Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Job Seekers Are Required To Turn Over Facebook Login Information?

The AP recently ran a story about job seekers being required to turn over their Facebook user name and password during the interview process. If you are anything like me, you use the same password for numerous logins so turning over your password to one would compromise your online profiles in several other places. To begin with, that's the first of many reasons I would never work for an organization that asks me for that kind of information.

Job seekers should never be forced to reveal private information about themselves in an interview and since Facebook pages contain a wealth of private information they too should be off limits. The idea that a job seeker would be asked to actually hand over any type of login information is especially ludicrous. Why don't I grab my bank account number and PIN for you while I am at it?  

It seems that if it is illegal to ask about your martial status, age, disability, whether you have kids, your sexual orientation, or your religious affiliations during an interview, employers shouldn't be able to actually log into Facebook as you to poke around your public and private profiles. Wouldn't they be able to glean at least some if not all of that information from a person's Facebook page thus answering some of the questions that are otherwise illegal to ask? Seems like a pretty clear invasion of privacy doesn't it? Even requiring a job seeker to be a Facebook friend crosses the line in my estimation as it will provide an eye into the personal life of employees that should not be used in consideration for employment.

Naysayers may ask what you have to hide. But that's not the point. The point is that I have a right to hide it if I want to. That's why Facebook protects its users with a login system and why I am the only one who can log in to see it. Let's take it a step further and say that in your free time you like to engage is some type of activity that you might not want people to know about. Maybe you are a die hard WWE fan and like to dress up in body paint and go to matches wearing a Speedo and you don't want your colleagues at work to know. Maybe you like Justin Bieber more than a pre-teen schoolgirl. Or maybe you participate in some other type of completely legal activity outside of work that others who don't understand the culture might use to judge you and you have pictures which aren't even available to the public stored on your Facebook page. How does the fact that your are a card carrying Hulk-a-Maniac affect your ability to do your job and do it well? It doesn't. And revealing such information shouldn't be part of the interview process.

It's hard to imagine the Facebook question remaining legal if it hits the courts. However, this issue brings up an interesting question: how do you deal with this in an actual interview?  As a job seeker, it is our responsibility to know what questions interviewers are and are not allowed to ask.  We also need to know how to deal with the situation if one of them is asked. Whether someone is asking you how old you are, whether you have kids, or asking for your social media login information, you have a few choices for how to respond. Mind you, the social media question isn't actually illegal (yet) like the others:
  • Tactfully point out that the question is illegal (if it is) and that you are uncomfortable answering it as a condition of consideration for employment: "That question is illegal to ask in an interview as a means to assess my qualifications and I respectfully decline to answer it."
  • Point out that the question is illegal, but still answer it: "While that question is actually illegal to ask in an interview I don't see any harm in letting you know that I am an energetic, well qualified and competent 32."
  • Don't point out it is illegal but still don't answer it: "I don't see how my age (or marital status, disability, religious affiliation, etc) would affect my ability to perform the duties of this position and in fact I am confident it wouldn't get in the way whatsoever."
  • Sidestep the question: "Are you asking me if I have kids because you are worried about my ability to travel? There's no need to worry because I am ready, willing and able to travel as much as needed to help this company reach its goals."
  • Answer the question anyway: sometimes we need the job really badly and we simply have to avoid the risk of alienating the interviewer or creating a confrontation.
Hopefully you'll never have to deal with this situation but if you do you need to be ready for it. As for Facebook and turning over your login information, as you probably know I don't have a Facebook page and thus don't have to worry about it. But many of you do and until this question is rendered illegal by the courts you should probably decide whether you are comfortable handing over your user name and password to an interviewer.


  1. Seems like a total invasion of privacy to me.

  2. Actually, it's legal to ask almost any interview question, other than ones about disabilities. A lot of people think that it's illegal for an interviewer to ask about your religion, national origin, marital status, number of children, etc., but the act of asking the question is perfectly legal. What is illegal is basing a hiring decision on the answers to these questions. So since an employer can't factor in your answers, there's no point in asking them, and smart interviewers don't go near these topics.

    You may find this post interesting:

    1. Awesome thanks! I very much enjoy reading your blog and will take a look at that.

      You bring up an interesting point. I would argue that the minute one of these questions is asked the line has already been crossed, even before an answer is given. It would at least make me consider whether I wanted to work for that person. And we should all know what to do if we are asked something that crosses the line.

      That line is so incredibly fine that in fact asking the question itself has become the illegal part of the equation in people's mind. No reasonable person is ever going to believe that if one of those questions was asked in an interview its answer wouldn't be somehow factored into the hiring decision. Thus, the very act of asking it has become the faux pas and put the job seeker in an uncomfortable predicament.