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What if an Interviewer Asks for Your Facebook Page?

SMG’s Kabrina Chang studies what is and isn’t legal in hiring

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Kabrina Chang, Boston University School of Management SMG, social media, employment, job interviews

SMG’s Kabrina Chang suggests students say no if employers ask to see their Facebook page during an interview. Photo by Cydney Scott

Some of her School of Management students told Kabrina Chang of being asked during a job interview to log on to their Facebook page, their prospective employers hoping to mine useful information in deciding whether to hire them. “I was horrified,” says Chang, a lawyer and assistant professor of business and employment law.

No one knows for sure how many companies do this, and Maryland is the only state that’s banned it, says Chang (CAS’92). Meanwhile, firms like Social Intelligence and Reppify compile reports about, or simple scores of, job seekers, based on the applicants’ information on social networks like Facebook and activities at online sites like Craigslist and eBay, she says, for sale to corporate clients. It’s similar to credit-reporting agencies providing financial background on applicants.

Chang thinks that gathering online information, within reasonable limits, is fine; after all, an employer who hires someone who’s littered the internet with pictures of himself posing with firearms could be liable if the new employee then goes on a rampage. And she cites one study in which 18 percent of responding employers said they’ve hired people with impressive online profiles. But, she argues, the companies that asked her students for their Facebook pages on the spot crossed what should be a legal line. Chang, who has done previous research on social media, presented a paper on the topic at SMG’s second annual faculty research day recently and discussed it with BU Today.

BU Today: What is the “Facebook score” for employers and who developed it?

Chang: The Facebook score is the result of a study by academics at Northern Illinois University. They used a bunch of studies and personality tests to highlight five characteristics that indicate a prediction of a good employee.

What are the five traits?

Extroversion, openness to experience, emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Not that many people set their Facebook privacy settings so that only friends can see it, so if an HR person or interviewer looks you up, they might be able to see more than you realize they could. Also, employers are asking at the interview either for your password or to log in during the interview. Other companies have asked applicants and current employees to friend the company.

Every company that has been questioned says, well, it’s voluntary. Of course, the reality is, you’re sitting there in an interview, and while legally you may be able to say no, it’s almost irrelevant, because you feel as though you have no alternative but to say yes.

The number of friends you have apparently speaks volumes about your narcissism and perhaps your extroverted-ness. That’s not absolutely a bad thing; if you’ve got a gazillion friends and you keep posting status updates about yourself—which is another indication of narcissism—if you’re hired for a client-facing position, that might be a good characteristic: you’re charming, you can talk. They’re looking at the types of things you post, like, “Went to Disney World for the first time.” That might be an indication of your willingness to try new things. “I read this book, it’s great.” “I went to this political rally. Have you read this article about Santorum?” They can glean a lot of things that way.

Social Intelligence adds their own descriptions of you to their report. I have a copy of a report where their characteristic of one person is “propensity for dangerousness” because there are numerous pictures of him online posing with guns and alcohol. They have blocked out everything about him except this big gun.

Why are they blocking out the guy’s picture?

To keep protected information protected. One thing I think is dangerous is that, in looking at your online footprint, employers are looking at information that they’re not allowed to ask you about in a traditional interview: your race, perhaps your national origin, perhaps your religion, your political affiliation. Social Intelligence has scrubbed all of that out of this picture. You might get this report before you ever lay eyes on the applicant; it could be that as part of the advertisement for the job, by applying, you consent to a social media report and a credit report. And companies can hire Social Intelligence and Reppify to monitor current employees also.

The Federal Trade Commission investigated Social Intelligence and said there’s nothing wrong with them; they’re another credit-reporting agency. They have to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which means they have to get your consent and you can challenge information in the report, just like you could on your credit report. In my opinion, it’s so much safer for the employer to go this way than to do it on their own. You can learn a lot of useful information online; the problem is you could also learn very dangerous, prohibited information.

Should there be legal restrictions on this?

