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Social snooping during job interview? I’d rather get fingerprints

Imagine sitting in a job interview. Your initial jitters have subsided and you are feeling comfortable with the HR representative and the company. Your clever answers to inquiries about your favorite color and what you would do should an earthquake hit while you are grocery shopping were well received. You are confident that you’ll get a second interview or even a job offer.

Then, as you shift your weight to control the big grin that wants to pop out across your face, you are asked for your login name and password for your Facebook account. Stunned, you ask the interviewer to repeat the request. The HR representative casually states that you seem to be perfect for the position, but to be eligible for a job offer; you have to provide your login name and password.

Some companies require potential employees to login to Facebook during the interview. Some require them to accept a company Facebook app that will gather the personal information the company wants to evaluate. Think I’m making this up? Ask around. If this hasn’t happened to you during a job search, it most likely has happened to someone you know.

When I read about this trend, I was shocked. I used to be an administrator. I used to interview applicants. I was absolutely not, under any circumstances EVER allowed to ask someone’s date of birth. Yet today, it’s acceptable to require someone to hand over their secret ID and password for their personal online social accounts?

What could a potential employer possibly glean from nosing around on Facebook? I’ve not had my account all that long, but from what I can tell, Facebook is a means through which we advertise our lives in a much better light than reality. It’s like a perpetual Christmas newsletter, in which we brag about our kids, edit photos to show only our best sides and embellish stories of our otherwise mundane activities.

My son has several pictures that depict him fighting with his roommate—with lightsabers. They did not buy plastic toys and snap photos of a pretend dual. They posed as if they had the lightsabers and then photo edited the lightsabers into the pictures. At least, that’s what I hope they did. Otherwise, my son is going to have to find a new roommate.

Other than the entertainment value, I don’t think HR folks are getting much out of snooping around strangers’ social networking accounts. Rather than demand ID’s and passwords, they should create questions around social media to get a sense of skills, personality and relatability with the company.

If I were still interviewing, I’m sure I would be creative enough to come up with fresh, contemporary questions based on social networking without having to ask for personal account credentials.

Some questions I’d ask might include: What social networks do you use? Which are your favorites? Are most of your posts pictures, reposts of someone else’s pictures and information or original updates you composed? How many hours a week do you spend interacting online with friends, family and colleagues? Do you know how to get others to engage in online content for something such as, oh, I don’t know, a children’s book?

Now, I am not 100 percent sure what the applicant’s answers would mean in regard to how well they’d perform in specific jobs. There are tons of psychological studies that provide insight into what a favorite color or reaction to a disaster might tell about a potential hire. But how does “I like to post fake lightsaber pictures when I’m bored” tell about a person who needs a summer job to pay for incidentals?

Clearly, there is much work to be done in the psychological profiling arena when it comes to online behaviors. Until the studies are complete, maybe the HR folks should hold off on asking about and especially snooping through the private online lives of potential hires.

As for the arguments for social snooping, I’m not buying. Just because something is “online” doesn’t mean it’s automatically “public.” If that were true, our online financial information would be public. Sorry world, but my bank accounts are none of your business, even if they are online.

Another argument I came across for social snooping was to ensure the applicant wasn’t a gang member or otherwise active in criminal activities. I really don’t think Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other social accounts are going to reveal a person’s criminal tendencies. However, I’m all for running FBI, SBI and local background checks complete with a full set of fingerprints.

No matter what your approach, interviews and background checks give you a good idea, but aren’t foolproof. In my experiences, I found the best way to get to know if a person was right for the job was to provide for an introductory—or probationary—period. If the person is a good fit, you can make an employment offer at the end of the 90 days. If not, you should part ways, chalking it up to a learning experience for both the applicant and the company.

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibare@inspiredscribe.com.