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Why Asking For A Job Applicant’s Facebook Password Is Fair Game

Depending on the job, access to the social media communications of a potential hire may be in your company's best interest

It would take a heck of a job opportunity for me to give this business owner my Facebook password, but I wouldn't fault him for asking.

“Should business owners be allowed to ask job applicants for their Facebook passwords?” Many people who watched me on MSNBC’s Your Business on Sunday were surprised to hear that my answer is “Yes,” including the show’s host, JJ Ramberg. (For those who missed it, the show reairs on Saturday, April 7, at 5:30 a.m.) This question became a hot news topic last week, especially in business and social media circles, when Congress failed to pass legislation that would have banned the practice of employers asking employees to reveal their Facebook passwords.

Now, if I was asked the same question as a guest on a show called Your Career, I would have been hard-pressed to think of a situation where I would share my Facebook password with a potential employer. For me to consider it, I would have to want the job pretty badly, with the amount and type of compensation (including benefits, perks and even an equity stake in the company) being major considerations. But before doing so, I would see if there were other ways I could address the potential employer’s concerns without revealing my password, such as changing my privacy settings to give them the ability to view all of my Facebook content. If they persist with their request for my password, I would try to negotiate terms to strictly limit both its use of the password and the length of time the potential employer would have access to it before I could change it. I might even consider getting an employment attorney to negotiate an agreement, include terms of confidentiality, to be signed by both me and the potential employer before sharing my password.

Of course, for the vast majority of positions, neither I nor a company looking to hire would deem it worth the time and expense to jump through all of these hoops. Most companies would not care to have password access to an applicant’s social media accounts. (For what it’s worth, Facebook’s terms of rights and responsibilities forbids users from sharing their passwords.) In probably 99 percent of such cases, if a potential employer made such a request, my answer would be, “No, I will not share my password. Are there alternatives you are willing to consider to satisfy your concerns?” I accept that I’d risk not being hired as a result. On the other hand, if that was all it took for me not to be hired, I’d question how badly they really wanted me in the first place, as well as whether that was the kind of place I would have been happy working for. But for certain companies and positions, especially if I wanted the job badly enough, I’d consider a request for my Facebook password at least up for negotiation.

That said, my response on Your Business was from the perspective of the business owner. And if I’m the owner of certain types of businesses, or trying to fill certain types of positions, I believe I should be able to ask job applicants for access to their Facebook accounts. The applicant may choose not to answer, but I should be able to ask. Depending on the position, knowing everything I possibly can about an applicant is critical to not only making the best hire, but to protecting the interests of my current employees, customers, partners and as well as the financial interests of the company.

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  • plus de facebook like

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to grasp a lot about this, such as you wrote the ebook in it or something. I think that you just can do with a few percent to pressure the message house a bit, however instead of that, this is wonderful blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

  • Sylvia Burley

    Although I was all set to disagree, you made some excellent points. I still disagree with the premise and don’t know what employers can find on facebook they can’t find in a professional background check. I also disagree with the premise of doing credit checks. What if an illness, divorce, or job loss affected my finances? None of us is immune to the hazards of life. You did offer excellent info re: putting personal info in social media sites, something more ppl should think long and hard about. I still see “I’m going on vacation” posts, inappropriate pics, and personal detailed info. being posted. Ppl have gotten too comfortable.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      Sylvia, I agree with you. We have to be more responsible about balancing our impulse to share with our need to protect our own privacy, instead of trusting solely on companies like Facebook, the courts, or legislators to do it for us. Thanks for weighing in!

  • nhodge@spedient.com

    Hi Alfred!

    As an employer who hires individuals on a permanent and contract basis to work on Federal engagements, I frequently have contracts that require top secret clearances and all levels of security screening. With that said, I would never (unless my government customer required me to) ask a prospective employee for their Facebook passwords. My reasoning is rather simple-I think it is unnecessary and would encourage candidates to hide social media information that we as employers can discreetly access currently due to careless practices. If it becomes a standard or even a common practice to request passwords, it will become ineffective.

