What Your Employer Wants with Your Facebook Password

The AP reported on the most disconcerting trend in human resources: job applicants being asked to hand over their Facebook passwords. To see what employers might find, I gave a career coach the keys to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. (And, yes, I changed the passwords right afterward.)

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The AP reported on the most disconcerting trend in human resources: job applicants being asked to hand over their Facebook passwords. To see what employers might find, I gave E. Chandlee Bryan, career coach and co-author of the book The Twitter Job Search Guide, the keys to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. (And, yes, I changed the passwords right afterward.) It's no surprise that employers are looking at the Internet, including your Facebook page and other personal social media sites, before they hire you. Nearly 90 percent of recruiters have admitted to doing background Internet research on job candidates, and, according to the experts, you should pretty much expect to be Googled for any job you apply for. But Orin Kerr, George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor calls asking for a peek at social media accounts from the inside "an egregious privacy violation" that's "akin to requiring someone's house keys." These are the red flags that Bryan spotted on my current social media doings.


The photo: "The profile picture is a check."
The content: "If I looked at messages, which i shouldn't, I would immediately go to this one [from someone describing a party rather explicitly] and I'd be like, Oh really? I'd look and see some of the things you'd been invited to. I'd look at your groups -- I'd wonder what '97 Villains is. [That's a group for people in this writer's college study-abroad program.] The other thing I would do is look at your albums. There's a slightly provocative piece of leg on this Voice cover, but that's not something in your industry that would hurt you. Nice screenshot of you on Headline News, where you say, "That's a lot of makeup!" What I like about that is you're sharing it with friends and that helps you professionally, but you're not bragging about it.Though if you were applying for a job as a public persona or a correspondant for Entertainment Tonight, you'd probably need an account under another name. This is primarily a friend-based Facebook site; you could also have a professional one." 
Overall advice: "I would recommend a professional Facebook site if you're going into a field where that matters. If you're going to become a public figure or looking for a job where your personal page could conceivably hurt you, it's not a bad idea. If you're applying for a job in the intelligence community, for instance, it's not a great idea to have your normal name on Facebook, especially with all the new apps that can track your location. I never think it's a good idea to go on Facebook and say things like 'I'm so excited, I got my top security clearance!' You should also have a strategy for who you're going to friend and who you're not going to friend."
More generally, Bryan suggested there are a few things people tend to do wrong—most of which your employer can see publicly if you don't have privacy protections. 
  • Logging into other applications through Facebook Connect and granting the applications blind permission. "If you're not careful," she says, "They can post things all over your wall and your friends' walls too."
  • Having an inappropriate picture. "I think we've all seen why it's important to watch that."
  • Bad manners, bad attitude. "Having good manners, not using profanity, and just checking your emotions" are important, Bryan says. "If you're always talking about what a crappy day you had at work, I wouldn't want to hire you." 
  • Not being yourself. "Present yourself as you'd like employers to see you in person. It's okay to be personal but with your best foot forward. Be approachable, friendly, and presentable." 



The photo: "My first comment is, there's no doubt who you are. I tell people if they want some degree of anonymity, they might want to choose a persona that's not their name. Also, right away, I notice that your desk looks very similar, but maybe a little bit messier than, many of the desks I've seen when walking through the Wall Street Journal or New York Daily News. If you're a writer with colleagues with messy desks, that might work in your field. If you were applying for a position as a project manager, I'd say change the photo."

The description: "Right now you're linking to your current employer. If you wanted to explain the photo, you could link to a blog where you could say something like, 'I am working at this transformative time in my industry and I'm grateful to have a job and be shaping the conversation.' You've said where you work, adding information that establishes credibility -- a history at the Voice and Radar. And you've added something personal [the bit about quick-drying hair. Which is true!]. My coworkers and I interviewed 13 people who'd gotten jobs through Twitter, and they had all said something personal in their bio, something people could have a conversation about. Including your email makes you look accessible. And it's nice that you're tweeting things from the Times and not just the Atlantic. But if you want to officially tweet for a company, you should know their Twitter policies." 
The tweets: "Your comments are funny, interesting, and engage people to lean forward -- I like that retweet, Why Spider-Man Needs his Hyphen. I think it's great that you're sharing and having conversations with other people, that's one of the big things -- not just being a seagull that drops in to say something about themselves, but having conversations about other people and admitting what you don't know." [Aw.]
Chance of getting checked: "Vault released a study evaluating how many employers were checking Facebook vs. Twitter and found that less than 10 percent of employers were looking at Twitter feeds. For a job in journalism, they're probably more likely to look -- they want to see that you can connect and engage, since that's your job."
Overall advice: "I do think that you should post with an eye on what's appropriate. Tweets are being archived in the Library of Congress, which means everything on Twitter could become part of your permanent record. Make sure you don't have profanity, and avoid making really negative comments about another person. You never want to come up in a hashtag as being a poor sport. If someone posts something really controversial, you can retweet but just not comment."
If you are asked for your login and password information in an interview, Bryan says, one strategy is to ask the prospective employer for more information about what they're looking for and what their concerns are. You can also ask for information on the company's privacy policies. "To turn it around into a positive shows you can be discreet," she explains. But also, know the overall industry climate and what you're looking for. "You get to pick your employer just as much as they pick you," she says.
Ideally. In the meantime, check your Facebook page.

Image via Shutterstock by tashatuvango.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.