March 30, 2012

There was a whole bunch of fuss kicked up the other week when it came out that some companies are asking for Facebook username/passwords in job interviews. And to me, it seems to be a lot of kicking and screaming over nothing. It’s probably just a handful of companies that have this tactic, but let’s break it down anyway.

I’m not faulting any employer who tries to ask this question. Sure, it may be a huge invasion of privacy. But no one’s going to argue that getting a nice view of any social profile is going to fill out your impression of a job candidate. So if you ask this question and they give you their information – 1) bad decision maker (see above) and 2) you really did just get access to more information about them. Granted, you’ll probably find information that legally you might not want to know, but that’s a different story.

However, as an interviewee, I’m pretty sure you can always decide not to answer a question. Will it cost you the job? Possibly. But if it’s personal information and you think it’s inappropriate – remember all your schooling about drugs – just say no. It reminds me of when I was filling out apartment applications and some asked for bank account numbers. Now, I understand, it’s just one more check to make sure I don’t skip out on the rent. But if I’ve got a good credit report, there’s no reason you need my bank accounts. So I asked why they needed it, and most of the time they were fine with me leaving it off. Simple.

Second, as pointed out here, giving passwords out to anyone is just bad decision-making. If you give your Facebook password to an interviewer, why wouldn’t you give out your work password to someone pretending to be from the IT department.  Kevin Mitnick is probably laughing his socks off. I don’t even give my passwords to my family or boyfriend. Why would I give it to someone I’m talking to for an hour? What if they’re actually a crazy stalker (those people must work somewhere, right)?

There’s probably an argument out there that it might just be better not to have a Facebook profile.



  1. I think it’s fair to say that the power balance of the interviewer/interviewee relationship is skewed enough in favor of the interviewer that this is a legitimate concern. You might be able to risk turning down a company by refusing to divulge your password, but maybe a person really hard up for money might not be able to.

    Sure, the actual number of companies doing this is small now, but when Congress goes and says that it’s not willing to amend laws that prohibit this it opens up the gate for employers who were holding off on the basis that, well, this should all be highly illegal.

    It’s illegal to ask an applicant their age, but if an applicant is open about it on their facebook then asking for their password gives them access to that (assuming that their privacy settings prohibited seeing it on the internet beforehand). I think it’s a pretty clear-cut that this should be illegal.

    • The Atlantic posted an interesting article on Facebook passwords and what precedents they might have in court. They look at how it’s similar (or not) to opening someone’s mail or asking them to submit to a drug test.

      • Good read. Thanks for linking it.

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