    I happen to be pretty good at finding information and hidden details. I have had repairmen come to my home and I could tell you what church they attended and when their parents divorced before they even set foot in my home. Many local municipalities offer free access to civil and criminal dockets going back many decades. You can also find out a lot from Facebook accounts that aren’t on lockdown. But I know for a fact, if employers like me start to ask for passwords, those who really have something to hide will find a better way to do it. It would take very little effort to “scrub” the account that your employer has access to while maintaing a separate account with a different profile name and image that actually contains the real content. I have friends on Facebook right now whose children have done that very thing to hide their “real” pages from the parents. Same thing applies to candidate applying for a job working with children. Much easier to find out info when they don’t know you are watching.

    I agree with you Alfred that NOTHING on social media or the internet in general is truly private. I like to say, “Write it-regret it, say it-forget it.” Anything you input in electronic form and submit into the world wide web is forever memorialized. People should know that and proceed accordingly. You need to post comments on social media with the understanding that someone, somewhere is definitely wathching.

    I would personally have a problem giving my password. I am very conscious about what I post on Facebook, but I prefer not to share my political positions and my sometimes opnionated views with everyone. I have that right. That alone would make me say no.

    Great to be back on this site!

    • nhodge@spedient.com

      Wow I really did create paragraphs…not sure what happend to them.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      As usual, you have totally taken me to school. Thank you for sharing; hopefully others will read your comment and wise-up about taking their privacy seriously on social media. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wisdom and expertise!

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  • Andy Greider

    While I understand there is valuable information to be potentially gained (and that should be found) in situations such as childcare/teaching, I am not sure, as you already point out, that this information is not already publicly accessible if you know how to look.

    Instead of “red flagging” the idea you are seeking out this information on a FB page, why wouldn’t you use other methods – such as biometrics companies – to weed out the bad apples? We just did an interview which will post soon with Jim Aden from Boston Biometrics for Relax HR, our new radio show, where he describes being able to eliminate all kinds of negative types of influences from your job market while finding the right matches for the actual position. I’ll post back here with a link once we have the blog done and the show/interview posted, in case you or your readers would be interested in knowing more.

    This was an excellent article and well worth the read. Thanks so much – look forward to hearing more from you.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      Andy; The likelihood is that biometrics would be used as an additional screening tool, for those businesses that can afford it, not a replacement for other methods of looking into the backgrounds of employees. I look forward to you sharing your links to the blog and radio show interview, so that I and other readers of this post can learn more. Thanks for sharing!

  • Notch

    You made a good point: this debate is not over. Even this article describing your personal position on the matter presents massive conflicts.

    You write that you would refuse the demand to reveal your private account info from a prospective employer, for good reason. Then you demand, in the role of employer, to be given complete access to a job candidate’s personal account info, lauding the benefits of invading their notion of privacy. All while insisting that nobody in their right mind should ever post anything personal in their personal accounts, lest they suffer the type of institutionalized privacy invasion you just described. Something that you would refuse to comply with yet demand of others.

    Personally, I can compare this situation to using torture to get information from a suspect. It sure does sound good and simple, to just beat the guy until he tells you what you want to know. But you would have committed a despicable act, and the ill-gotten information is just not reliable. And here’s the worst part: You spend your resources on this sham instead of practicing due diligence and doing the hard work necessary to actually get the job done.

    Better to stay vigilant, and keep your humanity, than succumb to madness.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      Notch; I acknowledge the inherent conflicts between how I feel about this issue as a potential job applicant and how I’d feel about it as an employer, depending on the business I was in and the position I was looking to fill. However, I only stated that an employer should be allowed to ask, not that the applicant should be required (much less beat up and tortured) to consent. An employer has to decide if it’s worth it to ask (most won’t and, as you and others on this post have pointed out, will use other methods). By the same token, an applicant has to decide if he or she wants the job enough consent; again, most–including me–won’t. Otherwise, you make some excellent points. Thanks for weighing in!

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  • Bruce

    I agree that you should never say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in a crowded room, and I often caution younger folks that the internet does not exist in a vacuum.

    But let me ask you this…since you seem to think asking potential applicants is fair game…would you do the same to current employees? Also, with the obvious exception of illegal activity, racist and bigoted views (and whatever society deems as immoral), what specifically are you looking for? Or is it more of a “I’ll know it when I see it” approach?

  • Janice

    I couldn’t imagine wanting any position enough to hand over my password(s) to any of my personal accounts. If an employer can’t find the information in a background check then it doesn’t need to be found.

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