Don’t hand over Facebook password, even for a job

Let’s say that you’re in a job interview. You feel a strong connection with the company and appreciate the interviewer’s casual style. You’re at your best, answering tough questions with ease and looking forward to the job offer, which you fully expect to receive before walking out the door. But then the hiring manager does something that you didn’t anticipate. She requests full access to your Facebook account.

In recent weeks, you have probably heard that some employers are asking for job candidates’ usernames and passwords. With this information, they can rifle through your online discussions, view photographs and even gain admission to your friends’ private profiles.

First things first. I’m not convinced that this practice is widespread. However, as companies become increasingly selective in choosing employees, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that some hiring managers are willing to see how much information they can get out of a particular job candidate — just by asking.

Here’s what concerns me about this issue: In job interviews, employers are only permitted to pose questions about work-related topics. They aren’t supposed to ask your religion or marital status, if you have a health condition or disability, or anything else that doesn’t directly related to your ability to perform the job.

Since most people use Facebook for personal reasons, it seems inappropriate (and probably unlawful) to demand access to your private profile. It’s like telling you to bring family photo albums to the interview, taped conversations with friends, details about your parenting skills, medical history or eating habits. You may as well let them rummage through your purse while they’re at it.

But here’s something that job hunters tend to forget: Anything that you publish, post or send electronically can be intentionally or accidentally shared, viewed and forwarded to recipients that you don’t know or trust. And any information that a hiring manager gleans about your background will likely be used to evaluate you as a job candidate.

It is strange that we have an expectation of privacy when posting photographs or content on the Internet, a very public forum. We select “privacy settings” on online sites and then neglect to read the fine print, or simply overlook the fact that privacy policies — like all business procedures and practices — change over time. Yes, privacy is a thorny topic. And then you come across an employer who circumvents every existing online policy by requiring access to your online account.

Here’s what I suggest: Recognize that nothing is private on the Internet. Protect yourself from thieves and breaches of privacy by watching what you publish, post and send electronically. Next, elevate your privacy settings on all social media sites, and keep in mind that Facebook, LinkedIn and all other social networks and websites have their own interests at heart — not yours. Don’t expect your privacy settings to stick, but use them anyway.

Finally, never give away your username and password to anyone at any time. Not for Facebook. Not for your bank. Not for your subscription to a crossword puzzle magazine. If an employer insists, and you are willing, offer to become contacts or “friends.” Or simply decline the offer, stand up, leave the room and look for a job somewhere else.

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