Protecting your privacy on Facebook

Facebook is facing privacy issues once again – the latest reminder of how careful you must be when dealing with social media and how important it is to think things through before you begin your job search.

The social media company recently contacted employers telling them not to ask for the passwords of job applicants, a practice that seems to be more common than you might expect. In the current cutthroat job market, people may be so desperate for work that they’ll do anything to get a job, even if it means giving their Facebook passwords to a hiring manager as part of the interview process.

It’s not illegal – at least not yet. On March 27, Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted to create legislation that would prevent employers from forcing job applicants and employees to give them their Facebook or other social media site passwords. They tried to insert a clause into an FCC reform bill that would accomplish this, but it was defeated.

Although potential employers can ask you for your Facebook or other passwords, it is a highly unethical practice, and you would have to seriously consider whether you really want to work for a company where the hiring manager or human resources person did such a thing.

Having access to your password and profile could provide information to employers that they are not allowed to ask about in interviews. Through your photos and posts, they might be able to figure out whether you are married, how many children you have, possibly your religion, whether you have tattoos, what your house looks like, where you’ve traveled, who your friends are and the fact that you are an ex-offender (although at that point they should already know that).

Although most potential employers probably won’t ask for your passwords, chances are pretty good that they will do a search of you online and see what they can come up with before they interview you.

National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” talk radio show focused on the privacy issues that social media raises on one of its segments this week. A listener, who works as a hiring manager for a small law firm, emailed to say that when recently hiring an office assistant and courier, she researched all of those she was interested in online before choosing which ones to interview. During her research she found that several of them had lied. One even said he had a clean driving record in his cover letter but had tweeted that he had gotten a ticket for running a stop sign. Because the job involves driving, the law firm wanted someone with a squeaky clean record.

This is a lesson to everyone to be absolutely certain that what you put in your resume and what you tell potential employers is consistent with what you put in your social media postings. You also need to check out the photos that are on your Facebook page, and make sure that none of them have the potential to offend anyone. There should be no photos of you showing off your tattoos, or, if you’re a woman, showing off your body in a bikini. Delete photos that show extravagant displays of affection, or even displays of drinking. Just holding a beer stein or glass of wine might make some employers question what you do after-hours.

In order to be safe, you may want to do what many job seekers do these days – deactivate your Facebook account. That way, you won’t get into trouble with potential employers who may not like what they see. (And you can never be sure what they might not like.) You can deactivate your Facebook account by going to “account settings,” clicking on “security” and following the directions.

Once you find a job, you can go in and reactivate your account without losing anything that was in it. You still may want to clean it up, however – and always be very careful about the things you put up on social media sites. You never know when the boss might want to check on what you’re doing outside of work. Be very wary. What turns up in a web search may come back to haunt you if you’re not careful.

What have you done to protect your online image? We would love to hear your tips and suggestions.


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Posted in Job Search Tips.

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