It has been reported that potential employers are asking candidates for their Facebook passwords as part of the interview process or, alternatively, looking over the shoulders of candidates while they log in to Facebook to see their profiles.

Now, I haven’t actually heard from anyone who has been asked directly to supply this informaiton, but an officer of the Maryland Department of Corrections says he was asked for his log-in credentials. Someone could be testing the waters to see how asking for passwords would go over with the general public, but this report is being widely discussed. Even two US Senators have requested the Department of Justice and the EEOC look into the practice.

Whether this is becoming common or not, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place in case you’re ever asked. Everyone certainly has an opinion on how to react:

  • One school of thought believes that we shouldn’t be posting anything on social media we wouldn’t want the world to see anyway, so who cares.
  • Another opinion is that Facebook is personal and not business and no employer has any right to any of that information at any time.

    Unfortunately, private isn’t really private on the internet, as we have discussed before and it is always a good idea to think before you hit that button.

  • Another group (me included) thinks that some information can be posted publicly for employers to see and get a feel for your social media interactions, but not all personal information. Since I use social media for work at work, I like having some updates on my public profile as writing samples and background information.

    I put a link to my Facebook Page as a “business person” right on my resume and do post some information publicly on my Facebook Profile as well, but only what I would want strangers to have access to.

    I would, however, never give my Facebook password to a potential employer and don’t think you should, either. If you gave it, how would they know you would protect their proprietary information? And how could you avoid disclosing information that it is illegal for them to ask for?

    And remember that when someone has access to your profile, they also have access to information about your friends who have not given consent for that access to anyone but you. It’s not just your own privacy at risk.

What should you do if you are asked for your Facebook password?

Don’t panic. Give them a link to your public profile or page, if it is relevant to the job. Tell them you don’t believe that disclosing passwords is a safe practice in business (remember it might be a test to see if you would disclose something inappropriately). You can also mention that it is in violation of Facebook’s Terms and Conditions to give out your password and you respect those rules, like you would respect theirs.

If they insist, unfortunately, I believe it is time to politely and firmly end the interview. Company culture is an important factor in job search and you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. If they make you uncomfortable in the interview, how would it feel to work there?

Update: Maryland is now poised on the brink of being the first state to ban employers from asking for Facebook passwords!  49 to go!

Wendy Stackhouse
, Consultant for Artisan Creative