Guest Column: You Want to Look at What?

Paula Roy is StaffingU’s VP of Learning and Development and is the principal consultant at PMRoy Consulting.

No matter what role an individual plays in the job market, he or she has probably heard at least one odd request from a prospective employer for deeply personal information, purportedly for use in evaluating fitness for a job. Before anyone signs a blanket authorization, he or she should be encouraged to think twice about the implications and impact of allowing a hiring manager access to every bit of information there is to know.

When the job market tightens, we know that the balance of power shifts from the employee to the employer. While the job market has begun a slow recovery, much of the power for control of the hiring process remains in the hands of employers, even when a candidate is searching for a role in a discipline in which he or she has broader choices and opportunities.

This power means that the choosy hiring manager who formerly relied on simple background and reference checks has expanded the selection process to include detailed, sometimes intrusive investigations, credit checks, and more. During the winter of 2011 and spring of 2012, numerous anecdotal stories emerged of employers not only requesting a viewing of a Facebook page or LinkedIn account, but also demanding personal passwords as a condition of either continuing the interview process or of extending a job offer. Following an Associated Press report on the subject in March, 2012, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal issued a statement decrying the practice as an “unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work.” He announced that he was crafting a bill prohibiting employers from requesting Facebook or other social media passwords as part of the application process.

While complaints had come directly from his own constituents, applicants across the country have been asked to voluntarily provide the information under pressure of being excluded from the selection process, which prompted Senator Blumenthal to call for a federal solution rather than a state-based approach. Quoted in an article by AP writers Manual Valdes and Don Thomson, Law professor Lori Andrews of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law said, “Volunteering is coercion if you need a job.” While the federal law is still pending, three states have enacted privacy rules banning employers and universities from requiring social media access or passwords from their application processes, with California joining Maryland and Illinois by implementing the measure on September 27th. Similar laws are in various stages of progress in more than a dozen other states.

It is important to remember what is at the core of a selection process: the desire to fit an applicant’s abilities against the requirements of the job. In short, an employer is buying – in fact, leasing – the candidate’s skill and knowledge, not his or her idea of weekend fun, and not access to the minutia and details of one’s personal life. For those of you in the staffing industry, it’s important to act as an advocate for your candidates so that they are evaluated fairly on the basis of the competencies, knowledge, and ideas they can bring to the job. For people in the job market, consider how an employer is likely to treat you on the job if they are so ready to unreasonably invade your privacy before you even receive an offer. Think about regaining some power in the selection process by demonstrating your principles along with your skills.

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