online profile could turn out to be the worst fit. Maybe they erased all of their disparaging remarks about their former employer, along with the strange incriminating photo albums. The thing is, you can study a candidate’s profile for hours and still not be any closer to predicting whether a potential hire will work out.
A big problem with this invasion of privacy is that candidates will begin to see your company as something to fear. No one wants to work in such an insecure environment, where their every move is being stalked. Employees want to feel valued and trusted, not like they’re back in fifth grade quivering in front of their overly strict math teacher.
Security and trust must be cultivated. By showing your employees that you respect them and their right to a private personal life, you allow them to breathe. They don’t have to be afraid to come to work. They can start to enjoy their jobs and become better at them, fattening your bottom line.
Perhaps the most critical argument against asking for a job seeker’s username and password is that the practice is (technically) illegal. Facebook’s terms of service clearly state: “You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” All site users must agree to these terms of service before registering with Facebook, so if you have a presence on the site—you did, too.
Violating a site’s terms of service is against the law. Although it’s atypical for users to be charged with a violation of terms, it’s not impossible. You may luck out and slide under the radar, but you might not. So, instead of having a potential employee taint your reputation by posting unflattering status updates, you could end up embroiled in a legal scandal that will drag your company’s name through the media mud.
Less Invasive Alternatives
If you’re eager to learn more about a candidate, head to Google and plug their name into the search field. You’ll find that most people have a multitude of PUBLIC records, none of which require a personal username and password to access. Many people keep their Facebook profiles private, but you can still gather insight by looking on sites like LinkedIn or Twitter.
For employers who won’t be satisfied without seeing a candidate’s Facebook, check to see if they’ve “liked” your business. What savvy candidate wouldn’t? by liking your business your candidates public profile is easy to see. While you might not see the private correspondence between your job candidate and their mother-in-law, you will get enough of a glance to make sure that the interviewee is not certifiably insane and that they’re unlikely to do something that might jeopardize your company reputation.
Any candidate who lacks a sufficient social media profile may not be a good fit anyway. It’s 2012. You should be able to track down at least a few records online, and at the very least, you can contact former employers and references. It’s impossible to know a candidate fully before hiring them, but if they have a solid record of experience and several references behind them, you can be confident in your hiring decision.