I think the restrictions on Social Intelligence and their reports are fine. I think the legal restrictions should come on employers asking applicants for Facebook pages—for your password or to log in or to friend. Companies like Social Intelligence and Reppify—I think they’re genius, the future of screening applicants.

I would advise students: sure, have a Facebook page, but make sure your privacy settings are airtight. Employers are going to look at more than you think. Make your Facebook page as clean as possible.

If somebody says in the middle of a job interview, “Log on to your Facebook page, I want to look at it”?

I would say no. But I think it unrealistic of me to tell 22-year-olds who want a job to just say no. They’re not going to feel comfortable enough to say no.

I think Facebook has a lot to lose here. Facebook has already come out and said, employers, you shouldn’t be doing this, it’s a violation of each account holder’s terms of service. I’m looking at this “tortious interference,” where you and I have a contract, and a third party induces you into breaching our contract. That’s what’s going on here. The more you and I scrub our pages, the less interesting Facebook is to you and me and all our friends. If I’m 22 and I don’t see pictures of you from spring break doing a keg stand, I don’t want to see your pictures.

14 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

14 Comments on What if an Interviewer Asks for Your Facebook Page?

  • djester on 05.29.2012 at 8:37 am

    Those of us who have their account set to “only friends” are having private conversations with “friends”. In other words, an interviewer is not privy to my private conversations online or in my home any more than I am privy to the conversations between him and his wife in “their” bedroom.

    Not to mention that FB is a virtual hotspot for mindless pontification. To make judgments based on such, is poor judgment indeed. I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

  • AP on 05.29.2012 at 10:32 am

    The professor left out that there’s personal information on Facebook that employers aren’t legally allowed to ask for in an interview or application. They cannot ask for family or marital status, yet someone might have “Married to Someone” in their personal information, and “Children” labeled as relatives. They can figure out your size, appearance, race, and sexual orientation pretty quickly from this, as well. (I actually worked for an employer that had an unofficial policy of not hiring married persons or parents, because they wanted you to be 100% available and to have the lowest health insurance costs possible.)

    If you have to “friend” a company, have a Friend List that only shows your publicly available information.

  • Just saying on 05.29.2012 at 11:06 am

    I just wanted to say to all of you that you should nerver put pictures of your self or children pictures on the internet..more than your friends are watching. sorry for the tough love!!!!!

    Hint !!!!!!!Law inforcement, sexual preditors, rapist,murderer, child molesters.
    They are bored so they need new victums, especially people who are not aware of there surroundings…………watch ID (Investigation Discovery) one show topic is “How well do you know your neighbor”
    he didn’t know all your business until you posted it on face book.

    Your family dont need to be exposed to the world of awanted onlookers, who add no value to your life.

    when was the last time you actually took a picture and sent it to auntie Mary or uncle Bob????
    real pictures of your self, will always out shine taking pictures, and posting your picture on face book… any day!

    All I’m saying is be careful, be really careful your life has a purpose.
    dont let technology comsume your life, their is no App to recover from bad judgements.

    • DB on 05.29.2012 at 4:02 pm

      Oh my God, you say if I put up a picture of my kids, a sexual predator might see it? Oh, the horror!

      Dude…so the bleep what? How will it cause harm to my child if someone else sees them? They might also see a picture of them in the newspaper, a school yearbook, or they might happen to see them in public just walking down the street.

      By the way, don’t bother answering my question. You couldn’t possibly come up with any kind of meaningful answer. The producers of that television show you’re watching are LAUGHING AT YOU for being so easily manipulated.

      • Just saying on 05.30.2012 at 1:43 pm

        DB for you FYI I am a parent!!!
        not a Dude parent at that!!!

        Oh by the way I’m not easily manipulated I’m just a surviver of violence my self.

        and your right far as you child should be in yearbook, that’s where they go when they graduate, also if they are in the papers it must be important for then to be there in the first place.

        If your kids are in public you better keep all eyes on them at all times.

        lets hope me and you can laugh this hard if anything ever happens to you or I!!!!

        • Ryan on 06.13.2012 at 9:59 am

          You’re paranoid. Try to relax.

          • Yimin Rong on 01.16.2013 at 11:07 am

            I’m involved in security, and I can tell you social web sites are a huge gaping hole. From these sites, even if you choose to hide most information, a potential threat can know your lifestyle (based on vacation pictures and how well you are dressed), whether you have a family, and where you work (even if you don’t specifically name the company, most people provide tons of clues).

            Just scratching the surface: From your lifestyle, they can gauge how wealthy you are. Whether you have a family puts you at risks for certain kinds of attacks. From your place of work, social engineering attacks are possible, e.g. calling the company to get your home address or phone number.

            Once a potential attacker knows your home address, you’re basically exposed to any number of threats including vandalism, robbery and kidnapping.

  • w2lucky on 05.29.2012 at 11:11 am

    Glad someone is at least bringing the issue to light. Like AP above, my FB addresses too many illegal areas of an interview, specifically my marital status, children and family. The shock here is not that a prospective employer may ask to see your FB page (most interviewers are clueless as to legal limits of an interview), the shock is that people would give up their privacy so easily and that only the state of Maryland has shown enough sense to ban the practice and make it illegal.

  • Lee on 05.29.2012 at 11:49 am

    I think that just as AP says, the correct response is to say “My personal profile contains a number of pieces of information that you are prohibited from asking me about under state and federal law. You are welcome to see the publicly-accessible version of my page; the address is _____.” At that point, most interviewers will recognize that if they pry further, they are opening themselves up to a discrimination lawsuit. They will also recognize that you know how to use your Facebook privacy settings, and they will be able to gleam only whatever information you want them to see from the public version of your page.

    Of course, this only works if you have a publicly-accessible version of your page. But, since having such a page allows you to present yourself in your best light, in my opinion it’s a good idea to maintain such a version if possible.

  • dan at BU on 05.29.2012 at 1:27 pm

    Hmmm. . . .. seems a bit less intrusive than asking for your password (as has been discussed much lately), but. . . . I never thought of FB as my face to my professional career, but to my friends and family. And yet – – my FB page IS BARE-BONES.

  • DB on 05.29.2012 at 3:59 pm

    This is an easy question to answer. By giving someone my login information (or even logging in for them), they’re getting access to not just my own content, but any private messages that may have been sent to me by my friends. I cannot in good conscience give access to that, it would be a total violation of the trust other people have put in me, and that’s exactly what I would tell an employer. I find it almost impossible to believe that an employer wouldn’t accept that…after all, don’t they want to know that they can trust me with the company’s trade secrets and intellectual property? They’re welcome to send me a “friend request” and I’ll accept it, so they can see what I’m posting on my own page. But letting them log in as myself? Not in a million years. I’d only mention the fact that it gives them access to information they can’t ask about (like my age and gender and marital status) as a last resort.

    I find it outrageous that an employer would even ask. I wouldn’t walk away just because they asked, but I still wouldn’t grant it and if that’s not good enough that’s just too bad. Go and hire someone else then…someone you can’t trust with private information.

  • SraP on 05.29.2012 at 8:02 pm

    The job candidate that experiences this may get an even sweeter deal than getting hired. The candidate can sue the company for illegal hiring practices, then find a job with a company that follows legal hiring practices. If a company is utilizing illegal hiring strategies, you can’t be sure they will follow the law in other areas.

    • DAN on 05.30.2012 at 9:36 am

      Don’t you need money to sue? I doubt the 22-year olds that this article is targeted to have the means to sue anyone.

  • Yimin Rong on 01.16.2013 at 10:52 am

    Keep two facebook accounts. One for fun, keep it hidden when employers could be looking. The other boring, keep it open when employers could be looking. Every time you update your fun site, if it’s something safe, update your boring site with the same, that way it shows regular activity.

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